Five Common Challenges to Maximizing Energy Management System ROI

Jamie Daubenspeck

Regardless of your portfolio or geographical spread, an energy management system (EMS) is a valuable tool for managing energy-consuming assets in your facilities. Because you can’t see everything at once, an EMS features sensors that can detect temperature, humidity, daylight, energy, gas, water, etc.

Simply installing EMS alone will not bring substantial savings. Companies also need to know how to extract and analyze data and take action on the information. If you have found this a major challenge, you are not alone.

During our recent webinar, “Uncover the True Value of Your EMS” participants were polled on what they felt were their top challenges in monitoring and maintaining assets at their facilities. Half of respondents answered “leveraging EMS data to make strategic decisions,” followed by “limited resources to monitor alarms” and “optimizing maintenance schedule.” These answers were not surprising!

In order to provide insight and guidance to the audience, I was able to review five common challenges to maximizing EMS ROI and provide some key strategies and best practices:

1. Lack of Documented Standards/Enforcement

Implementing corporate-wide standard configurations for things like open and close hours or staggering starting times should be a key component of your overall energy strategy and approach when commissioning your control system. Communication and documentation is key here. We’ve seen many instances where these standards are not well-documented or enforced, or operational parameters may not have been appropriately configured during programming. The objective is to capture the optimal configuration for your facilities… even if you end up with multiple versions based on the type of building or its location. Then make sure you have support from within your organization to implement and enforce the standards: think about who will be affected and make sure you address any concerns before rolling out the standards.

2. System Overrides

In a perfect world, system settings would stay constant over time. However, overrides are simply a necessity, especially when you have employee or customer complaints about lighting or temperature, or have to adjust settings for an unusual event or different store hours. Monitoring these overrides are fairly simple if you only have a handful of sites, but it becomes a real challenge with hundreds or thousands of locations. Process and communication are key to managing this challenge. Implement a Variance Management Process and communicate it to your entire organization, which identifies a mechanism for requesting a variance and associated approval, both of which should be documented. You can then ensure schedules and setbacks are changed back. Periodically review your portfolio to identify outliers. And also, establish user permissions that set limits on which people can access and override settings.

3. Sensor Location

During EMS installation, sensors are usually installed in a location that optimizes the system’s performance – but over time, as facilities are remodeled and change, this ideal location may become more of a nuisance. For example, you may have a sensor that controls exterior lighting. It was in a good location when that maple tree next to it was just planted, but years later, when that tree grows and thick foliage shades the sensor, it may cause the lights to come on in the middle of the day. So how do you discover these sensor failures? Leverage your data if you aren’t receiving sensor alerts to look for outliers. Compare sensor readings against other sensors that can help you identify issues. Coordinate with remodels and site improvement projects to ensure the sensors aren’t affected – or move them if they are. Also, leverage technology to help you gather all sensor data in one place, then standardize and centralize the data on one platform, which makes it not only easier to access but to analyze as well. If you don’t have the resources to do this, there are third parties—like Ecova—that can do it for you.

4. Nuisance Alarms

Alarms notifying you of potential issues are a key function and benefit of EMS, but there can be hundreds of these alarms every day across your portfolio—some are true issues, but some are false positives, or what we call nuisance alarms. Eventually, you get overwhelmed and start ignoring them, which can cause you to miss a real issue. A best practice is to establish an alarm strategy that encompasses your entire portfolio, including an alarm matrix that identifies which alarms are most important to you and your organization. For example, you may want all Critical Refrigeration alarms sent directly to onsite person so that they can investigate and take immediate action, while alarms for space temperature issues can be automatically directed to your HVAC service provider. Then reconfigure your systems as needed to fine-tune the alarms and alerts to notify the right people on actionable issues and not send out notifications on low-priority issues.

5. Improper Maintenance

Equipment needs repair and maintenance – and when the technician is on site, he or she may have silenced an alarm or disconnected the asset from the control system while performing the work, then been in a hurry to get out and on the next job, leaving the asset virtually invisible to EMS. To address this, have a checkout procedure when anyone is conducting onsite maintenance on these critical assets. The procedures should include verification that all standards and parameters have been implemented prior to the technician leaving the site. As a starting point, review your CMMS or maintenance work order system to identify areas where you’ve had past issues. Then pilot the new check out procedure for a few months to measure its impact before rolling it out to all assets. This can dramatically reduce recalled work orders or callbacks to fix issues that should have been resolved the first time.

There’s no question that an energy management system (EMS) will deliver value to your organization, but these best practices will help you truly maximize that value of your investment and realize savings in energy, maintenance and operations.

To further help you know the true value of your EMS, click for a free EMS assessment.

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