Industrial plants don't have the information required to operate energy systems efficiently

May 13, 2014

Sailors keep ships running at peak efficiency by using instrument panel displays to continuously monitor and adjust all of the engines and other energy systems. Building operators could run their buildings more efficiently if they had that same information.

Watson: I’ve never heard you mention learning about managing energy from ships before. How did that happen?

Holmes: Just within the last couple of years I have had conversations with two different people from different decades who relayed similar experiences aboard ships.

Watson: Tell me about them.

Holmes: The first was from a student at Oklahoma State. When I moved to Stillwater to do some energy research and take some more classes toward my PhD, I rented a 100 year old house on a cattle ranch.

Watson: A cattle ranch? I wish I had been working for you then. I could have really had some fun herding those cattle around the ranch. As a sheepdog that would have really broadened my Resume.

Holmes: I’m sure you would have had a ball. Anyway, as I was settling in I went to Lowes to pick up some parts and supplies.

A very nice young man was helping me and we got to talking. He had spent 4 years in the Coast Guard and was using his G.I. benefits to go to college. He asked what I was doing there and after I told him, he said he was really interested in Sustainability and Energy Efficiency.

Watson: Did you tell him about the research you were doing on using permanent energy monitoring systems to help building energy systems operate more efficiently?

Holmes: I did and he seemed quite interested. He said he had been involved with something similar on ships.

Watson: What had been his experience?

Holmes: I asked him what the Coast Guard did to get the maximum fuel efficiency from their ships. He said that they had all of the energy systems completely instrumented and by watching the gauges and continuously adjusting all of the engine and other system controls they could keep everything running at peak efficiency under all conditions.

Watson: Sounds like common scents to me.

Holmes: I thought so. A few months later I had another conversation with a colleague in Britain and he told me a similar story. His firm was operating in several European countries and one of his partners had initially gotten interested in energy efficiency while serving on a ship off the shore of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Watson: That was the standoff between the U.S. and the Soviet Union over the presence of nuclear missiles in Cuba. He must have been scared to death!

Holmes: Actually he said all of the waiting was pretty boring so he spent a lot of his time figuring out how to minimize the fuel consumption while they were just idling in one spot.

Watson: Let me take a guess. He said that he watched all the gauges and continuously adjusted all of the engine and other system controls to minimize the fuel consumption.

Holmes: Elementary Watson. You’re a genius!

Watson: Just common scents. Why isn’t that the way building energy systems are operated?

Holmes: Simple answer. Building operators don’t have the required data. I have yet to see a building with the instrumentation and data on the energy consumption and operating efficiency of the energy systems required to keep them running at peak efficiency. Operators are lucky to even see the monthly utility bills; most have no idea how much energy their systems use.

We will discuss this more in a future blog Why Don’t Energy Management Systems Manage Energy Consumption and Efficiency?

Watson: I didn’t realize they didn’t. I will look forward to that blog.

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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