7 Steps to a Successful Energy Monitoring System

As we talk with energy managers, most agree that a good monitoring system would help them do a better job but most are at a loss as to how to start. Some have even tried to install meters but soon learn that aggregating those meters into a useful, working system can be really hard.

Having installed many working systems, Summa can help with this. We have developed a fool-proof process that virtually guarantees a positive outcome.

A 7-Step Process.

  1. Decide What You Want to Meter
  2. System Design and Engineering
  3. Acquiring the Required Hardware
  4. Hardware Installation
  5. Hardware Programming and Commissioning
  6. Software Installation and Configuring
  7. Ongoing Maintenance

If you leave out any of these steps, you will likely end up with a system that at best doesn’t meet your needs and which might not ever work at all. This post is the first of a multi-post blog covering the 7 steps and why they are so important.

Step 1: Decide What To Meter.

This might sound trivial but it is actually a very important and sometimes difficult step. In an ideal world, we would meter every load. Then we could see, down to the mini-fridge under the counter, how much power each device is using. On the other end of the scale, you might have just one meter for the entire building. With that, we can know a lot about the building’s consumption but perhaps not much about individual loads.

Building Level Monitoring

If you’re only trying to measure and verify that energy conservation measures are having a positive impact on your consumption, one meter for each utility per building might be enough. With that, you can easily see if the latest lighting upgrade has reduced your overall consumption – as long as you didn’t make any other changes at the same time.

Mission Critical Load Monitoring

A more sophisticated application might extend into equipment monitoring for maintenance purposes. For this, it is useful to identify your mission critical loads and how metering might make those loads more reliable.

For example, if the under-counter fridge in your break room fails, a few lunches might spoil, but if the main drive motor on your plastic extrusion machine fails, your production line is down until you can get it repaired. If the failure occurs during a production run (and it always does), you will have employees standing around and waiting or busy removing melted plastic from the machine so it will be ready to be started back up when the motor has been replaced. Neither of those activities is making you any money.

If metering can help you predict when that motor is about to fail, it can be serviced or replaced before it causes an active production line failure, which could save you thousands of dollars.

Weighing Costs Against Benefits

Unfortunately, there is a cost to everything and you must do a cost/benefit analysis to determine where you get the most value for the dollars spent.

There is a good variety of power meters to choose from, but as a rule of thumb, you can assume that good, revenue quality meters will cost you roughly $1,000/each. Add installation and data connection costs and you could be as high as $1,500/meter. Data monitoring fees and software will further add to this cost but that portion of the cost typically goes down on a per-unit basis as the number of meters goes up. A revenue quality meter follows either the ANSI or the IEC electric metering standard. The most important core requirement in the ANSI and IEC revenue meter standards is the accuracy of the meter. Both ANSI C12.20 and IEC 62053-22 have similar accuracy requirements that depend on the “class.” Class 0.2 instruments allow for a deviation of +/- 0.2% at a Power Factor of 1.0. Class 0.5 allows for a deviation of +/- 0.5% at a Power Factor of 1.0.

Start Conservatively

Weighing those costs against potential savings makes it a little easier to decide where you really need to have meters. Keep in mind that additional meters can easily be added at any time and that existing meters can be moved to new locations, so it might make sense to start out with a conservative number..

In conclusion, conservatively determine those locations that need to be metered to provide the information you need. Given that starting point, we can move on to the subsequent steps.

Virtually no one would seriously consider building a new home without a set of detailed plans or blueprints. Without proper planning, the end result is left to chance and is virtually assured to fail in some way.

For similar reasons, you shouldn’t consider building an energy monitoring system without a properly designed set of plans either.

Step 2: Energy Monitoring System Design and Engineering

Energy monitoring systems, especially in large facilities, can be extremely complex and a breakdown in any of the components can bring the entire system down. The purposes for creating a good set of plans are manifold:

  1. Assuring that basic monitoring needs are met. What exactly do you want to monitor? What system type and topology would meet your requirements? The previous post on deciding what you want to meter will help you provide the engineer with a basic understanding of your needs so he can create a design that will meet those needs.
  2. Specifying the components that will be needed to finish the project with the desired outcome. This would include the number, types and model numbers of meters, the wiring, the data collection devices, the communication devices and the data servers. The exact placement of each of those devices would also be specified.
  3. Choosing the best protocol(s) to be used for communicating meter data back to the server. This is critical. No matter how good the meter might be, if it can’t communicate what it sees back to the data server, it has little if any value. As the number of meters grows, so does the complexity of the data communications.
  4. Determining how to integrate the energy monitoring function with any existing protocols already in use in your facility. For example, the design should specify if and how the energy monitoring system should integrate with the building automation system if one exists.
  5. Satisfying the requirements of the permitting agency if needed. An engineer’s stamp provides the permitting agency with the assurance that the system meets all code requirements.

Planning Solves Problems

With a well-designed set of plans, the hard questions about implementing an energy monitoring system have all been answered before any hardware is purchased. Your purchasing agent now knows exactly what to purchase and your qualified electrician can install the components simply by following the plans.

If you prefer to outsource the work, the plans provide the basis for a Request for Proposal and vendors can use the plans to bid the job with confidence.

The two declarations we hear most often have been addressed:

“I just don’t know where to start?” can be replaced with “Let’s get going!”

-and-

“How was I to know this would be so difficult?” can be replaced with confidence in the final outcome.

Learn more about how Summa can help you with Design and Engineering of your monitoring system.

Steps 3 and 4: Acquiring and installing the metering and communications hardware and infrastructure.

As a side note, the fact that this is fun is precisely the reason why so many metering projects fail. Too many of us, myself included, want to jump into the “fun part” before taking the time to work through the planning, designing and engineering. Hopefully, if you’ve been following me through the previous two posts, you now understand the importance of doing the preparatory work and you’ve committed yourself to the process.

While it might be fun for some people to get their hands dirty, many of you might choose another path. The question is, “how do you intend to move forward?”

Two Choices

  1. Are you going to do the work in-house, using your existing staff, or
  2. do you plan to outsource all or part of the project to outside contractors?

In-House Implementation

If you are doing all the work with in-house staff, the plans provide your purchasing agents with all they need to price sources and purchase the required components. With components in hand, your staff of qualified electricians can then deploy and install those components in accordance with the plans. Again, all it takes is competency with electrical work and an ability to follow the plans.

Outsourced Implementation

On the other hand, if you intend to outsource all or part of the work, you will need to determine who you want to have do the work. Some of you probably already have a relationship with an electrical contractor that you would want to use. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with that. Contact your contractor and get started!

If you are a public entity, you are probably required to open it up to a bidding process. If that is the case, you will almost surely be more familiar with the bidding process than I am so I won’t try to tell you how to proceed.

I don’t know what I want to do…

If there are some of you who might want to get bids but don’t quite know how to proceed or who simply don’t want to be bothered with it, don’t worry. There are alternatives. For example, Summa Energy Solutions offers a bid request and process supervision service for a very reasonable price. If you would like more information on this service, simply follow this link.

Regardless of your approach, the design plans are the key. A well-designed plan, properly followed, will assure a viable system that is ready for programming and commissioning.

Step 5: Programming and Commissioning the Metering Equipment

Programming and commissioning the hardware is the step that trips up many do-it-your-selfers. It tends to be an exercise in solving for many variables and if any one of them is wrong, your system will not work or will provide invalid or unreliable results.  This step is the key to making it all work together as a nicely integrated package that provides both valid and reliable data.

validity vs. reliability

Reliability basically refers to the idea that you consistently get the same results – over and over again. If we’re talking about a rifle, it is reliable if it always shoots a “tight group” (on a dead rest to take the skill of the shooter out of the equation).  In other words, the holes in the target merge into one. The key is consistency.

Validity, on the other hand, would refer to accuracy relative to the bulls-eye. Even though the lower right target shows a relatively wide spread of hits, they average out pretty close to the bulls-eye so we can say that the results are valid even if they are unreliable or inconsistent.

Of course, what we want to see is the upper right result: “reliably valid”, or in other words, “consistently accurate.”

The worst case scenario is that the bullets never leave the gun. We have a rifle that simply won’t fire when the trigger is pulled.

We often see the same range of problems with energy monitoring systems!

Settling for less?

Metering projects fail in many ways.  We’ve seen installed meters that have been abandoned because they never worked or because the readings did not seem credible. We’ve seen people manually checking each meter with a clip-board in hand to note readings because they were unable to get the meters to communicate to the rest of the world. We’ve seen energy managers give up on dashboard software because they didn’t trust the information provided or because too much programming is required to make it provide the information that they want.

Here’s the thing. You don’t have to settle for less! If the meters and communications infrastructure are properly programmed and commissioned by an experienced technician, all of the above problems go away.

What is programming & commissioning?

Programming and commissioning consists of some very simple concepts, but because of all of the interrelated parts, it must be done with care and great attention to detail. I won’t try to cover everything here but let me give a few examples.

  1. It starts with confirming proper installation of electric meters. Are the current CTs and voltage probes in the right places and properly matched? Is the power source properly connected.
  2. For pulse meters, are they actually generating pulses?
  3. For ethernet communications, were the cables installed and do they go to the right places? If using WiFi, are the transmitters and receivers installed correctly and do you have good signal strength? Did the IT department provide the needed IP addresses and security clearances? What if you’re using cellular modems?
  4. Are the electric meters programmed for the CTs that were used?  Are the multipliers right?
  5. Most meters collect far more data than you will want to see. Are yours set up to report the data points you are interested in receiving?
  6. After confirming that the meters are providing data, it’s important to confirm the accuracy and reliability of that data through a trusted independent source.
  7. Verify and test the data acquisition server(s) and confirm that the meter data is arriving, stored and forwarded while maintaining data integrity.
  8. Make sure that the main data server, whether cloud-based or local, is seeing, collecting and storing the data.

get it right.

In other words, there is a lot going on here. There are many potential break-down points and any one of them can prevent you from getting the most (or even anything) out of your meters. Proper programming and commissioning is an essential part of building an accurate and reliable energy monitoring system. If you do not have the expertise in-house to tackle this challenge, you should find outside help for this critical step.

Step 6: Software Installation and Configuring

It is now time to select, install, and configure the software that will:

  1. Organize & format the data on the server
  2. Analyze and interpret the data
  3. Identify normal ranges and detect anomalies
  4. Display the results in a manner that you can quickly and easily utilize, including the issuance of alarms or notifications for abnormal readings.

This software is often referred to as the energy dashboard but we prefer to view it as the analytics portion of the energy monitoring system. Of course that includes a dashboard function but there is much more going on behind the scenes.

There are a number of these products on the market. The power, flexibility, and level of complexity varies from product to product but most can likely provide the data you are looking for. In addition, we have developed our own energy analytics package, Vitality, which offers certain advantages. As I discuss the options, however, I will be taking a neutral stance on the software package. Our concern is to make sure you have a monitoring system that meets your needs – regardless of the software package you might prefer.

A SHORT LOOK BACK

In the last post, I talked about the data server to which all meter data is funneled. It is important to note that before that server is commissioned, you need to know what software package you will be installing. That software will handle the inflow of data from the on-site metering system, the formatting of that data for storage and the writing of the data to the server. The connection parameters for that server will be dictated by the software package you plan to install. The good news is that this is all usually taken care of when the software is installed and you shouldn’t have to do anything special.

It is important to note, however, that the commissioning process I discussed in the last post cannot be fully completed until after the software has been installed.

SOFTWARE LICENSING

When shopping analytics/dashboard software, you should be aware that each vendor has a unique licensing strategy with associated costs. Some vendors sell licenses based on the number of meters; some on the number of “meter points.” For pulse meters, there is only one meter point each, but for an electric meter, there can be literally hundreds of points. It is important to understand the distinction. Vitality is licensed based on the number of buildings that are being metered regardless of the number of “meter points.”

When pricing dashboard software, you should consider the following questions:

  1. How many meters and/or meter points are covered in the initial price?
  2. How much will additional meter points cost? This is important because once you see the information you can get, it is very common to want to add meters and points.
  3. How much are the monthly monitoring/data storage fees?
  4. Do the monthly fees go up with the metering points? If so, how much?
  5. Are software updates included or do you have to pay for each one?
  6. What are the payment options?

Comparing vendors

Some vendors like to go in at a low cost but tend to make up for it when additional meters and/or points are required while others cover more of the costs on the front end. Others might offer leasing which pretty much eliminates the up-front cost but the total cash outlay over time might be higher. What works best for you can be a matter of company policies, current cash position, or simply the way the CFO likes to pay for things.

So I can only say that you should study the features, prices, ease of use, and long term costs of each package you look at. Once you decide on software, it will likely be installed and configured by the software vendor. When that is done, one more commissioning step is required to assure that the data reported by the software dashboard is the same as the data coming out of the meters. After that has been verified, you’re system is ready to use. You now have real-time energy reporting at your fingertips.

A WORD ABOUT VITALITY

We take great pride in the fact that Vitality was designed by people who have extensive experience as energy managers and who understand what is needed to effectively do that job. The primary focus was on providing useful information in a simple and powerful way. In other words, the software should work for you, not the other way around.

The trade-off between power and simplicity is constantly challenged by our development team. Our goal is to assure that Vitality always provides the data you need to manage your energy consumption in an easy-to-use and easy-to-understand format.

Vitality's Features

Step 7: The Importance of a Maintenance Partner

So far, we’ve covered the first 6 steps of implementing a successful energy metering system. At this stage in the process, you would have a fully functioning energy monitoring system that is providing you all of the data you need. Hopefully, this would suffice and continue to address your needs for years to come. In the real world, however, things go wrong, requirements change, and new ideas emerge. For the final step, we will discuss how a maintenance agreement can save you time, money and headaches when dealing with these things.

As you’ve seen in the prior steps, monitoring systems consist of many components. Meters, data acquisition servers, communications infrastructure, databases and software systems must all function and communicate properly for the system to provide you with reliably accurate information.

What can possibly go wrong?

The hardware and software components of the system are generally quite reliable, but as they age, the failure rate will begin to go up. One of the problems we often see can occur long before you need to be worrying much about failing components,

This problem commonly arises when electrical contractors come into your facilities for other work. Often, they are working around the monitoring components and fail to understand how a change they make might affect the monitoring system. We’ll find wiring that has be reconnected incorrectly or not at all, probes that have been moved and power supplies that were not reconnected. These are just a few examples of how the systems can be messed up inadvertently by unfamiliar contractors.

Requirements are not static.

Your business is dynamic. Changes might be as simple as realizing, after seeing what the system can do for you, that you want to monitor additional buildings or specific sub-systems. Or perhaps you are growing and adding new locations. Or maybe you want more data on that PV solar system you just installed. There are many ways in which your organization might change.

The importance of a maintenance partner.

The right maintenance partner will take care of problems and walk you through changing requirements. They will also assure that your front-end energy analytics software is up-to-date and configured to meet your ongoing needs. But who should you use?

It would usually make sense to contract your maintenance through the same company that did the assessment, design, and commissioning of your system. They already know the intricacies of your system and are in an ideal position to maintain it and service your future needs.

Summa Energy Solutions Can Do It All.

From assessment and design, to commissioning and maintenance, Summa can take you through the complete process. And with Vitality Energy Analytics software on the front-end, you will have up-to-the-minute information on all of your metered systems with special features designed by energy managers to meet your energy management needs. But even if you choose to contract with someone else, the important thing is to have expert maintenance at your disposal.

Click here to learn more about Summa Maintenance.

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