Most properties in Australia don’t have a dedicated facility manager or energy manager.
As energy costs become more significant, and with more organisations prioritising sustainability, responsibility for energy management is falling to staff who don’t necessarily have the time or expertise to deal with the challenges or the opportunities.
For some people the energy management role will be just another hat to wear in a job that may already have a number of competing priorities.
If you are a ‘Defacto Energy Manager’ (we’ll use DEM for the rest of this article) for the property where you work, you might be being asked why your property uses more energy than others, or you might be being asked to find ways to reduce energy costs. When you don’t have the time or expertise, or the data or tools, to answer these questions, it can be very hard to know where to start.
We’d like to provide three ways to start thinking about how to be an effective DEM.
Firstly, as everyone knows, you can’t manage what you don’t measure, and this is where good energy management starts. At a minimum you need to request access to up-to-date energy usage information. This can come in a number of forms but one of the most common is referred to as interval meter data, which means granular data covering consumption for every 15 or 30-minute interval each day.
This data might be at the level of the entire property (particularly for smaller buildings) or, if you’re lucky, you may have access to interval data at a more granular level via sub meters, allowing you to track energy use through the main building loads such as your lighting, air-conditioning (and other mechanical services), and appliances and plug loads.
If your property is large you’ll also want information broken down by different areas of the property, for example for each floor of an office, and if you work in a more complex facility you may need additional metering for large loads like refrigeration in a food retail outlet, pool heating in an aquatic centre, or industrial plant equipment in a manufacturing environment.
The bare minimum you will need is day-behind access to interval meter data for your entire property; it just isn’t possible to manage energy use with monthly invoice data.
This data should ideally be made accessible to you via the web and an interactive dashboard display and simple-to-use reports. Once you have access to good data, you should also find ways of using the data to engage and support the other staff in your building.
Understand what’s normal
Secondly, for many kinds of properties like commercial offices, retail outlets, schools and university buildings, police stations, and many others, the patterns of energy use are ofter very similar and should be easy to understand at a high level. Energy use is greater during operating hours and lower outside of these hours, and its higher when the outside temperature is too hot or too cold.
You should be able to use your meter data to try and understand what the normal pattern of energy use is in your property. How much energy does your property use at night or on holidays when it is unoccupied? How much does it use during the normal working day? What happens on very hot days or very cold days? And so on. Good energy management software will help you do this.
If your property is part of larger portfolio, for example it is one of many other retail outlets, then you should also be able to use comparative benchmarks from other properties in the portfolio to understand what’s normal. In most cases these properties won’t be identical so you will need access to normalised data, such as energy use per square meter, to make comparisons meaningful.
Once you have established a good understanding of what’s normal you can immediately start making operational improvements. You can identify times when your property is using more energy than it should and take action to correct it. For example, you might notice lights being left on after-hours or air-conditioning systems switching on during public holidays.
Good energy management software will send you alerts via e-mail or SMS, which is ideal for the DEM who usually doesn’t have time to peer at charts every day, or pour over data in Microsoft Excel.
Making a plan
Once you have tackled operational efficiency, the next step is to develop a plan to make more energy savings.
There will be a whole raft of project opportunities you can take, including:
- Upgrade to LED lights
- Implement a lighting control system
- Switch to more efficient appliances
- Switch to a more efficient air-conditioning system
- Install Solar PV
- Implement a voltage reduction system
In some cases, developing and evaluating project opportunities like this will require consultants and support from head-office. But as the DEM for your property you should take a strong interest in understanding what kinds of opportunities make the most sense for your situation, and crucially what kind of benefits you should expect.
Once any project opportunities like these are implemented you can use your meter data to measure and verify the savings, and from an operational perspective, ensure the new systems are working correctly. Very few technologies like these are ‘set and forget’ and we frequently see PV systems that stop generating power, lighting control systems with an incorrect schedule, or new air-conditioning systems that haven’t been commissioned properly.
And again, good energy management software will make this measurement and verification simple.
More and more we’re seeing the role of energy management being decentralised across organisations. Often this is simply out of necessity – if your building portfolio is scattered across the state or the country there is no practical way that a centralised asset or energy management team can support you onsite. Other times it comes about as a result of organisational streamlining as companies look to trim costs and have non-core roles like energy management picked up by other staff. In either case, if you find yourself as the DEM (I know, it wasn’t in the job description when you took the role) then don’t despair. With a little bit of effort upfront, and armed with the right questions for head office, you can quickly take control of the energy spend at your building and, with the right technology on your side, it doesn’t have to take much time at all.