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Demand Less, Save More

April 26, 2010

Utilizing demand-side management strategies can achieve great reduction in energy use and associated costs

Nothing can reduce energy use and costs as effectively as controlling your facility’s demand for power.

Demand-side management entails more than simply demanding less energy; a combination of strategies can be used to adjust your facility’s demand by taking a closer look at equipment, current usage, and availability. The results can reduce your costs, diminish your carbon footprint, optimize your resources, and allow you to have greater power availability with less risk.

"You’ve got cost savings, a green aspect relative to the impact on the environment, and service consistency in the sense of an ability to plan, grow, and avoid downtime, all of which are associated with demand-side energy management," says Bob Davis, CEO of Redwood City, CA-based Sentilla Energy Corp.

Davis offers an example about energy usage in data centers, but there’s no reason why this strategy and thought process won’t work across all facilities. (The important thing is to begin by measuring.) "In 2 or 3 years, the carbon footprint associated with powering a data center will exceed that of the airline industry. Energy is the most expensive component of operating costs in a data center, so our question to data center managers is: ‘With a cost that high, why don’t you manage it like an asset?’ "

As Davis points out, there are tools that provide data center managers with an overview of their data center so they’re able to do something about the demand equation of their data center’s energy bill. "It’s a little bit like your house," says Davis. "If somebody came to you and said, ‘I’d like you to reduce the energy utilization in your house by 25 percent,’ what would you do first? My guess is that you’d turn lights off when you left rooms, you’d drop your thermostat a few degrees; you’d do those kinds of things because, intuitively, you understand that they would reduce your energy bill. But, the reality is, you really don’t know by how much."

Metering, Monitoring, Measuring … and the Smart Grid
Metering equipment and measuring energy use in all aspects of a facility give owners and managers a baseline to begin demand-side management strategies. By measuring the energy utilization of equipment within a facility, and using an energy management software tool to visualize this data, you can address and pay attention to the biggest contributors to overall energy costs.

Monitoring and measuring energy use are particularly important if the smart grid is going to be part of your demand-side management strategies. According to E. Michael Shafer, business development, telecommunications and network engineering, at Kansas City, MO-based Burns & McDonnell, "Smart grid technologies are designed to help make the usage information for the user of electricity easily accessible, so as to facilitate timely and effective decisions on behalf of said user based on specific energy priorities."

To use the smart grid, devices that monitor and communicate energy usage and production are needed, as is a method for the measurement information to be transmitted to its desired source of aggregation, analysis, or action. And it goes hand-in-hand with measuring as a means for achieving results. "The smart grid is helpless without solid information about where the demand is, and how it’s going to be used," says Davis. "[By knowing that], and providing a reduction in the use, that information can be fed back into the grid, and that intelligence can be used to alter the distribution of power."

The return on investment for implementing demand-side management, especially by way of the smart grid, can be phenomenal. "As Sam Walton, Ronald Reagan, and so many others have said, ‘Information is power,’ " says Shafer. "The payback for investing in smart grid technologies comes in many forms – not all of which are economic in nature." Having access to this energy utilization information empowers you to make decisions you didn’t have the capacity to in the past.

By facilitating smart grid utilization, according to Shafer, you can count on satisfaction from tenants/occupants and upper management – in terms of economic savings, responsible use of global resources, and even a greater sense of energy security.

"Aside from increased client satisfaction," says Shafer, "building owners also stand to gain economically from the savings in energy and the reduced strain on building infrastructure through reduced usage as well as reduced maintenance costs."

Amanda B. Piell ([email protected]) is assistant editor at BUILDINGS magazine.

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