Energy monitoring is an efficiency technique based on the standard management axiom that “you cannot manage what you cannot measure.” Remote energy monitoring techniques provide facility managers with feedback on building operations, the results of energy management projects and guidance on the level of energy use that is expected in any given period.

“Energy monitoring allows building managers to use metering technologies and building automation systems to collect data into a centralized location to establish benchmarks, identify inefficiencies and usage trends, and to develop energy procurement strategies,” said Phil Bomrad, director of energy services for Siemens Building Technologies Inc., Buffalo Grove, Ill.

Remote energy monitoring systems use meters, data loggers and sensors to track energy usage and determine operating efficiencies, according to Jack Parchesky, manager of sustainable business development for Onset Computer Corp., Pocasset, Mass. Systems range from simple stand-alone, battery-operated data loggers that use sensors to record various operating parameters, such as voltage and current, to Web-enabled systems that monitor up to 15 different parameters, including current, voltage, kilowatt-hours, air pressure, temperature and humidity.

“These higher-end systems allow facility managers to access data through the Internet and make electrical system operating decisions in real-time,” he said.

Builders are more frequently requiring this ability to access data through the Internet. Doing so enables them to download data without having to visit multiple locations within the building or to travel to multiple sites to establish baseline operating parameters or to analyze usage trends. There also has been an increased demand recently, according to Parchesky, for energy monitoring systems to notify the building manager or the electrical contractor that is maintaining the system, either by e-mail or text message, of changes in the electrical system.

In addition, building owners have recently been outsourcing the hosting of the energy usage data collected—which they can access through the Internet— to application service providers (ASPs) because ASPs have reliable data storage capabilities, and owners don’t need to invest in the infrastructure for hardware, software or data backup and storage.

The goal of using energy monitoring and tracking is to determine the relationship of energy use to key performance indicators, which will help building managers identify and explain changes in energy use, determine consumption trends, determine future energy use, diagnose specific areas of wasted energy, develop performance targets for energy management programs, manage energy consumption, and track emissions to help comply with consumption-reduction goals. Energy monitoring systems also enable building owners to identify energy procurement strategies, Bomrad said.

“In a lot of markets today, a company can competitively procure energy. To do that, however, you need to know what the building’s load and consumption patterns are and what kind of flexibility there is to adjust energy usage,” he said.

With the ability to strategically purchase energy, a company can possibly reduce costs, elect to purchase energy from sustainable sources or mitigate price increase risks.

Monitoring systems also enable facility maintenance staff to determine circuit conditions right before a breaker trips to determine which problems exist in the system and analyze optimal solutions, make decisions quicker and have increased flexibility.

Need to know

“If electrical contractors understand the value of remote energy monitoring, such as procurement strategies, insulation from risk and reduced consumption, they can discuss those benefits with the customer and provide more value in terms of knowledge and expertise,” Bomrad said.

Contractors, he added, also need to understand the different metering technologies available on the market and the different standards that direct their use.

“Training and support are available from manufacturers to help ensure that the products chosen for the energy monitoring system by the contractor meet both the customer’s specifications and the existing standards,” he said.

Regardless of the complexity of the system, however, contractors need to understand that all three components of data collection, data storage and hosting, and data reports and analyses are required for it to be effective.

“Contractors can go to three different providers or to a turnkey provider to fulfill the customer needs, but energy usage monitoring is ineffective without all three components,” Bomrad said.

Data loggers are mostly plug-and-play today and easy to install and deploy.

“Data loggers are portable and can be moved as needed, allowing building owners to get more information when wanted, particularly when it is not cost-effective to install a more complicated data gathering system,” Parchesky said.

BREMER, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributes frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. She can be reached at 410.394.6966 or darbremer@comcast.net.