A few weeks ago I talked about smart meter, smart meter, smart meter, smart meter… in, who would have guessed(!), The Deaf and Mute Smart Meter. Today I talk about something with similar sex appeal with, to my knowledge, scarce measured/verified results. The topic: big data analytics. Any conference, many industry news articles and blogs, even ones in Forbes, are bloviating about big data energy analytics.
Some of these solutions apply to residential, and some apply to commercial and industrial facilities. I cannot speak for the effectiveness of the residential applications because I have not evaluated either the applications themselves or programs in which they are used. I do know several tools used for large commercial and industrial facilities.
First, I’ll say that many, if not most, of the tools I have experienced have fantastic and very powerful capabilities. HowEVER, they merely provide an indicator of savings potential.
Some apps have energy auditing tools that may be used to quickly do energy studies. HowEVER, the app is like a loaded F-18 Hornet in the hands of a child – a real one; fighter jet that is.
Having been in the Navy for 4.5 years, I know submariners, especially captains, who are normally Commanders (go figure) who know every aspect of their boat; from the daughter products of the fissioning fuel, to shielding and radiation exposure, safety, backup generators, navigation systems, sonar, and every minute detail of every weapon on board and the launch systems. I’d bet the planet that F18 pilots know every centimeter of their fighter jets, every spec, weapon, and fastener, and its limitations, which number not many.
The brains behind the energy analytics are likely less complicated but still exceedingly complex. The tools are only as good as the pilot at the helm of the iPad. If the user doesn’t know how the computational engine of the software works, they have no business using it. We have worked with one of these developers, and the reason I endorse them (in the right hands) is because they lock their programmer/developer nerds in the basement with a life supply of Mountain Dew and pizza; they know what they are doing and can explain it effectively.
The path between the iPad and the full realization of cost effective measures in facilities is what no one talks about – the road (or air corridor) less traveled. The analytics, along with an audit possibly, may for instance reveal people occupy the building from 7:00 till 6:00, but the HVAC systems are on from 6:00 till 8:00, and the lighting is on till midnight. Eureka – a boat load of energy savings.
Not so fast.
Everyone knows Google maps, Garmins, or other mapping and guidance systems are very powerful, but they are naïve and ignorant. For instance, plotting a trip from La Crosse to Cedar Rapids may result in a crazy route that passes through Rochester, MN, just because that includes 70 miles of fast freeway driving mostly west and a little north. To spare you the need to look this up, it would be like routing a trip from Minneapolis to Seattle through Kansas City. Not so smart.
And so it goes with routing a solution to saving energy in buildings. I need to get from A to C so skip going through B on the way. That is a waste of time and energy. Look out!
Retro-commissioning can get a bad rap for lacking persistence of savings because like the Clean Power Plan, what can be done by one guy one day, can be undone by another guy the next day, or next week or next month or next political term.
The lights are on too long and the HVAC system runs too much, but why? The lights may be on because the cleaning crew wants them all on, and the facility manager doesn’t want to mess with complications so he just runs them all the time with an hour of cushion to boot, just in case. Or as I noticed last week in Chicago, maybe the facility manager or building owner is a Cubs fool, er I mean, fan, and so he uses the façade of the building and interior lights to read “Go Cubs”. I saw it with my own eyes.
Similarly, with HVAC systems, there may be misconceptions. There may be challenges with comfort because of controls or system design. If the energy-savings are to be derived by simply pinching the schedule, look out!
More, or much more, may be required to sustain savings indefinitely. This may require minor system modifications, or in some cases, they may just have to live with it. However, there is no reason to waste energy willy nilly in a futile effort to compensate for something that is fundamental to the bone. Sustained savings may also require informing the facility manager that running all the lights till midnight is costing thirty grand a year with super peak demand charges in summer. He might assign George, the cleaning superintendent, a nightstick to ensure the lights are on only for cleaning purposes as rooms/offices are being cleaned one by one.
Minor modifications are frequently advised to achieve savings for the long term. Informing and advising staff and occupants about the how’s and why’s is always advised.
 In terms of third-party evaluated savings.