Energy Management 101: Controlling Costs Campus-wide

By Anthony Tisot, Public and Media Relations Manager, Power Measurement, Saanichton, British Columbia January 12, 2005

It’s becoming more challenging for educational institutions to find the funds for facility upgrades and expansion, but in many cases, an untapped source of revenue exists in improved energy-management practices. Across North America, innovative colleges and universities are deploying energy management technology to help reduce electricity bills and avoid costly power-quality related interruptions.

By their very nature, large educational institutions have a lot to gain from managing their energy wisely. Characterized by a sprawling campus, multiple buildings, thousands of residents, and a diverse range of power requirements, a typical university campus is like any progressive community – a large energy consumer. And with more than its share of high-tech labs, medical facilities, and specialized computer equipment, this is one community that can benefit considerably by controlling the cost, quality and reliability of its power.

Fortunately, today’s technology offers many ways to do just that. Instead of waiting for the monthly electricity bill to determine power usage, facility managers can now use an enterprise energy management (EEM) system to manage campus-wide energy use, improve problem response, and increase reliability.

An EEM system can help managers predict energy usage for the month, allocate costs by department, and identify waste or potential trouble spots. A detailed understanding of the facility’s energy requirements over time can also help simulate alternative rate structures, negotiate better power-supply contracts, and evaluate future options, such as installing on-campus generation.

The Components of an EEM System
A typical EEM system consists of a network of “intelligent” energy meters linked to a centrally located head-end computer running EEM software. Each meter monitors a specific location or activity, while the head-end system continuously retrieves information from each meter in the network.

It logs the historical information in a database, relays or responds to any alarm condition notifications, and displays the real-time status of each monitored area on the screens of one or more networked workstations. In short, the software aggregates and analyses data from multiple meter sources and acts as the central intelligence for the entire system.

The type and location of each meter is determined by the electrical system itself. For example, an advanced, utility-grade meter can be installed at the main substation to verify the quantity and quality of power delivered to the campus. Simpler sub-metering devices can then be installed at key points around the campus to monitor individual buildings or departments.

Typically, the distributed meters communicate with the head-end software across the campus’ existing Ethernet-based local area network; however, if the campus is geographically dispersed over great distances, then telephone, wireless, and even Internet networks can be used. In some cases, the meters can use e-mail to send system updates or alarm notifications directly to the facility manager, or even host a built-in web page accessible over any standard web browser.

Using an EEM system to better understand how a facility currently uses energy is the first step in controlling the cost, quality and reliability of its power.

Controlling Energy Costs
Although the cost of electricity is a considerable line item on most income statements, it often goes unchallenged and unmanaged. Like any large business, universities need to take active charge of their energy management and procurement; however, to do so requires a full understanding of ongoing energy needs, and the ability to manage its use.

Relatively few institutions have the ability to verify the billing statements from their energy suppliers, or to allocate the appropriate amounts to specific cost centers or activities within their operations. An EEM system delivers the information needed to accurately represent the true cost of doing business and helps to identify procedures or departments that exhibit energy inefficiencies or waste.

With a high-accuracy meter located at the utility service entrance, an EEM system will “shadow bill” campus energy consumption. Automated reports can then help to verify utility bills. It is not unusual to find over-billing errors that add up to a substantial amount, and that can be recouped.

By allocating energy costs by department, and using automated reports and alarm options to keep staff aware, an EEM system can help everyone actively reduce energy consumption, increase efficiency, and minimize costs within their individual departments. And if there are any commercial outlets on campus, such as restaurants or shops, an EEM system can help to accurately sub-bill those tenants for the energy they use.

With a network of meters reporting to one or more energy-management workstations, facility managers have the tools to identify and monitor energy requirements across the entire campus. This information can be presented as a load profile – basically a snapshot of energy consumption at all monitored locations throughout a typical day, week, or month.

A load profile can help to illustrate how energy is used throughout the facility; this information can then help to identify inefficiencies and areas requiring improvement. Finally, the load profile can be used as a baseline to help evaluate improvement efforts.

With an accurate understanding of energy consumption, facility managers can normalize usage patterns in conjunction with variables such as occupancy, temperature, and weather to accurately benchmark and project energy requirements.

An EEM system also helps managers analyze historical energy trends to accurately predict needs. With this information, “what if” scenarios can be developed to help facility managers optimize loads or processes and even negotiate better energy contracts.

Accurate information on usage trends can also help discover unused capacity, which in turn can defer capital investment decisions such building additional onsite generation.

Depending on where the campus is, there may also be an opportunity to take advantage of demand response or load curtailment programs offered by energy suppliers. These programs give price concessions in return for the consumer reducing its load at times when energy consumption across the power grid is at a critical peak. In this way, they can also avoid penalties from the utility for exceeding a maximum power demand level during peak times.

All of these opportunities are dynamic in nature. To respond to them, an EEM system offers an automated way of switching or adjusting non-critical loads (heating, air-conditioning, etc.), and turning generators on or off to reduce the energy drawn from the utility.

And because utilities may also bill an additional surcharge for consuming energy inefficiently below a minimum power factor level (typically caused by large motor loads), an EEM system can intelligently control capacitor banks to correct low power factor and avoid penalties.

Maintaining Power Quality
When it comes to power quality, the cost of sags, transients, outages, and harmonics can quickly become very expensive, not to mention disruptive, as data is lost, equipment damaged, and procedures interrupted. Power quality is especially critical for the types of sensitive applications found in data centers, science labs and medical facilities. These operations require near 100% uptime, and a higher level of power quality then traditionally used by electrical equipment.

The power grid was developed to deliver “three nines” of clean, reliable power; that is, it provides a constant flow of energy 99.9% of the time. This is sufficient for lighting systems and motor loads, but new digital assets and processes require power reliability as high as “six nines” (99.9999%) or higher.

To support their power needs, power-critical businesses may have one or more feeds from the utility, or some form of stand-by generation with a transfer switch that selects between the utility and the generator feed. However, because generators typically cannot start up instantly when needed, other forms of mitigation equipment, such as UPS/battery systems and flywheels are used to “fill the gap.” These are connected by a variety of electrical distribution equipment including transformers and circuit breakers. All of this equipment ultimately serves power to the sensitive loads such as data servers, communications switches, or process automation machinery.

When power quality problems are suspected, portable power-monitoring equipment can help to pinpoint problem areas, but for a large campus, an EEM system with its network of permanent-mount power meters installed at key buildings and procedures can verify power quality around the clock. The system provides fast, desktop access to status information for the entire electrical system, and the ability to receive early warning alarms anywhere by e-mail, to help avoid interruptions. And like the “black box” used by the airline industry, the EEM system provides valuable forensic data after an event, to help personnel identify the source of a disturbance, and take corrective action to help prevent a reoccurrence. Detailed power quality reports can also help personnel correlate poor power quality with negative impacts on operations and processes.

Improving Reliability
When considering threats to productivity at a university, it’s not hard to imagine the large-scale inconvenience from a power outage. In labs and research facilities across campus, a single interruption can easily result in the loss of months of costly work.

To help offset this risk, onsite generators are becoming a popular addition for large institutional facilities, but the opportunities they provide can also raise many questions. Whether used to improve reliability as a source of standby power, to cut costs through demand control, or to help convert waste heat to electricity through co-generation, a clear understanding of generator processes is crucial to the smooth and efficient operation of the facility. For this reason, an enterprise energy management system can provide a simple and efficient way to manage onsite generation assets.

Although onsite generation offers many benefits, the day-to-day operation can routinely present questions concerning automated starting and stopping, load management, and economic decisions. An EEM system can help on all fronts by profiling energy requirements, monitoring demand and supply, and managing generator startup based on signals, power failures, or even economic conditions. When energy prices are at their highest, an EEM system can shift power from non-essential loads, or dynamically shed several loads based on pre-configured priority specifications. In addition, advanced reporting tools that integrate generator control can provide the information necessary to help control demand, and minimize overall energy costs to the facility.

When considering ways to control costs on campus, sound energy management practices should be a priority. By monitoring consumption on an ongoing basis, managers can predict electricity costs for the month, avoid penalties, and verify each bill. Threats to power quality can be identified and corrected proactively, and disturbances can be dealt with promptly and efficiently.

A network of meters installed campus-wide can help to allocate costs by department or function, and verify the impact of any new energy initiatives. Automated reports can keep staff informed, so they can actively participate in programs to reduce energy consumption, increase efficiency, and minimize costs within their individual departments. In the long run, a detailed picture of overall energy requirements can help to identify opportunities for better supply contracts, alternative rate structures, or new construction such as on-campus generation.

The place to start is a clear understanding of energy usage across campus over a given period of time. From there, assessments can be made based on fact, corrective measures can be identified, and the relative success of improvements can be verified. By supporting a continuous cycle of research, optimization and verification, an investment in energy management strategies can open the door to a more efficient and cost effective future.