What type of energy management fool are you ?

Building Stack, Macau
Building Stack, Macau (Photo credit: thewamphyri)
The other day I was asked how I would go about managing energy of a large portfolio of buildings. I didn't have a stock answer, which is crazy when you consider my job...

A few ideas quickly surfaced in my mind. I was immediately reminded of the characteristics of the many excellent (and fewer atrocious) energy managers that I have met. I believe all management styles have some redeeming features and all have occasional weakness.

I thought it might be useful for me to put a bit of thought in, write it down and share it - Here it is - I hope it is useful...

So this article is about how I see energy management styles. They are getting it right or screwing it up royally  but mostly it is a bit of both ...

Piecemeal approach, low hanging fruit, fire-fighting or grasp the nettle - Which is best ?

There are three common schools of thought, which represent three traps that most energy managers fall into on occasion, all are deliberate and all are very wrong most of the time ! See if you can recognise yourself - be honest !

The church of the "centre of excellence"...

This model supposes we should evaluate what we know best, pilot every study, explore every technology and create a "centre of excellence". Then having established which things definitely  work they should be rolled out throughout the portfolio.

When is it wrong ? ...
This approach is extremely risk averse and conservative and it relies on a flawed assumption - no single building represents all others.  The appropriate technologies for different buildings differ, so the idea of trialling use in one place to evaluate it for another is a nonsense. Timid energy managers who fear rocking the boat, or who do not feel empowered often fall into this category. This solution overlooks:

  • the opportunity for application of widespread low-cost can't fail low risk solutions.  e.g. turning the lights off!
  • the transient nature of energy saving opportunity (buildings change),
  • economies and dis-economies of scale
When is it right ?
To test under very highly controlled conditions, high risk or high cost strategies.

How is it cured ?
Get out of your comfort zone - If a solution is so obvious you could ram it down peoples throats - do it! If it needs a bigger budget - make the case.

The school of the "lowest common denominator"...

This solution supposes, the very opposite of the "centre of excellence", that rather than one building being representative to an entire portfolio, one problem is universally the place to begin. It is equally naive for exactly the same reason, buildings are different, and the saving opportunity per problem solved varies in both dimension (by building and by problem). 

When is it wrong ? ...
In any reasonably sized portfolio of buildings, there is always an utter nightmare to be handled somewhere. Ignoring this while we ensure each building has occupancy detectors in each corridor is crazy. Unimaginative small-thinking energy managers that love bureaucracy, system and procedure can be trapped into this mode of thought. This solution overlooks:
  • pragmatic priorities
  • big ideas
When is it right ?...
To apply obviously necessary quality standards systematically.

How is it cured ?
Sometime other people have ideas that are better than yours. Embrace these. Sometimes a maverick approach  "tearing up you procedural bible", bears fruit. This is often the case in organisations that grow faster than an effective management strategy can keep up. Brain storming, flexibility, being able to ask the question - even if it seems radical can be worthwhile. Sometimes, a slap in the face is needed to shake you out of your torpor. Go drink a massive amount of coffee, wake up and smell the roses!

The brigadier who fights the good fight ..

This approach assumes that there are notable problems to be fixed. In German it has a name "Wo druckt der Schu?" - which means where does the shoe pinch ? On a battlefield this makes sense because it is a form of "triage" - casualties are brutally ranked into
  • not worth the effort - he's going to die what ever we do
  • not worth the effort - its only a graze - pack him on his way
  • worth the effort - can be made fighting fit with a bit of effort
It is obviously a rational approach to high priority, instant priority setting

When is it wrong ? ...
When you are not fighting a war - buildings don't die if ignored, and can haemorrhage money and energy continually.  It is like running a health service with no hygiene standard, and no emergency ward. Many energy managers behave like this rushing around cajoling people into attacking their pet priority - it can appear ridiculous and rather judgemental. Like the Charge of the Light Brigade it can also be fatally flawed . This solution overlooks:
  • Long term endemic problems - where individual cases may be minutiae (getting people to switch things off)
  • Technically challenging, non-immediate hard problems  - where something really must be done
When is it right?
At a time of crisis - a high priority alarm has been raised, but buildings should not be in a continual state of alarm - the cacophony is deafening and soon ignored.

How is it cured ?
Not coffee for sure! - Take time out ( a retreat is a tough idea for a battle hardened campaigner). Listen to ideas, visit some energy exhibitions, attend training courses, and right down some ideas and all of your assumptions on a fresh sheet of paper - then validate them - Ask what you would do if you had more resources, time, people, software etc. - it might shift your priority!

So what is the right approach ? - Grasping the nettle...

Since all of the above appear to be reasonable some of the time, for some resources, but none of them are right all of the time for all resources, it must be obvious that an energy manager must be all things to all people ! What is required is a balanced, systematic approach, that handles short, medium and long term priorities as they emerge. It does not overlook the urgent, but it brings order to the chaos.  If that sound too good to be true, we have work to do...

The first thing to do is to do nothing!

That does not mean stop things from being done, but accept that if you drop dead in five minutes, someone will probably step into the breech. "Doing nothing to change things is the only function that is indispensable to the stability of all systems".  This also gives a little time to take stock.  Making time for strategy is the first and most important lesson for an energy manager (who has a fundamental responsibility to initiate change - but who should do so from an informed perspective).

I will make these following questions into the subjects of more detailed posts, but why not first take a step back and have a look at them as an overview. - If you can say yes to all of the following, you are close to being able to start energy management !  These incidentally are the one-off hygiene factors , we can look at how they are managed and prioritised in a rolling and time-dynamic manner later.  (For the record I have completely overlooked how you buy energy)
  1. Do you have a reliable list all buildings - name and address, (lat, lon, postcode) and a facility to store associated data with them (opening hours, key targets, occupancy temperature etc). Ideally this should be on-line, available anywhere, and capable of being downloaded or supporting associated listing functions (e.g. sort schools by number of pupils - see below) - At a push this could be a spreadsheet but it's a compromise.
  2. Do you have Smart-Metering for all buildings , basic utility incomer Gas, Electricity & Water (you can't manage what .. you have heard it before!). These should be independent of your building control system (to rule out GiGO and allow utility reconciliation)
  3. Do all of your buildings pass simple time-clock / week schedule  and holiday schedule checks. Are these tests automated and do they produce a score per building?
  4. Have you arranged weather data for all buildings - this should be very local, reliable, high time resolution, include all relevant weather parameters and be  independent of your building control system (rule out GiGO and allow utility reconciliation) ?
  5. Have you checked basic weather responses for reasonableness ?
  6. Have you collated collated basic benchmark data for all buildings - no pupils, floor-area etc?
  7. Can you define relevant KPI results and sort, filter and rank by them, and produce a report on demand showing how each elected building compares ?

If you say no to any of these, please ask yourself what difference it could make to your fundamental ability to do your job - If you can say yes to all of these - drop us a line - we have clients who need you !

PS - Are you aware that you can get free heating and cooling degree-day data for anywhere in the world from us ?

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