While not a “set and forget” solution, energy management can have the shortest payback period of anything you invest in this year.
When discussing electricity usage of a site with a client the consumption outside of regular business hours always comes as a shock. This issue is particularly prevalent at schools, where there are minimal staff on-site for 10-14 weeks per year, and yet the baseline energy usage remains moderately consistent.
This type of wastage is seen across a number of different sites, with schools being some of the worst offenders. Energy management is usually tacked onto an internal staff member’s already excessive workload, and forgotten about unless there is a spike in energy consumption. What is important to remember is that most sites see an increase in electricity costs annually (due to increases in electricity prices), however consumption often stays at similar levels. Because of this there is typically an attitude of acceptance; electricity prices are increasing and always will.
What is important to remember is that electricity using devices are becoming more efficient every year. Really, there is no excuse for using the same amount or more electricity than you did 10 years ago, but more often than not this is happening. What complicates things is often sites increase in size or capacity during this time and as such, increases in electricity consumption are considered normal.
The reality is, if you haven’t thoroughly investigated your electricity consumption in the last few years, there is a good chance that you are currently wasting a lot of cash.
Ensuring your site electricity consumption is properly managed requires someone who is directly responsible for it. This can either be an external company like ourselves, or someone internally who has the required skills and capacity.
Importantly, whoever is in charge must understand what is being metered. The first port of call is to obtain the wiring diagrams of the site. This is vital because it tells you what meters currently exist and what circuits they meter. Even if you don’t have meters currently, it’s important to know what wiring is going where and which distribution board is supplying which load.
Because of the complexity of some site layouts, you may have a main site ‘meter’ or monitoring device, in addition to multiple sub-meters and even an overarching Building Management System (BMS) system. Naturally every site is critically different and blanket statements can’t be made as to how energy wastage can be reduced, but the premise is the same; identify and prioritise the consumption.
Many modern-day BMS systems can monitor electricity consumption as well, but the vast majority of legacy BMS systems are glorified on-off timers with temperature or other sensor inputs. In fact, many BMS systems operate with almost no external control other than a timer.
A piece of equipment can be turned on, however it’s operational settings will often determine how much power it’s using (along with maintenance history, supply voltage, and so on). This is why additional energy metering over and above that provided by a regular BMS is vital. We have seen instances where two different HVAC units, located next to each other, supplying near identical areas for similar time periods use vastly different levels of energy. This was due to marginally different temperature set-points and one unit requiring maintenance.
In addition to knowing what is being used and when, it’s vitally important to have energy management processes in place to ensure ongoing alterations are made to the site to reduce energy wastage. Something as simple as conducting a survey on site temperatures can yield excellent results, with huge savings to be made where HVAC units can be set 1-2 degrees higher than they currently are without significantly affecting comfort levels.
Regardless of the size of your site and whether or not you have a BMS in place, the feasibility of implementing energy monitoring and active management should be investigated.
Related content: Time to Get Real: Why Real-time Energy Monitoring is a Must