All companies embarking on systematic energy management are discovering that it has one key resource: data. Accurate information on consumption, production and costs is the raw material.
It needs to be complemented with info on the company – its production processes, but also the corporate structure and the organisation chart with the roles of key people. External inputs, like market prices for energy and carbon are the final input. Putting all of it together provides the basis for follow-up and improvement.
In practice the primary challenge for almost every (somewhat larger) player out there is still to get a grasp on the data and making sure they are accessible in a centralized spot. In most cases the focus is entirely on the first set (consumption, production, cost) and the other two categories (viz. company info and external factors) do not even enter into play.
There are basically three types of issues that typically pop up.
The first one is the problem of many smaller companies: there is not enough data. Only the main energy meters are there, providing a single readout for the entire consumption – once a year. When digital meters, which collect values every 15 minutes, are already in place, the picture is somewhat better, but the information remains at a very aggregate level and it is not really possible to drill down into it. The way forward is to install a more fine-grained network of submeters covering the main installations. Following Pareto’s principle and putting meters on those 20% of installations that represent 80% of overall consumption, is the smartest way to go about this. A relatively modest investment of about ten thousand euro is enough to cover a medium-sized manufacturing plant this way.
The second problem is a thornier issue: too much data. This is, maybe contrary to intuition, a thornier problem – and one that sounds familiar to larger companies. An abundance of unstructured and unkept (metering) data will require effort to become a usable – and dependable – source of information. There will typically be three things that need to be covered: identifying and characterizing each of the relevant data streams on the site; centralizing and coordinating all those data; and validating each stream to correct missing data, errors and implausible values. Achieving this requires dedicated energy management software that can automatically collect, process, analyse and report everything. It triggers alerts on unvalidated data only – meaning the user only needs to focus on the unexpected situations where the value of intervention is probably highest. Setting up such software requires some investment – but this needs to be put in perspective. An abundance of data means submeters and AMR are already in place and energy costs are such that the value of more targeted interventions is high.
Finally interpretation is an issue. Even when all data are mastered it is not evident to draw the right conclusions from it. Many analyses start from a specific perspective – like looking into relighting, renegotiation of the supply contract or reporting on emissions – and are confined to that particular point of view. This complaint is most common in firms that have been looking into energy for several years and get the feeling that they are mostly taking isolated actions in an uncoordinated way. Bringing in the broad perspective on energy management – covering a field ranging from sourcing, contracts and markets over technology to regulation and reporting requirements – is not evident. It requires very specific knowledge and expertise, mostly found in dedicated energy management professionals. Recently a new generation of software tools has started appearing that incorporates some of this background knowledge to support the kind of complex decision making required. But all in all, the options boil down to hiring a full-time dedicated energy manager; or calling in specialized external support.
Managing energy and energy data has become a discipline in itself. It is, however, an activity that pays off with an annual energy spend of half a million euro or more – which is to say, for most industrial companies.