Over my nearly two decades in the energy management software industry, I have spoken with many energy and facilities managers, and a common topic of conversation is the value of monthly utility bill data versus meter interval data for analysis. In most cases, my response is, “Do both.” Start with an analysis of billing data and refine your research and management with interval data.
The Value of Utility Bill Tracking
Starting with utility bill analysis makes sense for multiple reasons:
- Utility bills are readily available, showing up like clockwork every month or quarter. No additional investment is required to get the data.
- Each bill provides a lot of big-picture data regarding a facility’s energy consumption and cost. A great deal of value can be extracted from utility bill data, so it’s just good stewardship to use it.
- Implementing a utility bill analysis application is typically much easier and faster than purchasing, installing, and networking a metering system, and with a software application like EnergyCAP, you’ll be able to use that data to quickly identify which of your facilities are least energy efficient...
... and which facilities are most expensive on a cost per unit area basis:
- Depending on the application you use for utility bill tracking, you may also be able to catch billing errors and streamline your organization’s utility bill workflow process.
The Value of Interval Meter Data Tracking
After you’ve used utility bill data to identify your prime energy reduction targets, it’s time to get into the weeds to figure out why consumption or cost is so high, and that’s where interval data can come into play.
Interval data will enable you to answer a variety of building-level questions, such as:
- Is my building turning on at the expected time each day?
- Are lights and other building systems setting back when they should be each evening and on weekends?
- Are there any demand spikes that could be resulting in increased costs via ratchet rates or other tariff-related penalties?
If your 15-, 30-, or 60-minute interval data reveals an unexpected load profile – equipment running overnight, for example – adjustments to building systems may yield substantial energy and cost savings.
One industry source suggests that peak demand charges can account for as much 40% of total energy charges. Interval data analysis can provide insight into correctable usage patterns.
Interval data can also deliver benefits beyond whole building performance analysis, such as:
- Utility Bill Verification: Comparing the usage listed on your utility bill with usage recorded by metering system over the same time period is one way to confirm that accuracy of your utility bill.
- Demand Response: Demand response programs provide financial incentives for organizations to reduce or shift energy (primarily electricity) use during periods of very high demand. Interval meter data will reflect the level of demand reduction achieved.
- Chargeback Calculations: Many organizations use complex spreadsheets to allocate energy use and cost from a vendor master meter across multiple facilities or multiple building tenants. In the absence of interval data, calculations are commonly done a percentage basis (e.g., percentage of total square footage). If the facilities or tenant spaces are submetered, interval data readings can be rolled-up to a total monthly consumption number, which can then be used for a more accurate chargeback calculation.
You can learn more about managing chargeback calculations in our eBook, How to Create Chargebacks & Utilitize Submeters on a Campus.
- Equipment Performance: You can get as granular as you wish with interval data. You can submeter specific equipment items for on-going performance tracking or fault detection, or analyze interval data from a manufacturing process to determine per-widget energy consumption and cost. The EnergyCAP report, AN22CC-Monthly Comparison by Production, can illustrate the value of production-related energy tracking.
Historically, organizations have obtained interval data by installing and maintaining their own submetering network. It’s typically an expensive, relatively complex, and often time-consuming process. However, the consumer is in control of where submeters are installed, what data is gathered, and how the data is used. And, ideally, the intelligence provided (and control gained) by having access to detailed energy consumption data will yield a rapid payback.
The Green Button initiative is an increasingly popular alternative to consumer-installed submetering networks. Per www.Energy.gov, “The Green Button initiative is an industry-led effort that responds to a White House call-to-action to provide utility customers with easy and secure access to their energy usage information in a consumer-friendly and computer-friendly format. Customers are able to securely download their own detailed energy usage with a simple click of a literal "Green Button" on electric utilities' websites.” Via Green Button, organizations can access vendor-provided interval data in a common XML format.
More than 30 U.S. utility vendors have committed to the Green Button initiative to date. Click here to see if your vendor is on the list.
As the use of smart meters and time-of-use tariffs expands, access to, and analysis of, interval data may be more and more important for energy and facilities managers. So audit your vendor bills carefully. Benchmark your facilities to identify the energy hogs using your monthly utility data. Then take and maintain control with interval data.