Using Real-Time Energy Monitoring in Office Buildings to Catch ‘Operational Stray’

Gavin Platt

A study by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) identified an average reduction of 13.2 percent in electricity use when using real-time electricity data to improve operational efficiency in three large, multi-tenant office buildings. The project was highly profitable, with savings of $220,000 in the first year alone.

Using real-time data to determine when building systems “stray” from optimum settings is an effective, low-cost way of reducing energy waste in commercial buildings. Even with properly maintained facilities, necessary equipment and controls changes will occur and mechanical problems may require temporary modifications that are later forgotten. For example, when thermostats are adjusted for an evening meeting and not reset to daytime schedules, a chiller could be running at night for weeks before somebody notices, causing excessive energy use and unnecessary drain on equipment.

Building owners and facility managers can see similar results when leveraging real-time data to manage their buildings. Lucid’s platform for integrating real-time metering and building systems data―BuildingOS―gets to the core of these issues. Consider Heat Map Analysis: In a building with refined scheduling, the Heat Map―plotting an entire year of hourly data in one snapshot―will reveal dependable and predictable patterns of consumption. But if energy consumption strays, such as when normal controls schedules are disrupted or don’t correspond to weather conditions or occupancy levels, the pattern will appear erratic (see example below).

Earlier this year Lucid and Ecova partnered to integrate real-time meter data with comprehensive expense, rate, tariff and usage data, creating a holistic analytical tool for facilities, finance, and sustainability teams. The combined solution, Data Insight on Demand correlates the combined data set, clients gain increased insight into energy management and help keep costs under control.

Some changes in building performance are even more arcane and out-of-view, such as when a sensor breaks or a software bug causes automated systems to turn on at the wrong times. Downstream from day-to-day operations, building managers need to be aware of discrepancies between what they’ve been charged on their monthly utility bills and the resources they’ve actually used. With real-time data from sub-meters, sensor failures and potential overcharges alike can be promptly pinpointed.

NRDC emphasizes that large office buildings are complicated systems. Changes in how a building is used or how a system operates are normal and should be expected — even in the best LEED-certified buildings. One of the goals of any energy management strategy should be to optimize operations so that when inevitable changes occur, building managers are equipped with the right information and ready to respond.

Once you’ve made the investment in the technology, organizations must commit resources to monitor the data and take action in order to achieve the desired results. Real-time energy data could save you a lot with little financial investment.

Learn about Ecova’s new Data Insight on-Demand offering that combines technology and service to optimize real time data insights and request a demo today.

Gavin Platt is Lucid’s cofounder and VP of Design, serving in a previous position as Creative Director. His artistic approach underpins BuildingOS and Building Dashboard, from product development to marketing. His work has been widely featured in leading design, green building, and technology publications, including The New York Times, Make Magazine, and Wired. Prior to Lucid, he designed novel UIs for visualizing real-time performance in the acclaimed A.J. Lewis Center in Oberlin, Ohio. A recipient of the Adobe MAX Award and International Green Award, Gavin holds a BA in Environmental Studies from Oberlin College.

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