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Energy Sensei

Automated Monitoring for Energy Management and Decarbonization

Launching into any energy management or decarbonization program, we often scratch our heads, asking, “Where are we going to get our data?” There are several types of data needed to determine your carbon footprint, but the most notable are electric, natural gas, water, wastewater, and other utility data.

Utility bills provide a wealth of information, and they’re still used for big-picture calculations like a comprehensive carbon footprint, but getting your hands on timely, reliable, and consistent interval data (hourly or finer) is like finding a hidden treasure chest of insights and opportunities. 

Imagine a facility that spends $1 million per year on electricity. Last year, the facility manager led the charge in retro-commissioning their high-energy systems and voila! They saved 12% annually and even got a promotion. But this year, after a power outage, many of those settings reverted to their initial state and the new manager didn’t notice. Three months later, they got a call from the accounting department wondering why the bill was $5,000 higher than the previous month. By the time they understood the problem and returned the set points back to their optimal places, they lost $15,000 in savings. If the facility had had interval data set to report regularly, they could have spotted the issue within days or weeks, not months. 

The problem is, obtaining timely interval data is not as easy as tracking utility bills.  

But here’s the catch: getting your hands on up-to-the-minute interval data isn’t as easy as snagging utility bills. Some utility companies offer online portals to give you a quick peek at your facility’s consumption, or maybe even an automated data feed through SFTP or an API. But trust me, these aren’t always as dependable as you’d like. And when they do flop, you might end up spending hours on the phone with your IT folks and the utility company to get them up and running again. 

But there is an option that is time-tested to get you what you need, when you need it, with minimal effort: automated energy monitoring hardware. 


What is monitoring hardware? 

Monitoring hardware, also known as a Data Acquisition System (DAS), consists of metering equipment connected to a central monitoring device that reports the data. When measuring energy, the hardware is physically connected to a utility meter, electric panel, or energy-consuming equipment. Meters pass information to the central monitoring system that stores it for retrieval or forwards it to a database or reporting tool. Energy monitoring hardware falls into a category of devices that are part of the “internet of things,” or IoT, and could consist of one device or multiple devices linked to a central hub communicating through physical connections, wirelessly over Wi-Fi, or a cellular modem. 

There are many ways a DAS can monitor your power system:  

  • Connected directly to the “pulse output” on your energy utility meter. This method is typically the lowest cost of any option, as it does not require additional metering and applies to any type of utility (electric, gas, water, etc.).  
  • Connected to existing metering equipment installed as part of a control system. 
  • Using newly installed metering on a single electric circuit or energy user, or multiple circuits such as the feeders from a main switchboard.  
  • For natural gas and water meters, upgrade the register or transmitter to provide an output signal to the monitoring hardware. 


Benefits of energy monitoring 

Automated energy monitoring systems provide accurate, consistent, and timely data, an invaluable asset when evaluating energy or carbon savings. As an on-the-ground example, if you want to compare two different settings on a piece of equipment to see which uses less energy, you can try the first setting, wait a few minutes, and look at the impact, before switching to the second setting and checking how the energy changed. The same test could take days, weeks, or even months through traditional data gathering methods, and even then, the savings could get lost in typical seasonal or operation variation. It’s also easier to spot backsliding, a reverse in your current savings trend, with access to reliable automated data. Utilizing a DAS also removes any middleware or external dependencies between you and the delivery of your data. You own the device, and you send and receive the data. 

Also, monitoring systems are almost infinitely customizable. Systems are compatible with many types of IoT sensors, and you can connect to as many as you need from a single central hub. Sensors are not just limited to energy either. You can monitor temperature, pressure, strain, acceleration, and more, all from the same system. They are also easily expandable. So, if you start monitoring just your utility meters, then decide one year later that you’d like to submeter a particular piece of equipment, you just need to plug in and configure the new sensor. 


Challenges with monitoring equipment 

While the benefits sound great, they come at a cost. Historically, metering and monitoring equipment has carried a high upfront price tag, particularly to retrofit into an existing system. Including IoT sensors and metering capability in new construction is less expensive and provides more flexibility, but still represents an incremental cost over standard construction. Some utility companies also require facilities to pay for an upgraded meter if pulse output functionality is not available on the installed equipment. And the more IoT sensors you add, the higher the price. Additionally, if sending data over a wired network or Wi-Fi is not an option, you will also have an ongoing monthly expense for the device’s cellular data connection. 

However, as large-scale industrial and commercial facilities increasingly adopt IoT technology, there are more products on the market at lower costs for the consumer. Here at Cascade, it is becoming easier than ever to offer our customers a cost-effective suite of data acquisition solutions. 

Customizable monitoring is a strong benefit, but we’ve also seen the downside of over-metering. When designing a system, it may seem like a good idea to add lots of submetering to cover a “just in case” scenario. But without a plan as to what you’ll do with that data and who will manage it, chances are it is going to accumulate, unseen. Submetering can be very useful! Just be sure to have a plan for the data or it will be an expensive source of clutter. 


Automated Monitoring and Energy Management Software 

Having an accurate, reliable, and timely set of data is key to successfully implementing an energy management or decarbonization plan. But simply having data doesn’t mean you are generating insights and tracking your savings. Afterall, who wants to sift through 35,000 files in Excel just to get a year’s worth of 15-minute data? That’s where energy management software comes in. 

Think about a system where your monitoring equipment sends the data it collects directly to a web-based platform that can ingest it, organize it, and show you easy to understand views. Here you will see how your facility uses energy and, more importantly, how you can save. A good software package can take your data from “generating reports” to “generating insight.” 

Take Cascade’s Energy Sensei, for instance. It not only organizes your data, but also calculates your savings, keeps track of your savings each year, and identifies when performance backslides. It even predicts what you’re on track to save next year. You can view savings in terms of energy, dollars, or CO2 equivalence. In addition, Sensei can also keep track of your energy-saving projects to help you connect your team’s actions to results. 

If you’re curious about how automated monitoring and Energy Sensei can help you reach your energy and decarbonization goals, give an expert at Cascade Energy a shout. They’d love to chat! 

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