Control & Automation
FEATURE – The Software Approach to Energy Efficiency
By Joseph Aamidor
Energy efficiency discussions are moving to the boardroom as organizations seek to respond to rising energy prices and a growing concern for the environment. Presenting the nearly infinite amount of data that a portfolio of buildings generates—in a way that allows individuals to make better decisions—is a necessary component of an effective energy management program. New software applications are available to help organizations track energy use and cost, monitor building diagnostics, establish a baseline to identify areas of improvement, support external reporting, and create an energy-reduction strategy for the future.
By Joseph Aamidor
Energy management varies significantly from one organization to another, with some doing little more than tracking energy use through monthly utility statements and others relying on charts and graphs created with spreadsheets. Some companies take a more sophisticated approach, using building management systems (BMS) and internally built tools to collect and begin to interpret energy data. Organizations with the most successful energy efficiency programs are, with increasing frequency, relying on robust software applications deployed throughout the organization, serving as a central system of record for all building and energy performance information.
Energy efficiency software enables organizations to automatically combine data from many sources: submeters distributed at particular buildings across the enterprise; other data systems currently being used throughout the organization; and via direct entry to a user-friendly website. Energy management software can aggregate this data and calculate enterprise-wide total energy consumption and cost, in addition to related carbon emissions. Because data is collected from every building in an organization, users can generate ad hoc reports that compare and benchmark facilities, normalizing data for more realistic comparisons (e.g. consumption-per-square-metre). In short, these tools help users visualize energy data from across the organization and make better decisions about how to reduce energy consumption and save money.
Some energy efficiency software also includes diagnostics systems to monitor a building (or portfolio of buildings) and ensure that all the equipment and controls are performing optimally. This allows users to investigate equipment performance faults, based on inputs from building management systems, to detect problems that waste energy and impact comfort. Diagnostics software can compare actual performance with pre-defined set-points and identify spikes and inconsistencies in equipment operation, providing valuable insight that diagnoses the cause of abnormal consumption. This software can, for example, allow a user to compare a decrease in actual airflow in a building’s cooling system to the set-point for the flow, and the operation of a zone damper in a variable-air-volume (VAV) box used to manage the airflow. Comparing these three pieces of information could identify a specific VAV box equipment issue that otherwise would have gone undetected.
Furthermore, when energy efficiency software detects abnormal building equipment performance and identifies equipment faults, diagnostics software can help users prioritize repairs and maintenance activities throughout a building portfolio. Users can rely on the software to understand cost savings that may be gained by correcting problems. Such information can be visualized in charts, enabling users to conduct comparisons of equipment performance.
In addition to tracking enterprise-wide energy use and monitoring building diagnostics, measurement and verification software allows users to create a baseline of energy usage for a building, which can be used to implement efficiency measures. Once these measures are in place, measurement and verification software helps users quantify the associated savings, based on benchmarked energy reduction forecasts.
Organizations that use some or all of these software applications typically have been met with two challenges. First, how do the various software applications talk to each other and, second, how is data from geographically dispersed buildings aggregated, when much of the software and hardware infrastructure typically is installed onsite at each building? To solve these challenges, applications increasingly are moving to the cloud, and customers are using a SaaS (software-as-a-service) model to shift cost from capital to operational expenditures and provide economies of scope and scale. Applications delivered via SaaS are available through standard, secure internet connectivity. In addition, the software can be regularly updated to ensure users always have access to the most updated version.
The basis of energy management is the ability access all the relevant data—from meters, utility statements, building management systems, data management systems and historic spreadsheets—to analyze and visualize that data. Hosted software streamlines this data acquisition challenge. In addition, SaaS offers strong security measures; standard IT configurations as it pertains to firewalls, routers, switches and DMZs, in addition to physical and logical separation of web tier (user facing) and data tier (business logic and data storage) architectures.
For example, one solution on the market includes software applications designed to track organization-wide energy use, monitor building faults, and verify savings of efficiency projects. It also includes application support and an online community to facilitate conversations between like-minded individuals.
An investment in energy efficiency software can deliver maximum value when supported by a partner with a deep understanding of building efficiency and a wealth of expertise developed over years. The ability to connect online with subject matter experts, industry thought leaders and others to share tips, answer questions and learn about the latest trends in building efficiency is an added bonus for users that demand to stay on the cutting-edge of innovation.
To develop an effective energy efficiency program, organizations need tools that enable easy acquisition of building performance and energy consumption data. Today’s SaaS-based applications provide better, quicker and deeper analytics regarding how buildings are functioning and how their performance can be improved. As a result, organizations today are far better equipped to reduce energy consumption as they strive to improve occupant comfort while contributing to a sustainable environment.
Joseph Aamidor serves as product manager for Panoptix Energy Applications at Johnson Controls. He previously led development of the mobile source sections of EPA’s Inventory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks, and worked with a variety of governments and corporations to measure and mitigate their carbon emissions. Joseph has delivered numerous presentations on live webinars and at a variety of business conferences around the world, and has authored multiple publications.