Energy Data Collection and Savings Identification

In today’s educational facility environment, controlling bottom-line costs is key to maintaining current programs while ensuring affordable education. No longer assumed to be a fixed cost, energy consumption and demand can be managed to help mitigate other rising costs that may be more difficult to control. With this in mind, energy monitoring provides a relatively easy to implement, cost-effective means for conserving energy and saving money.

Next to salaries, energy is often the next-highest expense for educational facilities. To effectively manage this precious resource, it is necessary to understand how and when it is being used throughout the facility. The majority of K-12 schools have only one utility meter that records energy consumption (kilowatt hours or kWh) and demand (kilowatts or kW) for the entire facility. This scenario does not allow facilities to understand exactly where, when or how their energy is being used, nor does it allow facilities to identify areas of waste or opportunities for conservation and cost savings.

The tool that gives managers the needed energy insight is the electric submeter. This inexpensive device easily installs behind the primary billing meter at the electrical service entrance to monitor energy use for an entire building, individual location or specific circuit or item of equipment, including lighting, HVAC, plug load and other energy-intensive parameters.

Submeters can be installed virtually anywhere needed, communicating to any desired monitoring location via the facility’s existing Ethernet backbone, wireless infrastructure, modem, the Internet or other data highway to factor any desired utility service into the facility’s energy management system. Combining submeters with a sophisticated energy intelligence software system allows users to better understand when, where and how energy is being used within the organization. Armed with this information, facility managers can better control costs and improve operational efficiencies, along with developing measurable energy conservation initiatives. As a data acquisition “front end” to the facility’s building management system (BMS), submeters are an especially useful way to do the following;
  • Monitor all utility services, including electricity, gas, water and steam;
  • Determine specific processes that are not energy efficient;
  • Assess and chart power-quality parameters;
  • Evaluate, in near real time, the impact of critical load-shedding activities;
  • Compare energy usage by day, week, month or year; and
  • Schedule energy data collections to occur automatically.
Today, the deregulated utility markets offered in many states give school districts additional leverage in energy price negotiations by allowing them to combine or aggregate all of their facilities into a single, larger purchasing entity. Provided by submeters, the aggregated energy data positions the school district as a larger, more attractive customer for competing energy service providers.

How Submeters Facilitate Sustainability

Recent industry studies show that green building construction will continue as a major trend across the facility landscape for the foreseeable future. As front-end energy data acquisition devices, submeters can contribute directly to certification of schools and universities under major energy initiative guidelines. At the enterprise level, these devices can be used to assist in the development and verification of energy conservation initiatives, such as the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Green Building Rating System that gives facility operators the tools they need to optimize school facility performance in a wide variety of parameters, including energy management. In the academic facility environment, submeters are ideal for gathering energy data relative to the following.

Event allocation — energy use of stadium and parking lighting, sounds systems, vendors and more can be submetered to allocate costs accurately back to event sponsors.

Leased spaces — bookstores, food kiosks and other retail spaces use energy at different rates. Submeters are ideal for monitoring and generating accurate and fair energy statements based on individual use.

Department allocation — metering individual departments to include energy use is an effective way to increase energy awareness, lower usage and relieve departmental budgetary pressures.

Equipment maintenance —
key items of equipment can be metered to profile energy usage, providing a diagnostic function that allows facility personnel to identify costly failures before they happen and to reduce system downtime.

One Example: Bethke Elementary Gets the Gold
Timnath, Colo.’s Bethke Elementary School was recently named the nation’s first Gold-certified facility under the USGBC’s LEED for Schools rating system, an honor that was duplicated by the Green Building Initiative with its first school-awarded Three Green Globes designation. Designed with the latest high-efficiency electrical and mechanical construction features, the new $9.9 million facility’s energy-efficiency measures help to reduce facility operating costs by up to half through advanced sustainability design features.

The building management system (BMS) continuously monitors the school’s electrical parameters for evaluation by the district energy manager. The data acquisition front end includes two electric submeters that record and communicate kilowatt hour (kWh) data every 15 minutes to the monitoring location. This helped the facility qualify for Energy & Atmosphere (EA) points towards the LEED Gold certification by providing an energy data collection capability that can also be viewed on the BMS display terminal as a teaching tool for the faculty and students. From an operations standpoint, the submeters provide an energy management tool that allows the district to carefully monitor and evaluate energy consumption for potential corrective action.

Rising education costs, coupled with tighter operating budgets, are driving school facility managers to scrutinize their energy usage patterns, especially electricity which can account for up to 80 percent of the total energy costs of a facility. For this reason, many schools choose to submeter their electrical first, followed by gas, water, steam, BTUs or other utility services as budgets permit. Once savings are realized, they typically remain in the facility budget to reinvest into additional energy savings programs and electrical upgrades.  Growing numbers of institutions are discovering that, with the proper energy monitoring and management tools, operating costs can be effectively reduced — all without slashing programs, increasing tuition or cutting corners on educational quality.

Don Millstein is president and CEO of E-Mon, LLC, based in Langhorne, Penn. He is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council, Alliance to Save Energy, the Federal Energy Management Program task force and other professional organizations. He can be reached at 215/752-0601 or [email protected]