Surveillance Cameras Provide Energy Management Benefits

Oct. 11, 2016

Seeing with a camera can provide better insight than data in a spreadsheet.

I had a problem with my security system. The solution provided me with unexpected benefits for energy management as well as security.

It began with an issue I was having at one of my commercial facilities, where an aging security system with malfunctioning sensors was giving frequent false alarms. Frustrated with my inability to solve the sensor problem, I bought several Wi-Fi cameras for about $45 each.

These HD cameras are extremely easy to set up. You take the camera out of the box, plug it in, download the app on your phone, and give a name to each camera (front door, hallway, etc.). The cameras are small (about the size of a GoPro camera) and have two-way audio. They have motion sensors that send me text alerts when triggered during periods of time that I can select. During daytime hours I turn the alerts and text messages off.

The free app from the camera manufacturer allowed me to see on my phone what was going on in my three facilities. If an area alarm tripped, I could swipe my screen to see the view from each camera. If I saw no reason for an alarm, I was able to cancel itand avoid sending the police.

I liked the technology so much that I bought a total of 18 cameras from the same company as well as new DVR (Digital Video Recorder) hard drives to replace my existing units. For easy integration, the new DVRs had barcodes that I scanned with my phone. All the DVR-connected cameras were then visible from the phone app. I could see my business locations and my home on my phone.

All this was fun, but I had not solved my problem with the security system, so I started thinking about a new wireless security system with peel-and-stick sensors. I bought one, tested it and found it worked beautifully. In addition to security, the system integrates fire alarms, carbon monoxide sensors and even water leak detectors all into one app that sends text messages when triggered. I can arm and disarm the system from my phone. I can set up secret alarms that send me text messages without sounding the alarm in the building. I can see if someone is accessing a sensitive area (even a specific file cabinet) or if there is a water leak near the hot water heater, all without interrupting the occupants with a loud siren.

Accidental Uses for Energy Management

On the energy side, these cameras can be relocated to easily diagnose new mysteries and solve problems, such as identifying steam leaks in a boiler room, verifying a repair, and even discoering the cause of a failure. In one facility, I used a camera’s motion activation feature to discover that a fork lift’s activity was accidentally causing steam leaks.

Seeing with a camera can give you more insight than a spreadsheet’s data. For example, I was able to determine at a glance that the lights at a client’s facility were left on all weekend – and by which employee! I could also see the person who adjusts the thermostat every week.

A few weeks ago, my office cleaning staff notified me that a downstairs bathroom had water trickling from under the wall. I went to the building, removed one of the HVAC wall vents, and saw a leak from the upstairs tenant. I feared that fixing the leak and verifying the solution might delay an imminent trip. However, after the leak was identified (upstairs water supply to a toilet) and repaired, I put a camera in between the two walls to verify that the area was drying out while I was on my trip. I didn’t need to deal with physically checking back a few times, or letting someone else into the building to do so.

Another accidental benefit occurs with employees and contractors. I have observed more accountability because I know when people are showing up for work and when they are leaving. So far, performance has improved.

I am a control freak – but so are many facility managers. It might be worth installing a few of these low-cost cameras to really know what is going on in terms of energy management at your facility. You may find some surprises.


Eric A. Woodroof, Ph.D., is the Chairman of the Board for the Certified Carbon Reduction Manager (CRM) program and he has been a board member of the Certified Energy Manager (CEM) Program since 1999. His clients include government agencies, airports, utilities, cities, universities and foreign governments. Private clients include IBM, Pepsi, GM, Verizon, Hertz, Visteon, JP Morgan-Chase, and Lockheed Martin. In August 2014, he was named to the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE) Energy Managers Hall of Fame.

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