You can’t afford not to have a permanent energy monitoring system

July 15, 2014

Watson: What makes you so certain that every building needs permanent instrumentation to operate efficiently? Holmes: You mean other than the fact that every plane, car, ship, train and sophisticated device except buildings is operated that way? Watson: Yes, other than that.

Watson: What makes you so certain that every building needs permanent instrumentation to operate efficiently? Holmes: You mean other than the fact that every plane, car, ship, train and sophisticated device except buildings is operated that way? Watson: Yes, other than that.

Watson: Holmes, I know that you are convinced the only way to operate buildings efficiently on a continuing basis is by installing permanent instrumentation, an Energy Monitoring System. What makes you so certain?

Holmes: You mean other than the fact that every plane, car, ship, train and sophisticated device other than buildings is operated that way?

Watson: Other than that, what makes you so certain?

Holmes: My personal experience. As I was trying to learn the best way to help my clients cut their energy costs, I discovered 35 years ago what few others know to this day, a method of using actual monitored data to tune energy systems that recovers the cost of the instrumentation within weeks or months and reduces the annual utility costs by 20%, 30% and more with no Capital Improvements.

Not only have we used it in every project since then, I’ve done everything I could think of to spread the word, teach others. I’ve written papers and made presentations at every opportunity. I think it will eventually revolutionize this profession and result in a tremendous reduction of the energy waste that exists in all buildings.

Watson: And yet in 2014, not only has your approach not caught on, the Profession seems to have been swept up in the very antithesis, the Benchmarking and Energy Auditing frenzy promoted by DOE/EPA, Utility Companies and all of the organizations and individuals performing Energy Audits as well as those profiting from training and certifying Energy Auditors. Their efforts are all focused on Gathering Data and Preparing to Save Energy rather than Actually Saving Energy.

Holmes: You’re right Watson. But I sense the tide is changing. With the help of you and others, I believe that we can bring this Profession into the 21 st Century, change it to one based on actual data and valid scientific methods, like virtually every other profession and business in the world.

Watson: Why hasn’t this Profession already adopted your approach, a science-based approach?

Holmes: Three main reasons Watson, most people in this Profession:

  1. Have no experience working in buildings with adequate energy instrumentation and data; they don’t understand the tremendous opportunities available from tuning up existing energy systems, no-cost, low cost changes.
  2. Have been trained to think in terms of temporary instrumentation and estimated data leading to Capital Improvements.
  3. Assume a Permanent Energy Monitoring System is too expensive.

Watson: I can understand how others would think the cost of a Permanent Energy Monitoring System would be prohibitive. It is obviously a basic, though completely erroneous assumption of this Profession that “actual” data is not affordable; otherwise why would they waste so much time and money using temporary instrumentation to gather snapshot data and computer models to estimate what the “actual” data would be?

Holmes: One of the first questions I am always asked is, “How can I justify the cost of the instrumentation?” If you just call in your friendly instrumentation or temperature controls salesperson, let them select the points at $2,000 a point, my guess is you can’t justify it. That’s not the way to do it.

Watson: What’s the right way? How did you learn?

Holmes: I taught myself. For many years we designed, built and installed an Energy Monitoring System as the first step in every project. We paid 100% of the cost and our only fees were a percentage of actual documented savings for each meter, each month. There were no upfront fees, no smoke and mirrors, no fine print, no penalties. No savings; no income. We took 100% of the risk. As a result, my perspective is quite different from most. I know what works, what saves energy and what doesn’t.

We learned how to instrument buildings to get the most useful information at the least first cost in order to produce, document and maintain the highest energy savings.

We weren’t selling instrumentation; we were paying for it. We were selling results, energy savings, proper operation and control and many other benefits. Providing instrumentation was the only way we knew how to do it; and after 35 years, we still haven’t found a better approach. If we had, would have done it.

Watson: What’s the secret to affordable permanent energy instrumentation? How can others do the same thing?

Holmes: The Utility Meters are the most important points; we always monitor them. They show when every dollar is spent within the facility. After the meters, the key is selecting the right points. Too few and you won’t get the data you need; too many and you will be overwhelmed with meaningless data. Not only do we want to monitor energy consumption and demand, we want to track the performance of all of the major systems. In some ways selecting the right points is an art as much as an exact science. We have always used what we call the “Top-Down Approach” and will be talking more about that in a future Blog.

You need to think about the purpose of Energy Monitoring System when you are selecting the points to monitor, Watson. Is it to produce billing quality information, to know down to the penny, how much Chiller #3 cost to operate yesterday or last month? No. That's not the objective. The objective is not to measure power; it is to measure energy and reduce energy consumption and costs. Power measurement is expensive, energy measurement is not. The objective is to find waste, inefficiency and opportunities to cut costs, save money and verify the results.

With an Energy Monitoring System in-place, the tuning of energy systems is a Continuous Improvement Process. Make a change, immediately see the results. Make another change and so on until you have all of the systems and the total facility running as efficiently as possible under all conditions.

Watson: So you don’t need to spend a lot of money on very expensive sensors with the highest accuracy?

Holmes: We found that by installing inexpensive current transformers (CTs) on one phase of a balanced electrical panel or motor and measuring nominal voltage with a hand-held meter, the KVA can be calculated by the monitoring software. By placing $30 temperature sensors upstream and downstream of pumps and fans and using the performance curves to determine gpm or cfm, basic thermodynamic calculations in the software can produce the heating or cooling Btu’s and avoid the cost of a Btu meter. You might not be able to tell the Chiller’s cost in cents but you can tell within a few dollars.

Watson: That makes perfect scents. When the maintenance man responsible for energy costs at a foundry looks at his PC and sees that Transformer #7 has a load that is approximately 250 KW higher than it should be at that time of the day, he knows that somebody left baghouse #4 running. It doesn’t matter if he is reading 250.5478 KW or 249.2756 KW. The baghouse blower is on when it should be off. He has all of the accuracy he needs to save 250 KW for the next 12 hours.

And by adding up all of the values that the Energy Monitoring System is recording, they can be compared with the actual Utility Meter readings; if the totals are within 3-5% you can be very confident of your values.

Holmes: Right.The secret is really in the software, the analytics. When I first developed the software I was teaching thermodynamics, thermal systems and power systems at Purdue so the software was written to be a continuous energy balance of the total facility as described in a recent Blog about Nuclear Plants. Read the Blog.

By plugging constant loads and other factors into the software, using it to subtract major loads from monitored totals and always comparing the results with the main meters, a very accurate picture of consumption and opportunities for savings within a plant can be gained while minimizing the cost of the instrumentation. We estimate that we have at least one calculated or virtual point for every actual monitored point which further reduces the cost of the hardware.

Watson: If I may attempt to summarize Holmes,

Instrumentation doesn’t have to be extensive nor expensive. By selecting the right points to monitor and combining hardware and software to present the resulting data in a clear format to those who understand a facility and its systems, a huge return can result from a small investment. And as sensors improve, wireless and other technologies advance and linking data through the Web becomes more prevalent, the cost of monitoring will continue to decrease.

Holmes: You’re right Watson. A Permanent Energy Monitoring System should be the first step in any effort to manage and reduce utility costs on an ongoing basis. Done right, the cost of the Monitoring System is not a net cost but the key to unlocking tremendous no-cost and low-cost continuing savings that would not not possible without it.

Tell us about your experiences, both good and bad with energy professionals, what has worked and what hasn’t. Send us your comments, thoughts and suggestions on how to improve our profession so we can all continue to learn from each other. Thanks – Holmes & Watson.

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