The Path to Enlightenment: Energy Metering and Management

by Shaun May, EIT, CEM

This article is part of Wood Harbinger’s newsletter series.

Energy management is a hot topic in today’s business climate, and also a growing interest of mine. I spent last year studying to become a Certified Energy Manager (CEM), and am proud to say that as of May 2017, I am now Shaun May, EIT, CEM. I’ve learned a lot about how to identify energy savings opportunities, and it has become increasingly apparent to me that economically-viable, energy-saving solutions are abundant in our existing built environment. Unfortunately, too many key stakeholders remain unconvinced that their buildings can save energy and money.

As energy becomes an increasingly valuable resource, sustainable energy consumption has become an important measure of success in our global economy, from both economic and environmental perspectives. Through building design and operation promoting energy efficiency as well as energy conservation, we can save tens of thousands of dollars in a typical commercial building while also preserving resources.

Front Line Progress

The first step to managing energy consumption is to measure it. Once energy data is accounted for, it can be analyzed, which may reveal operational deficiencies as well as energy-saving measures that could be implemented. LEED has helped blaze a trail toward more energy-conscious design and construction, with quantifiable results. For example, data from Washington D.C.’s 2012 Private Building Benchmarking disclosure showed that LEED office buildings operated with reduced electricity and water usage as well as an overall lower energy use index (EUI) compared to similar non-LEED buildings:

  • 11% lower average electricity usage (18.0 kWh/SF vs. 20.2 kWh/SF)
  • 16% lower average water usage (17.9 Gal/SF vs. 21.4 Gal/SF)
  • 13% lower EUI (64 kBtu/SF vs. 73 kBtu/SF)

This conservation resulted in about a $0.22 per square foot savings for LEED certified office buildings, based on Pepco’s average commercial electricity rates and the District of Columbia’s water rates. The average building in this dataset was 359,000 SF; that’s more than $80,000 in operating cost savings per year.

LEED continues to push for energy accountability through prerequisites like Building Level Energy Metering, which is a new certification requirement for LEED v4. It requires that building-level meters be installed, energy consumption data be recorded monthly, and that data be shared with USGBC for five years. Another LEED v4 prerequisite, Fundamental Commissioning, requires the development of an ongoing commissioning plan, with current facility requirements as well as an operations and maintenance plan, “that contains the information necessary to operate the building efficiently.” This practically begs for an energy metering/monitoring plan to accompany it. While not required for Fundamental Commissioning, the Advanced Energy Metering and Enhanced Commissioning, Option 1, Path 2, are parallel additional credits that take the extra step toward energy management. The Advanced Energy Metering credit can also help meet the Fundamental Commissioning ongoing commissioning requirement.

With these prerequisites, LEED further underscores the importance measurement plays in helping achieve the high levels of energy conservation that yield cost and resource saving.

Baseline Progress

While LEED and programs like it forge the front lines ahead, building codes represent the baseline. This has also been shifting progressively. In the case of Washington State’s 2015 Energy Code (WSEC 2015), which went into effect July 1, 2016, we’ve seen a major move forward. Fundamental Commissioning is now required to meet code, as is energy metering in new facilities of 50,000 SF or greater.

WSEC 2015 actually goes farther than LEED v4 on the metering requirement; each building energy category (e.g. electric, gas, liquid fuel) must be measured, archived, and displayed graphically for operation and management personnel. WSEC also requires that the metering system be commissioned to ensure that the data is accurate. LEED v4 Fundamental Commissioning does not require commissioning of metering systems.

Code updates like WSEC 2015 really raise the bar for sustainable energy consumption. Check your local building and energy codes to see if they’re following suit! Where LEED certification used to be a rare accomplishment, the steps to get there are now commonplace, if not required. In turn, it pushes the industry as a whole to reach higher. Who knows; as LEED-level requirements become aligned with code and are therefore mandatory, maybe Net Zero or Living Building Challenge will become the next goal for building owners who want to beat the status quo and differentiate their building. We’d be well on our way to really sustainable buildings! Both of these certification programs take sustainable energy consumption to a new level, requiring buildings not only to conserve energy, but produce as much energy as they use.

Measurement Leads to Management

With the kind of requirements we’re seeing for energy metering, we are poised to reap greater value from energy data analysis. However, WSEC 2015 stops at collecting and displaying information; it does not require anyone to actually act on the data, or maintain buildings operating at baseline energy consumption. The code simply puts the data in front of those with the power to act. Similarly, LEED v4 requires that building energy data be archived, but not acted upon. Both the WSEC 2015 and LEED v4 reveal the path to energy management, but actually taking action to conserve energy remains a bit of an extra credit opportunity.

A Scalable Solution for New and Existing Facilities of All Sizes

While WSEC 2015 is only prescriptive for larger new facilities, existing facilities and smaller new facilities can reap the benefits that energy metering and management provide. Metering is scalable and affordable for all system sizes: meters amount to a very small percent of the installed equipment and associated power costs. In small facilities with fewer assets to manage, a minor issue can significantly affect the total demand. Installing meters at the outset and establishing an energy management plan to maintain consumption below specified thresholds ensures tight cost management and prevents issues from arising and compounding.

The first big step toward improving energy performance in an existing building is a building energy audit to identify system deficiencies and energy project opportunities. Measuring energy consumption is essential to the energy audit. One may go about this by manually measuring hours and kilowatts for each piece of equipment. Or, preferably, one can simply read out energy data archived by an installed metering system. The compounding value of installing system-level energy meters (to monitor your building’s energy consumption) becomes clearer as you begin to understand the true value of wasted energy in buildings.

Say, for example, a facility has an old, inefficient, central air handler and no meters to monitor its energy consumption. An energy analysis shows that upgrading the air handler fan system and replacing the hydronic coils would save $6,000 in fan, heating, and cooling energy costs per year with a payback of less than five years. The facility owner initiates the energy project to upgrade the air handler, installs meters, and commissions the whole new system to ensure optimal operation. Following the upgrade, the facility operates at lower cost and the owner has peace of mind because energy costs are monitored monthly.

With Knowledge Comes Power

Required or not, the intent of energy metering—whether at LEED v4’s building-level or WSEC 2015’s separation of energy categories—is to record, track, and ultimately manage energy usage. Energy management empowers building owners and operators to take control of the bottom line. Initial meter readings verify that a new building’s energy consumption is as expected, and may uncover installation issues that were previously overlooked. Once a new building’s energy systems are optimized and a baseline established, future meter readings will be checked against that baseline to ensure ongoing efficient operation (and persistent energy savings). Furthermore, energy analysis may be used to identify future upgrade opportunities as innovative operations strategies and technologies arise. By aggregating data like this on a larger scale, we may collectively understand which energy systems and designs are most efficient across districts, cities, states, and nations. When it comes to energy management, data analysis, rather than ignorance, is bliss.

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