The future of energy management

Dec. 9, 2016
The technology to better manage production and energy systems is out there. Why is it taking so long for industrial plants to adopt it?

In the early 1970s, I was part of the development team for the On-Condition Maintenance System for the F-15 fighter jet. It was the first computer-based advanced instrumentation system for a U.S. Air Force plane. It changed the whole concept of aircraft maintenance from one of scheduled maintenance to conditioned-based and predictive maintenance.

In the early 1980s, when I was an assistant professor at Purdue University and consulting with building owners to help them reduce their energy costs, I used what I had learned about monitoring airplane systems to design, build, install, and operate a similar system for all types of facilities. Using real-time screens and historical reporting, the system showed when, where, and how efficiently every utility dollar was spent within a facility. That first system evolved over time into the AutoPilot Industrial Diagnostics & Optimization System (iDOS) as it exists today.

The system was designed to monitor key parameters and continuously analyze the thermodynamic efficiency of not just production and energy systems but the facility as a whole as well. It also identified waste and diagnosed specific problems, allowing operations and maintenance to move from a reactive to a proactive approach.

I understood that what I learned in the Air Force about planes also applied to buildings. To fly a plane, a pilot must have real-time data on all aircraft systems and have it presented in a clear and easy-to-understand format – via cockpit gauges. To run a building efficiently, operators must have the same information.

Fast-forward to December 2016. Unfortunately, little real progress has been made in the past 35 years. Rather than energy professionals basing fees on creating, verifying, and maintaining actual savings, a billion-dollar industry has emerged based only on “preparing” to save energy. Practitioners make their money from energy auditing, benchmarking, training classes, certifications, energy modeling, writing reports, filling out forms, and selling equipment. In spite of the fact that this is ostensibly the Information Age, not the Estimation Age, more cities and states are making old-fashioned energy audits mandatory. They seem to be following the advice of the late management consultant Peter Drucker: “When a subject becomes obsolete, we make it a required course.”

Barriers to progress

Why don’t industrial plants have the information they need to operate all of their production and energy systems as efficiently as possible on an ongoing basis? The technology obviously exists. Just look at airplanes, automobiles, medicine, smartphones, and nearly every other sophisticated device or system other than buildings.

And yet those in the energy profession still don’t give clients the information they need. They still use temporary instrumentation, energy audits, and benchmarking to produce mountains of reports and justify capital projects.

One answer to why this occurs can be found in the Product Adoption Lifecycle (as can be found online at www.study.com).

Consumers, according to the Product Adoption Lifecycle, can be grouped into one of five categories:

1. Innovators – Interested in anything new, quick to adopt, and willing to pay a high price to be among the first to have a new product.

Our early iDOS systems incorporated the Apple II and Hayes modems shortly after they appeared on the market. We switched to the IBM PC when it was introduced. Starting with the Basic program language, we moved to Microsoft Windows and Excel in 1985. I was at the Microsoft conference in New Orleans in 1992 when Access was introduced. We immediately adopted it for data storage. In 2008, we switched from a PC-based to a cloud-based system utilizing the MySQL database.

2. Early adopters – Defined as young and restless, early adopters are opinion leaders. They were our first clients. We always referred to them as our champions.

3. Early majority – Value shoppers. Members of the early majority carefully observe the early adopters but wait to adopt innovative products until they are sure they will get value from them. They became clients only after visiting sites where iDOS had been in operation, talking to the owners, and viewing the results.

4. Late majority – As skeptics, members of the late majority wait until an innovation has been accepted by a majority of consumers before adopting it themselves.

We had few of these. Most skeptics wanted us to guarantee savings ahead of time. Many took the offer of utility companies who claimed they could provide the same information and service for free. However, the utilities didn’t have the same expertise or information.

5. Laggards – Traditionalists, laggards are the very last to adopt a new product. In my experience, this group largely describes the entire energy establishment, which has built a huge bureaucracy that is the source of all of its income and is content to use 40-year-old methods in working with clients.

Max Planck, the German theoretical physicist who originated quantum theory and won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1918, put it directly: “Any generation of established scientists has too much vested interest in terms of reputation, pull, influence, money (grants), and huge amounts of ego involved to allow the so-called outlier theory to take all the limelight, glory, and spoils.”

In other words, widespread adoption of our approach would mean that most in the energy efficiency profession would lose their sources of income.

Things are changing, though, as the first kids who grew up with computers have risen to positions of authority in industry. That’s why cloud-based information systems are progressing so rapidly. Not only do younger leaders understand the value of information, but also they demand information access.

According to Planck, “New scientific ideas never spring from a communal body, however organized, but rather from the head of an individually inspired researcher who struggles with his problems in lonely thought and unites all his thought on one single point which is his whole world for the moment.” He adds, “Experiment is the only means of knowledge at our disposal.” Many in government, utility companies and other large organizations with deep pockets are convinced they know all of the answers and have built bureaucracies to support their theories. They don’t understand that those of us who have spent our entire careers actually working with and trying to improve energy systems in the field are the ones with the real understanding.

The future

About the author: Bill Holmes

Bill Holmes’ new book, Unleash the Power of Cloud-Based Energy Monitoring in Your Facility, is available for complementary download at plnt.sv/1604-EM. Contact him at [email protected] and check out his blog, “Bill Holmes on Energy,” at plnt.sv/BHoE.

Technology has advanced to the point that it is now possible to inexpensively monitor, analyze, and securely store a virtually unlimited amount of data on giant servers on the cloud. Anyone in the world with access to the Web can view that data with a variety of devices.

We have been proving in every project for nearly 40 years that permanent instrumentation with sophisticated analytics can optimize the operation of all production and energy systems as well as total facilities on a continuous basis.

Don’t be a laggard. Jump into the future today: Add sensors to monitor your critical equipment and systems. Send production and energy data to a server on the cloud. Add software and analytics to put the data in the most usable form. Make the resulting information easily available to your employees, and train them to use it.

As the IIoT and other tools continue to be defined and improved, you will already be decades ahead.

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