Energy Management / Big Data Analytics

Use the right tools to implement continuous improvement of energy performance

Peter Garforth says develop and implement a comprehensive sub-metering plan to optimize energy performance.

By Peter Garforth

Companies with outstanding energy performance always have a commitment to the continuous improvement of energy performance. They live the philosophy that the cheapest and cleanest energy is the energy you don’t have to use. They also recognize that every kilowatt hour or Btu avoided is one you’ll never have to buy again. These are not new thoughts. What is new is the toolset available to energy managers to put them into practice.

Energy efficiency has always faced the challenge that it is, for the most part, both invisible and highly diffused across large, complex industrial sites. Even at home, this invisibility has led us to prioritize granite countertops rather than improved insulation and windows, or upgrading to efficient refrigerators! The paradox is that we could probably afford both types of improvements, if the investments were judged on life-cycle costs.

In industry, in addition to committed management leadership, improving visibility requires two major technical aspects. The first is energy sub-metering of all major utility flows. This includes energy-related utilities such as water, wastewater, compressed air, steam, cooling, and heating, as well as gas, electricity, and fuel oils. Sub-metering should be available on all major pieces of process equipment and on all buildings and building functions. Often overlooked is sub-metering the mobile use of energy in both on-site and off-site vehicles. Effective energy efficiency programs need energy use to be tied to production volumes, ideally on a coherent timeline. Sub-metering of production volumes is a logical extension of the metering strategy.

The second aspect is the ability to capture, collate, summarize and share this data. Depending on the audience, the summaries will be different. The production teams will need shift-based daily reports. Senior Management will need longer-term overviews to support performance assessments and investment requests. Engineering teams will need the operating histories of major equipment. General interest summaries for employee engagement and community outreach will have still different profiles.

Even as little as ten years ago, developing and implementing a comprehensive sub-metering plan would have been highly complex, technically challenging, and costly. As in many other areas of life, information capture and manipulation for industrial sites is getting easier and cheaper.

Many parts of the plant or major pieces of equipment may have sub-metering capability already installed, but they are often difficult to integrate into a comprehensive data management system. It is not unusual to still see meters being logged manually with the subsequent data being minimally analyzed or integrated. New industrial sub-meters have traditionally been high-cost, especially when they include comprehensive communication capability.

The recent mass utility use of smart meters for electricity, and increasingly natural gas, water, and district heating and cooling, is redefining the unit cost of high-precision communicating meters. There are special needs in industry that still result in somewhat higher costs than in the broader markets, but the gap is closing fast. The use of standard communication protocols and the low-cost of converting from custom to standardized data formats are greatly simplifying capturing and integrating data from existing and new sub-meters.

The past five years have seen a revolution in almost every field where interpreting vast amounts of complex correlated data is needed. The range of hardware and software available to analyze “metadata” and produce meaningful assessments and easily interpreted graphics has been revolutionized both in capability and cost.

Peter Garforth heads a specialist consultancy based in Toledo, Ohio and Brussels, Belgium.Peter Garforth heads a specialist consultancy based in Toledo, Ohio and Brussels, Belgium. He advises major companies, cities, communities, property developers and policy makers on developing competitive approaches that reduce the economic and environmental impact of energy use. Peter has long been interested in energy productivity as a profitable business opportunity and has a considerable track record establishing successful businesses and programs in the US, Canada, Western and Eastern Europe, Indonesia, India, Brazil and China. Peter is a published author, has been a traveling professor at the University of Indiana at Purdue, and is well connected in the energy productivity business sector and regulatory community around the world. He can be reached at


In a recent energy planning assessment we did of a very large complex industrial facility, the need for an integrated metering and sub-metering system and associated analysis was a pre-requisite for the long-term site energy plan. The estimated incremental investment needed to build this was between a .5 and 1 percent of a typical year’s energy cost, spread over three years. This would have been higher by many factors even just a few years ago.

Metering, analysis, and visualization is essential for any effective energy efficiency continuous improvement program. These programs typically deliver between 1 and 2 percent efficiency gains year on year. On this basis alone, investment in a comprehensive energy metering strategy would seem to be a no-brainer.

Obviously, the value to the overall energy productivity will be much greater than just supporting continuous improvement efforts. The efficiency impacts of new equipment and process changes can be actively tracked and managed. The return on investment (ROI) of individual energy efficiency sub-projects can be confirmed and the results used to support similar sub-projects in the future.

Recently, the home market in the U.S. has seen a significant shift, with more customers citing energy efficiency as a significant factor in renovation and home buying decisions. One reason may be increasing awareness; another is the growing ability to cost-effectively visualize a home’s energy performance through the use of modern sub-meters and information transparency.

An industrial site that lacks comprehensive energy sub-metering, analysis and visualization cannot realistically claim to have world-class energy management. At today’s costs, this is no longer a desirable dream, but instead an essential and affordable reality.

Read Peter Garforth's monthly column, Energy Expert.