Realtime Building Energy Displays – Behavioural Change for Energy Management and Carbon Reduction

Elcomponent's Managing Director, Bill Gysin explains how technology has evolved, and now provides the opportunity for industry to not only monitor but show energy usage through realtime Building Energy Displays.
MeterRing RT's realtime displays
MeterRing RT's realtime displays
Nov. 21, 2012 - PRLog -- Utility meters have been with us a long time. The gas meter understandably pre-dates the electricity meter which first appeared as a practical design in the late 1880s. Previous attempts had involved some very questionable procedures including the electrolysis of zinc sulphate, and heating alcohol to evaporate and condense it thereby operating a fulcrum balance. The speed of both processes was proportional to the current flowing in the ‘metered’ circuit, but it is perhaps understandable that these contraptions were rendered obsolete rather quickly by the rotating disc or ‘induction’ kWh meter, a design so successful that it can still be found in thousands of dusty cupboards more than 120 years later.

Even in our ‘smart meter’ world, bellows type gas meters and rotating disc electricity meters, both 19th century designs, are still providing a vast amount of data which is subsequently used to charge us all for our energy usage.

Or they would be, if the powers that be could arrange to read them every now and again!

Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) Revolutionised Energy Management

In fact, the requirement to read utility meters easily and cheaply has been at least as much of a spur to the development of the hardware as any search for increased accuracy or reduction in unit cost. Automatic meter reading (AMR)  is the very essence of the ‘smart meter’ and it is significant that particularly in the case of the electricity meter, the technology only started to change when the pressure to provide reliable AMR became overwhelming.

AMR revolutionised the billing process for fiscal meters, and it also made sub-metering a much more powerful energy management tool than had been the case hitherto. The difference between ‘doing the rounds’ of maybe 100 sub-meters every week with a clipboard and pen and having 100 sets half-hour data collected automatically was not just a matter of shoe leather, it marked a sea-change in what could be achieved simply by utilising meter readings effectively. Meters now formed part of a powerful tool within the energy manager’s armoury, and it was a tool that would become significantly more powerful as time progressed.

The advent of ‘software’ was the key part of that progression – initially the forerunners of today’s spreadsheets were utilised to make better use of meter data, but it did not take long before more focused solutions began to appear. ‘Monitoring and Targeting’ software has its roots in the 1980’s and has been a major part of energy management as long as we have had PCs, but it was not until 2003 that automatic Monitoring and Targeting (aM&T) became an officially recognised ‘product’ with its own three-letter acronym to prove it.

The marriage of AMR with M&T looked like it was made in heaven, and although like many marriages is has not been as easy a union as was at first anticipated, it is now the norm to find HH sub-meter readings as a key data source in most M&T systems.

aM&T has allowed huge improvements in energy, and latterly carbon management to be realised. Sophisticated analysis of usage drivers (output, occupancy, temperature etc) in conjunction with fine-grained usage data has been a key element in the mission to reduce cost as well as energy consumption, although let us not forget that there is still a lot to be said for a half-hour bar chart, a Mk 1 eyeball and an agile mind!

Other technologies have been hugely important of course, along with legislation-driven improvements to the fabric of our buildings and the gradual elimination of luminaires that deliver rather more heat than light to our environment. There is however, one area of energy or carbon management that is still very much ‘work in progress’, and it’s not an easy one to address.

The big challenge now is to engage us all in the project. Our behaviour makes a difference to the carbon performance of the home we live in, the business we work in. How we choose to do our shopping or travel to work, where we go on holiday and what we eat for breakfast all make a difference to our carbon footprint! Holidays and breakfast are possibly beyond the scope of this article, but how we behave at home and in the workplace is not. In both environments the ‘Building Energy Display’ is providing the catalyst for behavioural change.

Small ‘traffic light’ units have been available for home use for a while, and when the domestic smart meter rollout finally happens, a more sophisticated in-home display (IHD) will be a key element. For the workplace though, the sophisticated display is already a reality.

Real-Time Energy Displays Can Have A Significantly Positive Impact Towards Behavioural Change

Behavioural change
can be very easy, but is usually very hard. It depends on the tools that are available, and if these include physical or financial pain results are guaranteed! However, where energy management is concerned the former is generally not available, and the latter is the preserve of government departments. More subtle forms of persuasion are required.

The workforce of any organisation, be it commercial, industrial, public or private sector can have a significant positive impact on energy consumption, but persuading it to do so is a challenge indeed. The simplest of inducements have an effect for a short time when their impact is fresh – a “Please turn the lights out” sticker on the light switch being perhaps the most obvious example – but maintaining stakeholder involvement and keeping hold of any savings achieved is much more difficult, and perhaps unsurprisingly, it brings us back to meters.

As far as metering is concerned Building Energy Displays are the new Rock & Roll. Eye-catching graphics are combined with ‘power now’ dashboards, performance comparisons and real-time messaging functions to create a powerful new ally in the battle for hearts and minds and a smaller carbon footprint.

Elcomponent’s new ‘MeterRing RT’ is a good example, key meters are read automatically by a local software application, and the resulting values are factored, aggregated and otherwise manipulated to create energy and carbon equivalents before being transferred to a web server and the internet-based realtime display.

Unlike aM&T software which is designed for professional use and balances function and form accordingly, a successful Building Energy Display is an exercise in graphic design as well as an information provider – for two good reasons. First and foremost its audience is an invited one and has a limited time window in which to view it, and secondly it has to fit seamlessly into some of the most expensive and well-designed corporate environments in the world. The result is a visually compelling indication of the power required to run the building, and an historical presentation of energy consumption.

A Web-Based Display Is A Big Part Of Our Future Carbon Management

Being web-based the display can be repeated throughout the building and beyond, but when it’s located in a high traffic area, the workforce rapidly learns the ‘power signature’ of the building, increasing awareness and fostering a desire to contribute to an overall improvement in performance.

The dynamic nature of the display ensures that interest is maintained, and business-wide initiatives to reduce energy consumption have a ready-made performance indicator that is available to all.

The impact of Building Energy Displays is proven, but it’s early days. Their potential may be greater than we think, and not just in buildings. Interest from manufacturing sites for a ‘process display’ suggests that the concept is equally valid in a variety of environments.
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Tags:Energy Management, Behavioural Change, Carbon Reduction, Building Energy Displays, Carbon Management
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