January/February 2011

Cover Story

Success in energy conservation

Emerging best practices, technologies in energy management

Fast Forward

  • Long-term, comprehensive energy conservation plans are the foundation.
  • Investment in metering and communications infrastructure is crucial.
  • The importance of interoperability and data context in Energy Management Systems is key.
 
By Troy Miller

"Sustainability." "Green." "Conservation." "Energy Efficiency." Seems like everyone is talking about it, almost as if the issue has not existed for decades. The truth, of course, is that it has, and many industrial and other public and private organizations are progressing or already have progressed well beyond the lowest hanging fruit of energy conservation.

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It is not that no one cared about energy conservation before, but particularly in the U.S., it is the heightened awareness of the issue. Awareness among executives, plant managers, employees, utilities, consumers, science and advocacy groups, and politicians alike.

The great thing about energy conservation is it has equal parts, holistic and material benefits: the opportunity to improve the planet and the bottom line. But it is dominantly the latter that makes it such an appealing focal point for public and private entities, who are increasingly moving to better organize their energy efforts.

Whatever the dominant driving factor behind the initiative, and whether an organization is just beginning in earnest or has been at it for years, there are several critical foundations that go a long way toward achieving and maintaining significant results in energy conservation and reduction initiatives: The development of and dedication to a formal, comprehensive, long-term plan of action; investment in metering and communications infrastructure; and the implementation of an interoperable Energy Management System (EMS).

Built to last starts with good foundation

Successful energy conservation programs begin with the development of a comprehensive, long-term plan of continuous improvement. Often this step is skipped, left incomplete, done once and not revisited, or is not broadly communicated throughout an organization.

At a minimum, a good formal plan or program:

  • Describes an organizations' commitment to conservation and begins to emphasize the importance of energy management in an organizations' culture, enrolling associates and suppliers.
  • Clearly establishes 1-, 3-, 5-, and 10-year goals (longer if practical), but is kept simple enough and formatted in a manner that can be easily maintained, re-evaluated, and adapted over time.
  • Establishes current consumption baselines, energy purchasing methods, and billing data, preferably to the lowest known level (by plant or building, type of energy consumed), including any self-generation sources.
  • Defines the standard measurement units and key performance indicators (KPIs) that will be used for recording/reporting energy use and evaluating progression to goals.
  • Describes an organizations' approach to metering and communications infrastructure.

The most successful energy management programs are developed and maintained by multi-discplined teams of individuals from various functions such as maintenance, engineering, production, financing, and management. Some organizations have incorporated energy management goals and efforts into existing Six Sigma, lean, and other continuous improvement programs, an approach which has been successfully employed by a number of manufacturers and seems to be gaining popularity.

A potential opportunity for starting or organizing and enhancing energy management programs is the International Organization for Standardization's (ISO's) upcoming 50001 standard, slated for a mid-2011 release. 50001 is said to offer "a standardized framework by which a diversity of facilities-industrial, commercial, and institutional-can establish validated policies and procedures to manage energy use."

The recent emergence of standards like 50001 serves as a re-enforcement of the increase in energy conservation awareness, and that the foundational step of more organized and comprehensive energy conservation plans in industry has been somewhat overlooked to date.

Investment in metering, communications infrastructure

Even among organizations with well-established programs and those with otherwise heavily-instrumented facilities and processes, a common barrier to achieving greater energy conservation results is the lack of metering and communications infrastructure specific to energy consumption.

Two age-old sayings apply here: "If you can't measure it, you can't manage it." and "You don't know what you don't know." Water, air, gas or other fuel sources, electricity, and steam (W.A.G.E.S) distribution and consumption data goes unmeasured at sufficient levels of granularity to pinpoint the specific locations, manners, and times in which it is consumed. Said another way, knowing how much kwh of electricity is consumed by a plant or building is a good start, but knowing the total W.A.G.E.S consumed by a specific building, department, floor, process, piece of equipment, and peak times it is consumed provides far more valuable context for energy managers and produces greater results. The same is true if the energy is being measured, but the information is stranded by a lack of network communications and connectivity.

Gaps in an organizations' metering and communications infrastructure:

  • Hide inefficient buildings, systems, and equipment
  • Limit the ability to act in the precise way needed to reduce consumption
  • Often kill potential projects that would otherwise produce substantial returns, as the justifying person or team lacks the quantitative data needed to perform accurate, detailed feasibility or ROI calculations
  • Hinder the implementation of more advanced energy management and consumption optimization applications
  • Result in significant challenges when employing energy performance contracting and other gain sharing or incentive-based commercial constructs, as initial benchmarks or validation of results are unavailable or disputable (measurement and verification)
  • Prevent the accurate and appropriate allocation of energy use and costs within assets, departments, etc., which can drive process, behavioral, or cultural changes that result in significant savings

Yet with so precious few capital dollars to go around these days, energy metering and related infrastructure projects often go unfunded or under-funded, as those tasked with designing and implementing them are required to perform return-on-investment (ROI) calculations or other financial justification. Fact is, it is very difficult-if not impossible-to quantify a specific ROI for "just" a metering implementation. Adequate metering and communications infrastructure investments represent the ante involved with implementing energy conservation and efficiency initiatives. Include metering in even small equipment and component upgrades, as this can provide valuable energy measurement data and is far less costly to install during an initial build effort than it is to do it later.

It is OK to start small, but start.

  • Incorporate a metering approach and philosophy in the Energy Plan, recognizing it is a necessary step in the commitment to conservation.
  • At a minimum, metering implementations should be at a sufficient level to enable the organization to discern the specific location, measure, and time of consumption of energy.
  • If already underway, sub-meter to the lowest, most granular level you can afford. Consider wireless metering approaches as alternatives to dedicated, hard-wired meters.
  • Appropriately consider and budget network and communications infrastructure in metering efforts, balancing the value of information with access and security concerns.
  • Commit to a scheduled, progressive implementation and funding of additional sub-metering over time.

Wherever possible, ensure energy metering criteria is a component of all new capital projects and expansions.

Data context, interoperability in Energy Management Systems (EMS)

Perhaps the most critical choices an organization makes in its energy conservation efforts are those involving the design, selection, and implementation of an EMS. Currently, most EMS are used to: 

  • Improve awareness of energy consumption
  • Provide centralized, real-time reporting of W.A.G.E.S
  • Provide accurate use allocation and cost accounting and reporting
  • Efficiently manage and improve ongoing utilities consumption
  • Comply with governmental or internal efficiency goals and compliance requirements

Many organizations begin initial implementations of EMS by focusing upon the collection and visualization of what is usually totalized period consumption data (total quantity consumed over a pre-defined time period), often utilizing existing control and human machine interface (HMI) functionality or deploying simple, single-dimensional dashboard or data collection systems used solely by facilities, plant managers, and energy personnel. This is an obvious and reasonable place to start, and it successfully achieves an improved awareness of energy consumption at a local level.

However, this approach only provides a portion of the overall puzzle, particularly for companies with diverse production assets distributed throughout the continent or globe, or for organizations with large campuses with many buildings, each with unique attributes. As Kevin Kuretich, associate director of Plant Operations for the University of Texas at Austin said: "It's one thing to collect a bunch of energy data. It's quite another to create intelligence from it."

Energy consumption is a continuum that evolves over time, changing with the product manufactured, production, occupancy volumes or building use, regulatory and compliance requirements, and other variables. Ultimately to be wielded effectively, energy consumption data must be placed into the proper context and measured in as real time as possible, and should be prepared in a manner easily communicated to or accessed by others within an organization.

Energy consumption in context, increasingly described as energy intensity and measured as total therms or kwh of energy consumed/units of product produced in manufacturing, or per sq ft for campus and building applications, establishes an easy to identify benchmark and KPI. It can be argued, however, that even better contextual measurements would be: "x cents kwh of electricity per lb. of product produced"; or for buildings: "mmBTU/sqft compared against increase/decrease in occupancy or square feet"; or other variances to general standard measurements.

While adoption and inclusion of industry standards is important, it is equally important EMS have enough flexibility and are implemented in a manner to organize and communicate information in the specific context that can best be understood and address the needs of executive, financial, energy, production, facilities, and operations personnel.

To organize energy data into the proper context described and provide a scalable foundation for managing energy, an EMS must also be capable of interoperability. IEEE defines interoperability as "the ability of two or more systems or components to exchange information and to use the information that has been exchanged." An EMS's ability to scale over time and exchange information with disparate control, HMI, power monitoring, enterprise resource planning, manufacturing execution system, production, financial, and other systems, then use that information to manage energy, is an important feature in organizing data into context and creating intelligence. Rarely, if ever, can one afford to connect it all out of the gate, but choosing a technology incapable of interoperability can severely limit long-term conservation and management efforts. 

Summarizing, good EMS should:

  • Enable the collection and visualization of real-time energy data
  • Be capable of interoperability with a variety of disparate systems 
  • Be capable of organizing and reporting energy data in context for use by a variety of departments or personnel

Most, if not all, major commercial and industrial automation and control technology manufacturers, and several newcomers to the space, have expanded existing or developed new products or modules that are dedicated to energy management. Each has their strengths, areas for continued development and improvement, and fit. Determining what will be needed from the system over the long-term, evaluating its capability to interoperate with other disparate systems, and scalability are the keys to the selection and development of an EMS system. 

A case in point

An example of a good energy conservation program that started modestly, but today produces significant results, is the University of Texas at Austin (UT). One of the larger public university facilities in the U.S., UT educates over 50,000 students at its Austin location, and encompasses over 200 buildings and 20 million square feet of building space. The campus has undergone substantial change over the past decade, where nearly 80% of campus space is now utilized for research, and it has added more than 3 million square feet of building space over the timeframe.  

A little more than 10 years ago, UT began their energy conservation program in earnest by developing a 20-year master plan. UT's plans set clear goals for energy conservation and provided the context-in their instance in relation to growth in square footage-by which progress to goals would be compared and measured:

  • Total energy cost avoidance
  • Recurring annual savings
  • Carbon emissions reduction
  • Fuel use consumption reduction
  • Plant efficiency

Each year is dedicated to specific additions and focuses for systems and infrastructure, often coinciding with and leveraging capital improvement projects and new builds, and incorporates formal progress reviews with university administrative staff and the improvement and revision of their master plans as required.

To start out, UT focused on making small, incremental improvements. In the first year of their efforts, UT metered and monitored fewer than a handful of energy points, initially limited solely to the central plant and gathering approximately seven points each from major systems like boilers, chillers, etc. Additional, early focuses were on investment in engineering and operations staff training, education, and general energy conservation awareness.    

In years 3-8, UT began to increasingly accelerate the program, as they progressed through a series of significant capital expansions, equipment and capacity additions, and control and visualization technology upgrades that served as the initial foundation of their energy management systems collecting, organizing, and displaying information in the context of their goals. Adjacent and complimentary projects focused on standardization and incorporated the improvement of communications and networking infrastructure, connecting as many of their existing systems to one another as practical. These efforts assisted UT in identifying inefficient processes and equipment and gave them greater insight into their energy systems in whole, and supported the validation of suitable project feasibility calculations targeting upgrades and replacements. Process and capital equipment improvements included the addition of thermal energy storage, upgrades to more energy efficient turbines, load-shedding and peak-shaving implementations, and improvements to chilling capacity. Recent additions include the deployment of more advanced real-time adaptive energy optimization and utilities dispatching technologies piloted at the site in the past year; and today, UT estimates their operations now involve over 100,000 measurement and metering devices.

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Their efforts culminated in the receipt of an "International Energy Agency Climate Award" in 2009.  

But as Juan Ontiveros, UT's executive director of Utilities and Energy Management states: "Sure we're making progress, but we'll always be expected to look for improvement."

Summary

Company executives, utilities, governments, and others are not going to stop asking for continued conservation anytime soon. The degree of near- and long-term success will depend upon an organization's ability to adapt to changing energy requirements, and appropriate investments in a few key areas can produce substantial results. A formal, comprehensive plan, a solid metering and communications infrastructure, and an interoperable EMS capable of organizing energy data in context provide a solid foundation to reaching and maintaining your conservation goals.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Troy Miller (tmiller@glenmountglobal.com) is vice president of Glenmount Global Solutions (GGS). He has been in the Automation, Control, and Information industries for more than 15 years, with a focus on large-scale energy, industrial manufacturing, and central plant implementations. He has been a part of GGS since its acquisition of Tegron, an independent systems integrator, in 2008. He currently directs the business development efforts of GGS's Energy business.

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