Cork courtesy of Flickr user David Vespoli

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, start with these three data-driven energy management techniques.

With 2014 fading away, now is the best time to translate expectations for next year into New Year’s resolutions. But, if you’re a busy facilities professional, how do you find the time to make progress and have resolutions on energy? Energy is so complex, with so many moving pieces, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

Across 200 million square feet of property, Gridium has continually found that the complexity is a major barrier to doing anything at all, and that focusing on just three things will produce tangible benefits for the building.

#1: Watch your baseload

Buildings don’t turn off at night, they turn down. Overnight load is called baseload and–because the building is unoccupied–you always want to minimize it. This is a very simple concept, but even the best run buildings have a baseload opportunity.

While it is very difficult to determine optimal baseload for a building, it is easy to spot differences in baseload within a building. Gridium’s Snapmeter tracks your building’s algorithmic baseload (adjusting for weather), and with the flip of a button, can automatically visualize when a building’s nighttime and weekend setbacks are not reaching your predicted baseload level. In the example below, the building routinely reaches a 120 kW baseload on weekends, but is struggling–as shaded in red–to reach this level during weeknights:

Snapmeter start and stop

This is a very common scenario, and immediately prompts the question, “what do we turn off on Saturday night that we don’t on weeknights?” If you need to justify a call to a controls specialist to help, Snapmeter will now show you the savings from excess baseload.

#2: Trim your Start and Stop

Because buildings are turned down at night, they have to start and stop. How and when you start and stop a building is a major factor in energy use, but very few buildings track their start and stop. And even in the most well well run buildings, we see opportunities for start-stop improvement.

Snapmeter’s algorithms automatically calculate and shade daily startup and shutdown, graphing each phase while also timestamping the start to both phases every day. Additionally, historical average off-hours are colored in grey to compare daily operating schedules to prior trends as well as building hours:

Snapmeter measuring savings

Building operators can use these analytics to immediately ask questions about start-up and shut-down:

  • We start the building well in advance of lease hours. Is that necessary?
  • How does this week start compare to historical averages?
  • Why do we start on different times on different days?
  • Does building start time vary with temperature? Should it?

Remember that starting up and shutting down smoothly is the goal. Hard starts are rough on equipment, causing premature wear and tear, and can also lead to unintended peak demand charges. Staging equipment to come online just in time (sequentially, rather than simultaneously), and ramping electricity use down in the early evenings, is generally the most energy efficient profile for a building’s load curve.

#3: Measure your energy savings

Perhaps the most frustrating part of energy management is that it is very difficult to determine if you are doing a good job. Energy bills are affected by your usage, but also how and when you used energy, the length of the bill, and the weather. Its a big reason a lot of buildings never even get started.

There is an easier way. Gridium’s Billcast application uses your building’s utility smart meter interval data and local weather station data to understand your energy savings. These savings are then visualized against the building’s actual performance to spot either weather adjusted energy increases (shaded below in orange) or highlight savings (shaded below in blue):

Billcast variance

On the graph, you can see the building has generated solid savings on the weekends, enough to offset small increases in the daytime usage. You can also see the effect of a start time adjustment on Monday.

You can also see that the November bill is actually 14.5% higher than the same period last year, in spite of the energy savings. Rate effects added 14%, weather added 5.3% and operations saved 4.4%. Put differently, without this team’s efforts the bill would have been 19% higher!

Building teams can’t manage energy unless they can see the results of their efforts. Billcast allows your team to demonstrate progress and show the benefits, even in the face of changing weather and rates.

It really is that simple. Watch the baseload, trim startup and shutdown and measure and prove the effect. We hope these three simple suggestions help set your building up for a successful and efficient 2015.

Happy New Year!

About Tom Arnold

Tom Arnold is co-founder and CEO of Gridium. Prior to Gridium, Tom Arnold was the Vice President of Energy Efficiency at EnerNOC, and cofounder at TerraPass. Tom has an MBA from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania and a BA in Economics from Dartmouth College. When he isn't thinking about the future of buildings, he enjoys riding his bike and chasing after his two daughters.

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