Saving Company Money and the Planet with a New Generation of Energy Management Software

Saving Company Money and the Planet with a New Generation of Energy Management Software

Image CC licensed by Flickr user CJ Sorg.[email protected]/1511930506/

In business, spending a few pennies on cost savings can make the difference between a red or black bottom line. Energy costs for a typical company traditionally take up 7-12 percent of the total costs, but that has gotten harder to predict and manage due to price volatility. The U.S. Green Building Council reports that "buildings in the U.S. are responsible for 40 percent of energy consumption" and that adds up to a lot of money spent on energy each year.

With so many variables in play, what can a company do to save energy? Well, some are reducing energy consumption with measures that range from the relatively simple to making more complicated structural improvements. Many are considering software as a solution.

Some companies, for example, have taken the simple step of having motion detectors wired to the lights in every office so that the light automatically turns off after a pre-set wait period if it's on and no one is in the office. If you look at illuminated office buildings at night in the city, you will realize that this remedy has yet to become pervasive, even though it is an easy and cost-effective measure.

An example of the other extreme -- structural improvements -- is Ford Motors. Last summer, I took the Henry Ford Museum's Ford Rouge Factory tour. Ford implemented structural changes to its facility, including a green roof (a garden that covers the roof providing more insulation), natural lighting in the factory and rain water collection, which was used for toilets. These types of changes are absolutely helpful, but if there is no real-time monitoring or visibility that allows for course corrections -- meaning if the lights are off, the heating or cooling might still be on full throttle -- there still could be unnecessary expense and energy waste.

{related_content}As a result, a new breed of software and tools -- solutions that are all designed to help manage energy and utility spending in real-time. It's typically called energy management software, but often applies to all utilities.

As most companies have no idea how much energy they have used until the bill shows up, energy management software can fix that by offering energy consumption intelligence in real time and giving the company the whole picture -- across multiple types of equipment, buildings and building systems. It would allow you to make decisions to continue the usage, decrease it or shift usage to lower peak rates.

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that companies can decrease their building's energy consumption by 27 percent, and vendors of energy management software anticipate a range in energy cost savings from 10 percent to 40 percent depending on what energy saving measures are already in place.

Energy management software gives you the whole picture, because it incorporates your heating and cooling controls and understands the signals that they send even if they are made by different companies. You can add the utility rate structure, the energy sources (coal, wind, solar, etc.) and some providers incorporate a Geographic Information System (think Google Earth) with Autocad drawings of the building.

The systems allow you to create custom business rules that trigger your alerts. With that information, you can monitor your energy consumption in real time. For example, if you have a business rule that a conference room temperature should be 74 degrees in the summer, an alert would be sent to you when someone adjusts the temperature to 68. At that point, you could choose to override the 68 degrees, allow it or explore why it was set to that temperature.

Here is another illustration of the potential of energy management software: Supposedly, your large corporate campus has three different types of controls that monitor utility consumption. In the past you had to have three systems to watch what was going on. But with this new generation energy management system, you'd receive all the information and view it on one screen. The building blueprints would be loaded into the system and you could visually drill into the building from the exterior to a specific room or a specific control, which you could adjust from a desktop. This would allow you to view an alert, if a room is five degrees off your preset; or you can reset the thermostats if you see there is no scheduled activity for a room, thus saving the company money.

And since the new tools allow you to load the local utilities rate schedules, you can see your current energy consumption and cost by facility, minute, day, month or year.

Another benefit of such software, besides visibility and real-time energy management, is the opportunity to understand the carbon impact of your energy consumption. As regulations change, this will increase in importance. The software has calculations that tie to the company's energy consumption and the source of the energy, so if your company uses energy produced by a coal plant, the software calculates the emissions related to your energy consumption. As you reduce your energy consumption, you also reduce the carbon emissions.

This scenario is playing out at several organizations today that use this new generation of energy management software. The biggest benefit is being able to proactively manage energy consumption, which leads to cost reductions and carbon emissions reductions. What company doesn't like to keep more of its money and help save the planet at the same time?

Val Haskell is a director of environmental sustainability solutions at Hitachi Consulting, based in Dallas. She can be reached at [email protected].

Image CC licensed by Flickr user
CJ Sorg.