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Using data to drive energy savings

Published on November 03, 2009

Sarah Van Der Paelt, CGA
Director, Commercial/Industrial Sales & Marketing
Union Gas Limited

Part two of a four part series

If you attend energy conferences as I do, you are probably familiar with the saying “you can’t manage what you don’t measure.” An energy accounting system is a critical part of an overall energy management information system (EMIS). A good energy accounting system will allow you to make comparisons across energy sources and among facilities. It will give you a better understanding of what drives energy use over time – from weather to occupancy patterns to process variables – and it will help identify problems that need fixing. It will help you plan and evaluate conservation projects. What’s more, accurate data about past energy consumption will give you greater confidence in budgeting for the future.


Before you begin tracking your energy use, you need to get organized. It is important to assemble an energy team or green team to decide what data to track and what questions you want answered, as well as how best to record and report the data.  The first job for your team is to identify goals and objectives. A clear statement of what you want to do with your energy data will give you an idea of how much detail and what level of analysis you will need.


Second, you need management “buy-in.” Because a successful energy accounting program involves cooperation across departments, you will want to get commitment from top department managers. Once you’ve taken these steps, you can start collecting and analysing data. But, before you do, make sure that you map out a communications plan. Getting the message out will be key to ensuring that the information you put together gets used and that your energy accounting system continues to receive support.


What do I need to know and how do I use it?


Proper data collection, analysis and presentation can reveal many opportunities. Here are some things to think about as you decide what data to collect and what to do with it.


Utility billing data tracked over a complete business cycle can provide a basic picture of use over time. A simple line graph of consumption over time will help your team spot basic patterns and overall trends. You can monitor how consumption varies seasonally and monthly. A line graph for the year will show a winter peak and summer valley with summer gas use representing your base load. Is increased use of natural gas or electricity proportionate to changes in weather or is it out of line? Bar graphing your data can help you make simple comparisons: How is one facility doing compared to another?  You can also spot patterns based on variations in occupancy, building size or age of facilities.


The more information you have, the better you can use it.  Talk to your utility about access to your utility meter or consumption data.  This will give you information on your energy use at different points during the day – a big advantage in tracking down the cause of any consumption changes.  Are you wasting energy after regular hours or during shutdowns, for example?


Over time, investments in sub-meters will provide further, more detailed information. Depending on your manufacturing processes, a combination of additional natural gas flow meters and power meters may be necessary. Power meters can be selected to measure, record and transmit power use (kWh), power demand (kW demand), power factor, and power quality – all useful information for tracking and cost management. Sub-meters can also be used to measure other plant utilities that are derived from natural gas and electricity such as compressed air and steam. Adding metering points improves understanding of how process variables affect energy usage, helps you evaluate how equipment is operating, and opens up whole new areas for conservation.


One strategy would be to develop your energy management information system with available utility energy data, then add real-time access to utility meter signals and, as needed, expand the EMIS to include sub-meters. You can build an energy accounting system manually, on a computer spreadsheet, or on a dedicated energy accounting software program. The size of your organization as well as the goals and priorities of your energy management program will determine the best approach for you to take.


The next article in our series will take you beyond the simple data collection and analysis techniques discussed here and will discuss the benefits of Monitoring and Targeting.  This powerful tool uncovers further savings opportunities that might remained hidden using traditional methods.

Found in: Union Gas energy energy management

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