Storytelling with Utility Data
By Emily Artale and Hillary Dobos
One of the first steps of any successful energy management program should be an analysis and review of your building’s utility data. This is one way in which your building tells a story of its performance. We, as Energy Managers, use this story to verify personal narratives of your building’s operation, evaluate opportunities for improvement, identify patterns and trends of energy consumption, and benchmark against similar facilities. And, sometimes we can use this data to identify immediate solutions for cost savings.
How can such a seemingly simple resource provide so much valuable information? Utility data is objective and accurate; it documents actual consumption values and actual costs with an infallible memory. It can tell us when the building becomes occupied, when the building is reaching its peak demand, and when abnormalities in use and costs occur.
For example, a building operator believes that the Administration complex “turns on” at 5:30 a.m., ahead of when most occupants will be in the building, however when reviewing real-time utility data we notice that a large spike in use begins at 4:00 a.m.! During discussions with building staff it was revealed that the building’s energy systems were turned on at 4:00 am a few months ago in advance of an early morning meeting, but the building’s systems were never reset. Changing the settings back to the original time will result in annual energy and cost savings.
In another real-life example, a review of utility data shows that a local government agency has consistently been charged for taxes over the last five years. A summary of this data was brought to the attention of the utility company and all tax payments were refunded.
In both instances, a review and analysis of utility data resulted in annual cost savings with no upfront payment!
Likewise, you, as a manager of a building, can use utility data to encourage investments in efficiency improvements. Once building improvements have been made, you can continue to track utility data to identify energy savings from the building improvements themselves. Some organizations also use utility data as an innovative way to promote changes in occupant behavior. In lieu of sharing actual utility bills, these organizations may publicly share energy consumption through a dashboard tool in hopes that a demonstration of energy use will encourage better occupant behavior.
And, as you review your utility data be sure to benchmark it. This can give you additional insight as to how your building is performing against its peers or how several buildings compare against one another on a large campus.
For a relatively simple data analysis there are a variety of free tools from which to choose such as ENERGY STAR’s Portfolio Manager and EnergyCAP’s GreenQuest or even a simple Excel spreadsheet. For a more robust analysis consider a more sophisticated tool such as EnergyCAP or CLEER’s ultra-useful Building Energy Navigator tool.
There are hundreds of utility tools available to you. We are both experienced at selecting appropriate utility tools, implementing them, and analyzing the resulting data. Feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Emily Artale, PE, CEM, LEED AP is Principal and Owner at Lotus Engineering and Sustainability, LLC, www.lotussustainability.com. She has been working in the industry for nearly a decade and she has a background in energy management, sustainability planning, and water quality. Emily helps teams develop action-oriented solutions that will improve efficiency and integrate sustainability into current processes. She received her undergraduate and graduate degrees in environmental engineering from the University of Colorado at Boulder. She is a Colorado native and spends most of her time outdoors with her family.
Hillary Dobos is Principal and Owner of Merrill Group, LLC, www.merrillgroupllc.com. Hillary brings both expertise and creative thinking to working with clients which she draws from her experience as a consultant advising public and private clients throughout the United States, as well as the one tasked with embedding sustainability throughout a 25,000+ person organization (Colorado State Government). Hillary earned her B.A. in Art History and Economics from Bowdoin College in Maine and her MBA from the University of Colorado-Boulder. Hillary was born and raised in Denver, Colorado, where she currently enjoys life with her husband, son, and moderately trained canine, Mr. Smiles.