Getting the Most from Monitoring

By Jim Giordano, CEM Staff Marketing Specialist Schneider Electric Power Monitoring and Control Group LaVergne, Tenn. June 1, 2006

Power-monitoring systems can be valuable tools for reducing energy costs and identifying power problems that can affect uptime. But these tools are only useful if they’re actually used. Which of the following options describes the frequency with which you use your power-monitoring system:

A. Almost daily. It’s a valuable tool that helps me do my job effectively.

B. At least weekly or monthly for regular reporting and troubleshooting.

C. Only when we have a problem that requires forensic troubleshooting.

D. Almost never. I’m not even sure what the system can do for me.

If you answered D, you are not alone. It’s not uncommon for industrial—and commercial businesses as well—to invest in power-monitoring systems, and then fail to use them to their full potential. Typical reasons given include the following:

  • Workforce reductions have left facility managers too short-handed to worry about proactive power-quality and energy monitoring.

  • The person who knew how to use the system has left the company or changed roles.

  • Facility staff never received adequate training on how to use, much less reap benefits, from the system.

Regardless of your organization’s situation, there are several concrete steps you can take to breathe new life into your old power monitoring system. Taking any of these actions can have positive short-term results on operational performance—and on the bottom line. For maximum long-term results, these steps should be taken as part of a renewed commitment to a sustainable power and energy management program (see “EPA Energy Management Guidelines” below).

Fortunately, there are many recent advances in power monitoring technology that make these systems easier to maintain, so you’ll be more likely to keep the system up-to-date and you’ll spend less money doing it. They’re also now easier to use, doing a better job of providing answers rather than just data, meaning you’ll need less expertise to benefit from the system’s operation.

Often, you can take advantage of these advancements through compatible, affordable (or free) upgrades, while maintaining the investment in your existing system. Following are some of the upgrades you’ll want to consider:

Web-enabled software. Still using a “fat” client/server architecture? Then it’s time to make the leap to web-enabled power monitoring. A web-enabled system provides secure access to power system information from any PC on a network, using a standard browser. This means information is easily accessible to the people who need it. Accounting, for example, can view monthly energy cost reports without needing to be trained on proprietary software. Also, you’ll no longer need to purchase, install and maintain remote client software.

Improved communications infrastructure. Ethernet is becoming the standard for industrial communications. According to ARC Advisory Group, the worldwide market for Industrial Ethernet is expected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 51.4% percent over the next five years. Existing serial daisy chains of power-monitoring devices can be added to Ethernet using industrially rated Ethernet gateways. Simply connect the gateway to the existing Ethernet infrastructure, provide control power (some gateways support Power-over-Ethernet), and connect the serial daisy chain to the gateway’s serial port. Some Ethernet gateways can act as web servers, making real-time and historical data (including interval energy data and trend charts) from daisy chained devices viewable using a Web browser. Other features can include the ability to collect and deliver interval-energy and other historical data via e-mail or ftp, and the ability to e-mail alarms.

Upgraded metering-device firmware. Unless your metering devices are very old, they likely support downloadable firmware. To get the newest features, you’ll want to download the latest firmware into your meters. Here’s a sampling of some of the recent innovations in the world of digital power monitoring. Check with your meter manufacturer to determine the latest capabilities for your specific models (also, see “Upgrading Device Firmware” below).

Automated alarm notification. Don’t have an operator available to watch a computer screen for alarms? Have alarms sent to your pager, or via e-mail to a cell phone or PDA. In most cases, alarms can be created by PC-based software, and in some cases from gateways or directly from Ethernet-equipped circuit monitors.

Automated reporting functions. With the newest power-monitoring software, creating reports on energy usage, circuit loading, power quality and other factors does not have to be a laborious process. Predefined reports can be configured and scheduled to run on a periodic basis and stored in a central repository for viewing. In web-enabled systems, a browser is all that is needed to view and print reports. Advanced power-monitoring software allows scheduled reports to be automatically e-mailed in various formats, including PDF, to a list of recipients. Example reporting applications include shift energy-usage reports generated nightly and e-mailed to a production manager responsible for managing his department’s energy usage, or an energy cost summary report generated monthly and e-mailed to accounting.

Analysis layers. To supplement reporting and analysis tools available in your primary power-monitoring software, consider adding an energy-analysis layer. Energy-analytics software provides a layer of advanced capabilities that can be added to existing power-monitoring systems to provide enterprise-wide benchmarking and baselining of building performance, utility rate analysis, and other tools in support of a complete energy management program.

Invest in Training

The obvious goal of formal training is to teach the skills needed to use a system and the information it provides to manage the reliability, cost and quality of electric power. Some of these skills can be gained through self-study and on-the-job learning, but history shows that facility and energy managers who invest in formal classroom training are better equipped to use the system and more likely to continue its use over the long run. A good training program will provide hands-on classroom training in well-equipped labs. It will be taught by expert instructors who can promptly address questions as they arise. It will offer a comprehensive system course, but also specialized courses, such as system installation and troubleshooting, software administration, power quality, energy management, and advanced reporting. A fringe benefit of classroom training is the opportunity to share ideas with and learn from other users.


In cases where workforce reductions and increasing duties have left little time for proactive power-quality and energy management, check with your power-monitoring system’s manufacturer about the availability of hosted monitoring services. In a hosted monitoring service, the power-monitoring system is configured to automatically send power-system data over the Internet to a remote host, where site information is stored on secure servers. Users are given a secure log-in for instant, browser-based access to power-quality and energy-management reports, alarms and waveforms. In addition, status reports are e-mailed daily, so you can spot power-related issues without having to log in.

Once the system is in place, you can easily add options, including custom cost allocation and billing reports and analysis by professional engineers for power quality.

EPA Energy Management Guidelines

Successful energy management neither begins nor ends with the installation of power-monitoring system. Reaping sustainable rewards over the long term requires an ongoing process, and organizational commitment is key to this program’s success. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers a proven strategy for superior energy management, with tools and resources to help each step of the way. Based on the successful practices of EPA’s Energy Star partners, these guidelines can assist your organization in improving its energy and financial performance, while distinguishing your organization as an environmental leader. For additional information on the EPA Energy Star Guidelines go to

Upgrading Device Firmware

To get the newest features in power metering firmware, you can often download the latest firmware versions into your meters. Here’s a sampling of some of the recent innovations in the world of digital power monitoring:

Disturbance direction detection indicates whether a disturbance occurred upstream or downstream of the meter, with an associated level of confidence. Helps to locate the source of disturbances.

E-mail on alarm provides immediate notification of problems for fast correction, with customizable schedules to ensure correct personnel are notified.

Alarm set point learning allows meters to learn appropriate alarm settings based on the operational parameters of the electrical system at the monitoring point to help take the guesswork out of configuring set points for some quantities.

Flicker measurement measures voltage flicker according to IEEE and IEC standards.

Power-quality summary combines power-quality categories into a single index to indicate the general level of power quality at the metering point.

Energy summary provides energy summary and trending information for energy values.

Number of nines counter tracks system uptime with respect to total operational time.

WAGES metering uses I/O points to collect, scale, and totalize data from other meters/sensors (water, air, gas, electric, steam) and do combined analysis/reporting and optimization for “unified” energy management.