Why don’t energy management systems manage energy?

June 10, 2014

Even in 2014, most of the so-called Energy Management Systems (EMS) are still just Temperature Control Systems. They don’t manage energy any more than the ones of the 1970’s. If you want to manage energy, you must measure energy. Temperature Control Systems don’t measure energy so they can’t manage it.

Watson: What is an Energy Management System, Holmes?

Holmes: When I started into the business, they were known as Temperature Control Systems (TCS). The first ones were pneumatic, then electric, electronic and now nearly all are computer-based. Based on feedback from sensors throughout buildings and mechanical systems, the TCS would open and close valves and dampers and stop and start pumps and fans to maintain the required space conditions.

There were often mechanical timeclocks in the control panels that would allow schedules to be set to turn some of the equipment off and on by using set screws to trip a lever as the clock dial rotated.

Watson: I think I saw one of those on the Flintstones. Were they made out of rocks?

Holmes: No they weren’t made of rocks. But you have a good point. The technology in this industry has changed a lot since I started in the business.

Watson: When did the name change from Temperature Control to Energy Management System?

Holmes: In the 70’s during the first Energy Crisis some marketing genius probably working for Johnson Controls or Honeywell came up with the name “Energy Management System”. As a result, everyone seemed to get the idea that because a Temperature Control System with a timeclock could turn energy-consuming equipment off and on, it was an “Energy Management System.”

In 2014, even with all the latest technology, most of the so-called Energy Management Systems (EMS) are still just Temperature Control Systems. They don’t manage energy any more than the ones of the 1970’s.

Watson: What makes you say that?

Holmes: Simple. You can only manage and control what you monitor (measure). If you want to manage energy, you must measure energy. Temperature Control Systems don’t monitor energy consumption so they can’t manage it.

Watson: You’re kidding me again, right? Surely Energy Management Systems measure energy.

Holmes: I’ve never seen one that does. It’s hard for me to believe, too. I did almost see one in Texas a couple of years ago, though.

Watson What do you mean you almost saw one?

Holmes: We had installed an Energy Monitoring System in a Hospital’s Wellness Center in central Texas working with the Center’s Director. The first day after we installed our system, we began to get data that showed that the pool’s dehumidification system, the largest energy user in the building, had been improperly designed, the components were mismatched, the controls were set up wrong and the gas consumption was more than twice what it should have been. From the utility records it appeared the system had been running that way since it was installed more than 10 years before.

When the Director reported the preliminary findings at a hospital board meeting, the response was, “We already have an Energy Management System in the hospital that we are going to extend to the Wellness Center. It has all of the same monitoring capabilities.” That was quite a surprise to both the Director and to us.

Watson: Did you have to take your Energy Monitoring System out? What did you do?

Holmes: The first thing I did was ask to see their EMS, the one with all of the same monitoring capabilities as our system. Finally I was going to get to see one. I had been waiting a long time. For more than 30 years people have been telling me that their control system has all of the same monitoring capabilities as our Energy Monitoring System. But I had never actually seen one. I was excited. I made an appointment and went to Texas to see the Hospital’s EMS.

Watson: How did it compare? Was it identical?

Holmes: It was an interesting visit to say the least. The operator of the EMS gave me a detailed demonstration. He showed me all of the graphics, the floor plans and the temperature and humidity readings throughout the building. He showed me schematics of all of the equipment, the set points, control strategies, fan speeds, etc.

I said “Now I’d like to see your historical reports”. He showed me the trend log graphs. He could bring up Emergency Room #3 and show me a graph of the temperature in that room every few seconds for weeks. The graphs were nice but I said, “I really want to see the historical reports.” He said, “We don’t have any reports. The system doesn’t have that capability.”

Watson: What about the utility meter readings? What about the energy used by the Chillers, the Boilers, the HVAC system, the lights and hot water? How much energy did the building and its systems use under different conditions at different times during the day and week? Where were their energy dollars going?

Holmes: That’s what I asked. His answer was, “We don’t read any meters. I have no idea about the energy consumption or cost.”

Watson: But hadn’t the Director of Facilities told the Board that his system had exactly the same monitoring and reporting capabilities as ours?

Holmes: Disappointed again. Silly me. And I had my hopes so high this time. After 30 years of waiting I guess I am going to have to wait a little longer to see an Energy Management System that’s more than a Temperature Control System, one that actually monitors and manages energy.

Watson: Why don’t the so called “Energy Management Systems” just add the sensors required to actually “Monitor and Manage Energy”?

Holmes: You are not the only one asking that question. Perhaps one of our readers said it best in an email in response to one of my articles on the value of Energy Monitoring when he said, “Monitoring energy consumption is so important and can be so valuable to an organization, but taking it a step further can provide even more value.

Think of how nice it would be to have an automated energy management system that not only monitored consumption but automatically made changes to reduce your consumption without manual intervention.”

Watson: That sounds like the future of Energy Management Systems.

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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