Currently, many businesses struggle with how to deal with this energy cost situation. They recognize at a high level that there is a problem to be solved, but they aren’t sure what specific actions should be taken to address it. Should they institute new office policies, install new lighting equipment, install new heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment or install new insulation? The number of actions companies can take is broad, and some actions are much more expensive to implement than others.
As with any worthy business problem that is large and complex, it’s important to gather information before taking costly actions so that you can focus your actions on the most fruitful areas. But where do you get the information?
You could start by looking at your company’s utility bills. These can help you see the general trend in usage and cost, but there are several problems with this approach. For example, utility bills are a lagging indicator, meaning they only tell you what happened after the fact and don’t allow you to take immediate real-time action. Plus, they usually give you information at the building or campus level – so you can’t tell what is really driving the energy usage. Also, if your company is of reasonably large size, you probably have facilities in multiple locations (cities, states, countries) that are each served by different utilities with different rates and price structures.
You could also look at your building systems themselves. Much of the equipment that uses energy, such as lighting, space heating, cooling, ventilation and water heating has management systems that facility managers use to monitor and manipulate what is happening with that equipment. These building management systems are beneficial in that they allow information about what is happening to be monitored in real time, and they can allow you to do this at a granular, subfacility level. However, these systems are islands of information that don’t relate to each other. Also, they typically use proprietary communications protocols and essentially become a third network – in addition to the IP and phone networks – within your company.
The other challenge with just looking at these sources of energy consumption information is that they don’t help you understand what you did with that energy. For example, if energy usage is rising at a particular location, is that a good thing or a bad thing? It really depends on what you did with it.
- Were there more employees working more hours during that period?
- Did you produce more products then?
- Did you service more customers?
- Looking at what you did with the energy gets to the heart of the business problem itself, which is to increase operational efficiencies related to energy; in other words, to do more with less.
This is where “energy intelligence,” literally a business intelligence approach applied to energy use within a company’s facilities, comes into play. An energy intelligence system can integrate data from islands of energy usage information (building management systems, building sensors, utilities, etc.) and combine it with other operational data from your enterprise applications (supply chain, manufacturing, HR, finance, customer relationship management, asset management, etc.) to provide visibility to trends in usage, costs and efficiencies – across all locations, sub-locations, and building systems. By bringing this information together in one place and providing Business Intelligence capabilities – trending graphs, dashboards, near real-time monitors, exception alerts, location-comparison reports and detailed analysis capabilities – an Energy Intelligence system can help company leaders understand where efficiencies are and help them make informed decisions about what actions will provide the most return.
An energy intelligence system can provide the visibility your company needs to identify ways you can make significant energy-related cost reductions. By looking at this information over time, an energy intelligence system can also help show which improvements are actually providing the intended benefits, allowing you to repeat the actions that work at more locations and to stop taking the actions that don’t. An Energy Intelligence system can also apply business logic to calculate the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are a result of this energy usage. As regulations regarding GHG emissions begin to take effect in the United States – many of which are already in effect in other counties –this information will be critical for compliance.