Applying new technology to established techniques

It is an often quoted maxim, ascribed to that eminent Victorian scientist Lord Kelvin, that if you can’t measure something then you can’t manage it. While not wishing to get into a philosophical discussion about whether it applies in every situation, it is certainly true in the case of energy use in buildings.  And that is why Monitoring & Targeting is such a fundamental part of energy management.

M&T is the process of gathering data in order to understand how and where it is being consumed and then, armed with that information, devising strategies to improve the efficiency with which it is being used. As with all iterative processes, the sequence is continually repeated to further improve efficiency.

Gathering data and manually inputting it to the computer so that it can be analysed can be a time-consuming process though – and pretty tedious as well. But about a decade ago, the energy management industry applied some of the lessons learnt earlier in office administration systems and came up with automatic Monitoring & Targeting (aM&T). It seems hard to imagine a world without Microsoft or Apple today. But it is not so long ago when letters were all individually typed with a hard copy often stored in an archive. Mass mailings were difficult to achieve and ‘standard’ letters still had to be re-typed each time.

But in the 1980s and 1990s, all that changed. Standard formats and templates could be accessed to speed up repetitive or bulk mailings, copies could be stored electronically and ‘cutting and pasting’ revolutionised office productivity.

Applying similar computer processing to repetitive but simple energy management tasks like data collection and analysis has had a similar impact. And it has done more than just eliminate the slow, manual traditional process of meter data analysis. Because of the speed with which these operations can now be done, the volume of data processed can be substantially increased too. This means that the analysis is more robust and faults picked up more quickly. Standard report formats can be used to present information to senior colleagues and these new systems – built with the same ‘building blocks’ as office admin systems – can be integrated with other office systems. That means they can also be used to check the accuracy of bills presented to the accounts department for example.

While the potential benefits of aM&T may have been obvious, it needed someone to agree to trial the system. In the event, it was first applied by some of the largest energy users in the country who had the resources to test this new technology. This was fortuitous as the results were robust and extensive. That encouraged others to take up the technique, including a number of universities and larger educational institutions who had substantial energy bills and often quite complex building portfolios of different configurations and ages.

Crucially, it also convinced Government that here was an innovation that could make a real difference to energy performance across the built environment. It introduced incentives to encourage take-up, notably within the Building Regulations and the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme.

The rest, as they say, is history – or not quite. This sector has seen dramatic growth across all parts of the economy. This is partly due to economies of scale as it has taken off, but also because the price of electrical components and computing power has dropped over the years.

But one of the key factors for its success is that the companies developing these systems are largely small, innovative businesses and this allows them to adapt quickly to new market requirements and opportunities. So while the early offerings were designed for large, multi-site operations, these have now been joined by others that are focussed on smaller, single site applications.

Indeed, it is probably fair to say that there is an aM&T system for just about every application. Schools, colleges and other educational bodies can all benefit from this technology. And now is the time to make decisions.  The Government’s ‘smart meter’ programme is shortly to be rolled out across the country. Larger energy users have the right to opt for advanced metering – including aM&T. There is little difference in functionality between ‘smart’ and ‘advanced’ meters but a big difference in their ability to interface with energy management systems. After March 2014 all gas and electricity supplies to ‘larger customers’ have to be via advanced meters, for example. ESTA recommends that users adopt the ‘advanced’ option now. For one thing, the metering is likely to be installed earlier (the smart meter programme will not be completed until 2020) and advanced metering will enable multi-site operations where buildings have different energy consumptions (and therefore different electricity ‘profiles’) to be integrated within a single energy management programme.

And speaking of innovation, that is continuing in the aM&T marketplace. Gas metering has traditionally lagged a long way behind electricity, but consumers need to be able to implement energy efficiency programmes here too. And today, there are new meter-related developments being launched.  ASPCoP is an ESTA-managed industry code of practice helping to regularise the provision of automatic meter reading (AMR) services for fiscal gas data collection. About 90 per cent of all meter readings are made by ASPCoP-accredited service providers. To further support this initiative ESTA is launching ASPCONNECT. This new ESTA system identifies each automatic meter reading installation. Contractors who need to make changes and additions can check the details before visiting site, minimising wasted visits and customer site disruption. This should make the operation of gas metering much more effective and efficient.

The industry has come a long way in a short time. But there is plenty of momentum to develop still more applications. And the introduction of new international energy management standards like ISO 50001 and the International Performance Measurement and Verification Protocol (IPMVP), which rely heavily on verifiable and robust data collection are opening up new avenues for further innovation and development of aM&T. Many of these new developments will be discussed at ESTA’s free aM&T conference next February.

The technology of automatic Monitoring & Targeting has brought a step-change to the business of managing energy. It is a young technology but one which has great promise and can be applied across the built environment. It is already making an impact in the education sector. Come to the conference in February and find out more.

Further information
The Energy Services and Technology Association (ESTA) represents over 100 major providers of energy management equipment and services across the UK. For more details visit the website at: