Energy management software is more sophisticated than ever, but the increasing complexity of the technology can also make it more difficult to get started with data-assisted energy conservation. Here’s how to start smart by using data analytics to lower your energy bills.
Big Data Basics
One of the challenges facing facilities professionals with an interest in data analysis with an energy management system is that there’s not really a single cohesive set of terms defining energy analytics software, notes Eliot Crowe, Program Manager of the Building Technology and Urban Systems Division of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Energy Technologies Area.
Berkeley Lab is assisting with the Department of Energy’s Smart Energy Analytics Campaign, which helps buildings adopt energy management systems for monitoring and uncovering energy conservation opportunities. Participant success then offers roadmaps for future projects to follow.
The campaign categorizes software packages into two basic types by functionality:
- Energy information systems or energy management systems focus on enabling hands-on decisions. They derive their data from meters and allow users to analyze load patterns, benchmark buildings against each other and deliver real-time consumption feedback to drive energy conservation strategies.
- The more hands-off option collects data from the user’s building management system and sends it to a second software package (such as fault detection and diagnostics) for specialized analysis.
“You can set up rules and algorithms that tell you when systems are not operating correctly,” Crowe explains. “You might have software that looks at a central plant that has lots of VFDs or other controls, and the software determines the optimal settings for occupant comfort at a minimal cost and dynamically tweaks all of the settings to achieve that goal.”
Get Started with Energy Analytics Software
Figuring out which type of system best serves your needs is the first step in using analytics for energy conservation. The second step is to figure out your organization’s goals and determine where energy analytics software might fit into that. It’s not just about energy conservation; it’s about setting an objective of lowering your energy consumption by 20% or raising your ENERGY STAR score. Aligning your facilities department initiative with larger corporate goals can help you obtain buy-in from upper management, Crowe notes.
“Think carefully about your internal staff capabilities as well,” Crowe advises. “Are you looking to take on all of the responsibilities for the software where your department will be the experts who manage, develop and evolve it, or is it better to use a third party? We deal with owners that take both tacks successfully.
“It’s also best to start in a limited way, so if you have a large portfolio it makes sense to start with a single building or two to three buildings,” Crowe adds. “You might even try different things in those buildings. Otherwise the software can very quickly become overwhelming, especially when it comes to just making sure the data feeding into your software is accurate.”
Your energy management software vendor can help you determine the best place to focus your initial energy conservation efforts. For example, if you’ve opted for a fault detection and diagnostics package, you might start by looking for a few specific types of faults, expand to cover all air handlers and then the rest of the central plant, Crowe says.
Crowe also recommends putting some thought into how you’ll translate data into action before you invest in software. Develop some early procedures for reviewing the data and then tweak them as needed.
Think about how you get from insights to action. “In some cases, people connect their analytics software to their work order management system so that they can review the insights from the software, prioritize them and determine which ones become work orders so that they can verify things are happening,” Crowe says. “Set up a regular schedule where you get people together to review what the software has told you and what actions you’re going to take.”