Traditionally, plant operators and building managers have struggled to optimize energy resources. They know that they’re wasting energy, but they can’t pinpoint the sources of that waste and take corrective action. And, they know that aging infrastructure is inefficient and likely to fail, but proactive maintenance is guesswork at best.
Today, innovative Internet of Things (IoT) solutions and smart building capabilities are raising the bar of how an Energy Management Solution (EMS) can provide actionable insight into energy consumption and infrastructure to drive improved efficiency, reliability and cost savings.
An IoT-enabled EMS deploys networks of intelligent devices and connected sensors to continually collect, share and analyze data. Energy Service Companies (ESCOs) and their customers are exploring how these capabilities can be applied to more effectively manage energy consumption to reduce costs, mitigate risk and address environmental concerns.
The foundational elements of an EMS include the placement of smart, connected sensors across the energy infrastructure. In the case of an electrical system, that includes circuits, transformers and transmission lines. These sensors have the capability to monitor and measure critical information such as pressure, temperature and heat – all factors that contribute significantly to component failure.
More importantly, the data collection, sharing and analytical functionality of EMS assets provide an integrated, big picture perspective of how a specific electrical component (such as a transformer) might impact the grid as a whole. This perspective is essential to enable the predictive analytics and proactive intervention that prevents power outages.
Analyzing Energy Consumption
The holistic perspective provided by networks of smart, connected devices is key. By monitoring HVAC equipment, as well as temperatures in different buildings, floors and rooms, an EMS can help an office park optimize temperature variations during extreme heat or cold, and adjust temperatures based on occupancy. A utility, meanwhile, can gauge usage among its various customers to align energy production with peaks and valleys in demand.
In addition to improving energy management, an EMS can provide the foundation for a broader IoT strategy that optimizes business operations and supply chain processes, enhances security and improves warehouse management. Specifically, the intelligent devices, assets and databases comprising as EMS can be integrated with myriad other devices, assets and databases to create the “system of systems” underpinning the IoT.
Retailers, for example, can use EMS sensors to monitor temperature and movement in a “Smart Store” environment; these sensors can contribute analytics around customer sentiment to adjust lighting and sound to correspond to shoppers’ moods.
Smart cities are leveraging EMS capabilities to share data with systems that monitor and re-route traffic to minimize congestion, alert police to unusual levels of noise or activity and keep passengers apprised of where buses are on their routes. In these instances, an EMS can ensure that adequate power is available for additional lighting and signage, as well as collect data for continual analysis.
In a manufacturing setting, an EMS can help show how energy use impacts its production costs at a granular level. By connecting devices on electricity and water meters, for example, a beer maker can precisely calculate the amount and cost of water and electricity needed to produce a bottle of beer. Those metrics can then be applied to a comparative analysis across the brewer’s global operations to identify best practices.
One fundamental challenge confronting any IoT initiative is integrating myriad disparate devices, systems and platforms. At present, no commonly accepted standards exist for IoT platforms; as a result, achieving the critical functionality of connecting devices and seamlessly sharing data becomes a challenge. More specifically, enterprises developing an EMS risk locking themselves into a solution that offers limited options or inadequate functionality.
Another risk is selecting a solution that requires extensive customization to achieve the required level of connectivity.
Due diligence should focus on evaluating ease of integration, and key criteria should include seamless data sharing between devices, as well as the ability to leverage existing investments and connect pre-configured assets without extensive third-party intervention to develop interfaces. Ease of connectivity is also essential to an EMS cybersecurity profile, as extensive customization and reconfiguration of assets increases the number of potential entry points of threats.
Because “energy” comprises a such a broad and in many respects nebulous entity, identifying specific improvement targets or quantifiable goals can be difficult. As a result, teams charged with developing an EMS vision often lapse into “boil the ocean” approach and struggle to develop a compelling business case that demonstrates concrete benefits.
An effective EMS initiative focuses on low-hanging fruit – on converting data into useful information that drives specific, quantifiable improvements within a compressed timeframe. Benchmarking against industry standards as well as internal comparators can help chart progress. These tactical quick wins, moreover, can build momentum for a broader vision and strategy for how the EMS and, more broadly, the IoT as a whole, can benefit the business.