Metering & Monitoring – The Technology Dividend

Elcomponent chairman Bill Gysin looks at the impact of technology on Sub-metering hardware and software

 How much technology do you need to do Energy Management? And how much data?

Actually not much of either… Applying tried and tested EM routines using daily (or even weekly or monthly) manual reads of whatever meters are available, along with the relevant driver data – production, degree-days or whatever – in a well-known spreadsheet will deliver savings with little or no outlay on hardware and using software tools that mostly are available already.

But… this lack of technology and the relative paucity of data has to be balanced by an excess of time, which is of course otherwise known as ‘money’, effort and not a little skill. After all, those meters are not going to read themselves and good as your favourite spreadsheet may be, it does not populate itself or create the necessary formulae to carry out a regression analysis without some external intervention. And of course there are physical limits to this purely manual approach which is why Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) systems and Monitoring & Targeting software (M&T) are considered essential by most large businesses and more than a few SMEs.

The drivers for this are not simply better and easier Energy Management – the requirements of ESOS Phase II and ISO50001 (which is perhaps the ultimate way to deal with ESOS) are much harder to meet, if indeed they can be met at all, without sub-metering linked to AMR. The ned to raise awareness and highlight the role of the individual in the achievement of the ‘continuous improvement’ that is mandated by 50001 but is in any case part of every energy manager’s goals is far easier if relevant and targeted energy performance dashboards are strategically placed around the organisation, and just a mouse-click away for all stakeholders. The operation publication of energy league tables and the dissemination of energy performance information (hopefully positive) are functions which whilst not impossible, are daunting to say the least without some technology to help out.

And there’s no doubt – advances in both hardware and software functionality in as short a period as the last couple of years have added to the capability of, and reduced the installed cost of meter-based Energy Management packages, which is no more than we all expect. The level of technology that we all carry around with us, the sheer connectivity delivered by the Internet of Things and the increasing sophistication of data streaming services has not surprisingly raised our expectations somewhat. These days we see AMR systems that ‘just work’ and M&T software that provides performance rather than simply consumption data as no big deal. And so we should. Suppliers in the space occupied by Elcomponent can ill-afford to let the grass grow around them or they risk today’s ‘cutting edge’ becoming tomorrow’s ‘legacy’.

However, a note of caution is appropriate. In this sector clever technology has to mean more than high frequency interval data and dynamic chart rendering. The machinery may have changed but the basic tenets of energy management have not, they have merely been augmented, and a modern sub-metering system still has to tick the boxes that have always mattered and a few more besides.

Data quality and reliability remain paramount – clever hardware that only works some of the time has its drawbacks…

A friendly and accessible user-interface is more important than ever. Tools that are easy to use get used, the rest tend to stay in the box…

Consumption data on its own only gets you so far – yes there is and always has been a great deal valuable saving to be made using nothing more than a half-hour bar chart and a mk1 eyeball, but automatic normalisation of usage against key drivers and preferably a presentation of ‘actual against expected’ consumption is essential if energy is truly to be managed.

Concise and effective reporting – both scheduled and event triggered – is another must-have if the system is to pay its way in maintaining the improvements it helped to deliver in the first place.

Space restrictions preclude a more exhaustive list, but the message is clear. Technology allows us easily to read remote or awkwardly sited meters that would have been expensive and difficult to connect a few years ago. It allows us to transmit huge amounts of data regardless of available infrastructure, and the cloud delivers almost unlimited storage and access facilities. We can check almost any aspect of a system on a mobile phone or tablet in real time and the universal availability of web-based software means we can all be energy managers if we wish. But… if the data acquisition isn’t solid, or the software only keeps track of consumption and not performance, or our alarms and reports don’t arrive when they should or don’t contain the right information, then we have technology for its own sake rather than as a contributor to a better metering and monitoring package.