August 2012

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Real-Time Energy Management Still a Major Priority

But because different sectors use energy differently, each takes a different approach

Lisa West,
Senior Director,
Stephanie Daly,
Marketing Manager
AtSite, Inc.

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The interest in rating the real-life energy performance of buildings has increased in recent years, and the real-life efficiency performance rating of buildings is important for any future that involves sustainable energy. Based on the results of various industry surveys, one area of building operations that continues to be a major priority for leaders of all sectors –commercial office, retail, education and healthcare -- is energy management.

However, each sector uses energy in different ways at different times. Let’s take a look at how each sector measures and manages energy using different methods and how various energy management solutions can be utilized.

Commercial Office: Starting at the top

In the commercial office sector, energy management is often identified by corporate management as an integral part of the overall operation’s strategy. Rightfully so, since utility bills represent the largest controllable operating expense in office buildings. In addition, performance optimization can be increased with greater insight and awareness of energy usage. This shouldn’t come as any surprise. It is logical for a building operator who can pinpoint this data to then connect consumption to specific equipment and operations. This offers the ability to manage that equipment more efficiently.

For the most part, energy is measured using one of three methods for commercial office buildings. At the most basic level, it is measured and tracked by scanning monthly utility bills or manually inputting usage and costs into a spreadsheet. Other office buildings are adopting industry benchmarking tools, such as ENERGY STAR’s Portfolio Manager, to establish baselines and monitor their monthly energy usage. Building operators update their account each month and can determine energy usage changes for the entire building.

Finally on the most granular level, energy is measured using real-time energy monitoring software or by integrating utility meters with existing Energy Management Systems (EMS). These more advanced technology software programs provide several benefits compared to the other methods mentioned previously:

There are also more passive strategies being implemented for reducing energy cost, or in one case, generating energy revenue. Demand response involves building owners entering into an agreement with utility providers that then allow the utility to turn select equipment off during peak periods and in return receive a check for their time off the grid. This strategy is a win-win for all parties. As it continues to become more popular and provide value, it won’t be long before it becomes a normal part of utility tariff systems.

The most important trend that will change commercial office energy management is the recent adoption of energy benchmarking disclosure legislation currently being passed at city and state levels. Among those early adopters are California, Seattle, New York City, with more cities and states following suit each month. These regulations will require all commercial buildings to benchmark their energy usage by utilizing ENERGY STAR’s Portfolio Manager and publicly report and disclose those figures.

Making data more accessible
But beyond regulation, technology is continuing to make energy data more easily accessible for buildings. Programs and software are being developed and implemented alongside the installation of smart utility meters to enable the same granular, incremental data that is currently achieved through costly real-time energy monitoring software platforms -- and make it available for no cost through existing utility accounts.

And as technology continues to evolve, real-time energy management software will be able to automatically run various operations scenarios based on environmental factors and conditions. This will take away from a building operator’s need for day-to-day operations and will require the need for energy management strategy and plans to be put in place. Trends to make data more open and available will continue to gain popularity, and with that data, energy management will be achieved through even more targeted and measurable strategies. While it is starting in the commercial office industry, it will soon spread to other commercial building types as well.

Retail’s challenge: So far apart

Reliable Controls Measuring and managing energy for retail properties presents a challenge that most commercial office properties do not face: Geographically dispersed building sites. Whether at big box retailers or shopping malls, property management rarely has staff or building personnel present at each building site. Because of this, developing enterprise-wide energy management strategies can be seen as difficult due to varying building systems, regional regulations, and in the case of shopping malls, limited tenant engagement and control.

The point of shopping malls or retail centers brings up another challenge for managing energy usage. Unlike office, education, and healthcare buildings, the building owners of retail centers or shopping malls have control only over common area energy usage, mainly exterior lighting and perhaps a common area restroom or two. In most cases, tenants at these retail centers have full control of energy systems within their space, including servicing HVAC equipment, lighting and system controls. This dramatically reduces the availability of energy reduction opportunities, thus making the reward for identifying the few opportunities that exist that much more important.

For most retail properties, energy is measured by manually tracking monthly bills for multiple sites in a spreadsheet, or scanning bills into a database before sending them along to accounting to be paid. This creates several issues. First, there is a lack of attention given to each site. Aggregating multiple sites into one “master” number can disrupt the insight gained by assessing an individual building’s energy usage. And second, the time and effort it takes to compile a spreadsheet every month for multiple sites takes away from time spent analyzing and developing energy management strategies, and adds to the potential for discrepancies in data.

As far as managing energy usage, retailers primarily use a reactive approach, dealing with high-energy usage after it has already occurred. The limited insight gained from populating monthly spreadsheets from utility bills limits retailers’ ability to implement site-specific strategies in real time.

More tools: Remote access & wireless sensors
A growing trend among retailers is the use of the EPA ENERGY STAR system for buildings to measure and manage energy. And with added features such as Automated Benchmarking, data collection and input is automated; therefore eliminating the need to manually update a spreadsheet. Big box retailers such as Staples and Kohl’s have begun to set measurable and timely goals to achieve ENERGY STAR recognition for their buildings across the country. By using this standardized tool, retailers are able to compare geographically dispersed buildings with a single, uniform metric - an ENERGY STAR rating. This then allows portfolio-wide benchmarking to be more manageable and the ability to measure results more achievable and efficient.

Additional systems and tools are allowing retailers to better operate common area systems, such as parking lot lighting. Remote access control tools, such as NetLiNK Controls, allow building operators to set lighting schedules, configure after-hour circuits, and receive instant notifications of lamp outages -- all from a remote location via a Web-based portal. These central, remote, real-time tools are allowing operators to make operational changes for multiple locations without sending someone on-site, reducing labor costs, and more efficiently operating equipment.

Another energy management system forward-thinking retail chains are using is circuit- or device-level monitoring via relatively inexpensive clip-on devices that provide a detailed, highly accurate perspective on energy usage. These wireless sensors allow for non-invasive installation and once installed, they deliver real-time information to a cloud-based analytics platform.

Education’s central planning

Educational institutions are primarily comprised of a campus of buildings. Many education campus settings contain unique types of energy usage, such as district energy, where cooling or steam is generated in one central plant and distributed to multiple buildings via a system of underground piping. Because of this, campuses have more incentive to have a centralized monitoring and control system in place to maximize campus performance and minimize labor.  This is where small tweaks at the central plant can add up to big energy savings across the buildings.

Energy is primarily being measured and managed on education campuses through the use of Web-based monitoring and controls, whether it is independent of or integrated into an existing EMS. Much like other property types, these central controls allow building operators to remotely set equipment schedules, monitor temperature sensors, and even optimize start and stop times based on historical data. With the integration of the EMS or expanded capabilities, these Web based platforms allow building staff to instantly produce energy and system reports and configure alarms and alerts to notify them of abnormal usage in real time.

Integrated approach: MBCx
However, there is a growing trend in the education sector that is allowing for increased energy efficiency, extended equipment life and ultimately, enhanced asset value versus other asset types. Monitoring Based Commissioning (MBCx) is an integrated approach to energy monitoring and management.  This is where an EMS and/or Web-based monitoring platform are used as diagnostic tools to identify commissioning opportunities on a continuous basis.

Where commissioning (Cx) ensures that building systems and equipment are operating as designed before the building is in use, and retro-commissioning (RCx) spot-checks equipment to ensure that everything is still operating as designed, MBCx takes it a step further: It pinpoints specific equipment in need of commissioning and “fine tuning” systems. MBCx consists of taking gathered energy data from a Web-based monitoring program to diagnose issues, performing retro-commissioning, and conducting ongoing monitoring and commissioning to ensure that systems do not operate out of their designed intention.

Another growing trend for education buildings is the integration of using an educational component to drive behavior changes. Educational institutions are installing public, interactive energy dashboards in campus buildings and in residence halls to allow students to touch, see and learn about energy usage on their campus. These dashboards are being used to host dormitory and school-based energy reduction competitions and to further engage the student body. Although the use of education at educational institutions to drive energy savings seems like an ironic challenge, the application is proving to establish real savings through one of the more difficult energy users to control-- people.

Energy-hungry healthcare:

contemporary Healthcare buildings account for some of the highest energy consumption of all commercial facility types. This fact is due mainly to their need for 24/7 operation and the use of large medical equipment.

Because there is such a large differentiation in services (general, hospital, psychiatric, etc.), healthcare buildings are difficult to generalize and determine common best practices. Most buildings have complex energy systems with the need for constant, large amounts of energy at all times. For all of these reasons, energy measurement and management through targeted monitoring is essential for achieving high energy performance in the healthcare sector.

More control & increased quality
Real-time monitoring is a rapidly growing trend as more healthcare buildings identify the importance of insightful energy data. Since there is a limitation on controllable systems, such as plug load, healthcare buildings have an increased incentive to optimize lighting and HVAC systems. Centralized controls coupled with real-time monitoring are allowing building operators to control these systems quicker and with greater results.

There is also a growing awareness of the positive implications that real-time visibility has on the quality of clinical environments. Many healthcare organizations struggle with problematic conditions in terms of the temperature, humidity and air flows of those environments. This is, in part, the result of poorly operating control systems. Data visibility provides decision support to key engineering staff to inform them of system issues that are causing faulty conditions to occur so they can then take steps to improve the situation.

AtSite, Inc. ( helps clients develop and manage high-performing buildings, offering tailored solutions encompassing green design and construction, smart building technology, energy management, and LEED and ENERGY STAR implementations.


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