Field Tested: Products that Help you Understand your Building’s Energy Use

Field Tested: Products that Help you Understand your Building’s Energy Use
November 29, 2016 Jeff Klein

Hundreds of products and tools are designed to help you make sense of how your building consumes energy. Amidst all the noise, it can be hard to discern what is actually best for managing energy usage in your particular building, especially because all tools come with real costs and limitations. This post looks at some of the most relevant groups of technologies.

Building Management system (BMS)

Also known as an EMS (Energy Management System), a Building Management System is the single most useful product for managing one’s energy. This is because a BMS can tell you whether equipment like fans, motors, compressors, and other big equipment is running unnecessarily and give you the ability to fix it, delivering significant energy savings.

Building management systems range from basic networks of wireless thermostats to detailed maps of buildings’ mechanical systems. What is best for your building depends upon your unique situation including: whether you have a full-time energy manager dedicated to the building, how large the building is, how many hours per day the building is occupied, what level of reporting your need, etc.

Data Loggers and Sensors

A building management system is only as good as its sensors. If you suspect the building management system is faulty, or is missing information you need, you may want off the shelf data loggers. A data logger records energy information and can be left on rooftops or mechanical rooms without being damaged. It can be as small as a deck of cards or as large as a brick.

Data loggers are generally paired with a specialty sensor that can record information about: temperature, voltage, current, power factor, lighting levels, occupancy, humidity, air flow, water flow, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, solar insolation, and more. They record measurements multiple times per second or just once every hour—depending upon your needs. Most data loggers only collect data for fixed periods of time though, and need to be specially integrated into the BMS in order to provide permanent new sources of information about energy usage.

Time of Use and Load Visualization Software

For most commercial buildings, utility rates vary with the time of day as well as your monthly peak demand usage. More advanced Building Management Systems help you analyze your total energy load by minute, but there are also specialty load visualization programs that help you see when you are using energy and when it is most expensive. These tools will only be useful if you have someone actively managing your building’s energy consumption, and if the buildings’ usage patterns make it easy to reduce peak consumption or shift load from high cost times of day like afternoons to lower cost times of day like early mornings.

Senses

The tools to help you manage energy don’t have to cost money. Your five senses are instantaneous and useful energy management tools. Hearing a loud noise coming from a rooftop unit fan belt suggests it is wasting energy. Standing on a roof on a hot day and feeling cold air blow on you tells you there is room to save energy. Strange smells could reveal broken equipment. Excessive pressure when opening a door suggests an air pressure balancing problem. Eyes detect rust or uninsulated pipes. It’s best not to taste anything though.

Amidst the sea of tools and products that proclaim to offer energy insight, it’s important to find those that meet your unique needs. The products you choose should be selected to match the complexity of the building you run and the resources you have to focus on energy costs.

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