Up until recently, energy management literally meant capturing monthly electricity bills manually and filling them away in the accounts department where they were quickly forgotten, never to be looked at again.
Things have changed however since our first energy crisis event in 2008; rolling blackouts and rapidly increasing tariffs shocked the nation into the realisation that we no longer have cheap and reliable electricity available to us. Additionally, Eskom actually has less generating capacity than they did ten years ago; due to the aging fleet of power stations and infrastructure requiring ongoing repair, maintenance and replacement works
The need to understand your organisation’s energy consumption has now moved from being purely a billing requirement to actively managing energy as the third or sometimes even second highest expense to a business after salaries and rental.
To put things in perspective; energy monitoring is a passive approach whereas energy management proactive; when a user takes the data and applies some process to it and uses this to implement change, either technological or behavioural. Energy management can take the form of preparing energy forecasts and then tracking usage against it. It could be a review of when energy is used and focus on projects to eliminate energy consumption when it has no value. It can take many forms but ultimately it’s about doing something to change energy usage.
Aside from purely electricity cost management, there are other compelling reasons to closely manage energy consumption, for example; some older buildings have old inefficient lighting systems, air conditioning units and electric motors. Utilising energy management software one can measure the level of consumption and then apply technology to save costs. Ultimately it’s all about having access to relevant data and having the skills to evaluate the data and make recommendations that will pay back the cost of investment.
Many of you may be familiar with BMS (Building Management Systems) already, but this is not to be confused with energy management systems. BMS is designed to manage specific items such as the HVAC (Heating Ventilation and Cooling) and lighting controls. Energy management is about overall electrical usage and not just the items that the BMS manages.
Over and above the technology required to undertake energy management such as SMART digital meters and energy management software, one cannot overlook the importance of those that need to manage the facility through hands-on experience and knowledge, coupled with expert analysis of the data for implementation. Third party experts can offer a second opinion and can review a site objectively. Facilities managers are often strong on maintenance but lack the training or experience in selecting and implementing various efficiency systems. It is of equal importance to select the right partner.
A good way to start is by setting a target. Start by looking at your total energy consumption for a year and then take 10% of this. This is typically the savings goal that should be targeted. Look for an energy management system (software) that will be cost effective at this price. If your building is older or you know there is significant wastage it may be more realistic to aim for a 25% savings target. Always meter your municipal feeds – ensuring that your billing is accurate can result in a hefty saving. Next, target the big loads or older equipment. Generators are expensive to run so it makes sense to meter them. By setting a savings target and then investing in multiple meter points so you can identify where the problems lie and this is ultimately what energy management is based on. As you can see, this requires some specialist expertise and also the time allowances required to conduct the analysis.
The next question to ask is which systems or software to use? Start by assessing the product – is it used locally? Many European and US companies are selling software that can’t cope with SA’s complex tariffs. Do they sell software and metering only or have they got experience implementing energy savings projects? It’s important that you have someone who is experienced when it comes to energy management. Do they use good quality meters? It is not uncommon for ‘cost effective’ (read cheap) hardware to be installed that does not supply accurate and reliable data. This can cause a great deal of frustration for facilities managers and accounting teams.
At the end of day, what you want is a system that not only monitors your energy consumption, but also allows for analysis, either automatically, or by a qualified expert user , in order to obtain the energy data required for making decisions on implementing energy efficiency solutions. Sometimes to save money, you need to spend a little first!
After all is said and done, the bottom line is ultimately, “what drives energy efficiency?”. Without a mechanism to determine savings achieved, it is often hard to justify even the marginal cost of utilising an energy management system, let alone costly implementations.