Swiss Army Knife, wrong tool for some jobs!

Wenger Swiss Army Knife

One-Size fits all ! - I am sure you have heard it even when it's quite ridiculous and misplaced. Some jobs simply need a custom solution. 

Allow me to illustrate...

The most obvious argument is the Swiss Army Knife. (Disclosure: I am a fan) - If you are travelling light a universal tool may be a good compromise. 

But let's not forget that word - compromise. Compromise means this toolset is not optimal for solving all problems, all of the time. 

This doesn't mean, it isn't useful to keep one handy, they are great - I have a Wenger, now owned by Victorianox - "The orginal" was acquired "The genuine"  or was it the other way around who cares ?, but funny that the Swiss even reached diplomatic agreement between competing knife companies !

So what is the compromise for an energy manager...

Ahhh more sockets than you could ever need !
If you look into the tool-bag of an electrician or a plumber you see they have lots of tools. Some tools are ideally suited to a job, and knowing the right-tool for a job and how to use it can be very important for performance.  

So while the adjustable wrench - is fine in an emergency - it can be pretty useful to have the full socket-set available if you want to run a mechanics shop.

The obvious difference is that specialists carry more comprehensive tool-sets, where generalists need to be able to handle more diverse and generic problems (but sometimes need the help of a specialist). 

Also notable is that well-equipped and trained specialists are more expensive, so appoint the wrong one and you are likely wasting money.

Let's pretend for a moment we are energy managers, with responsibility for a chain of fifty leisure centres. To help get into our role let us suppose it's a Monday morning.
Vcitorianox Swiss Army Knife

We may not yet know it, but five things (we'll keep this ridiculously simple) need looking at.
  1. Energy targets need setting for all fifty sites
  2. On some sites manually controlled plant (a hot-griddle perhaps) is being left on overnight.
  3. A major damper that controls air-recirculation has an actuator arm that snapped.
  4. A compensation curve has been set up with lousy set-points
  5. The boiler capacity on one of the sites is three-times bigger than it needs to be to carry peak load
So being diligent energy managers, perfectly equipped for the task , we sit down with our Swiss Army knives and set about solving each of these problems. 

Or maybe not ! - What's wrong with the following "Swiss Army Knife solutions ? :

  • The Building Control System supplier said this was a BEMS (Building Energy Management System) - so maybe that it fix all of these tasks.
  • The Maintenance Contractor is responsible for the efficient operation of all plant - So surely she can fix all of these problems while you settle down with a coffee and do the Monday morning crossword.
  • The design specialist specified perfect plant ideal for the job, and it was installed exactly as specified (OK that's a Whopper !)
  • Your energy targets assume perfectly trained staff who cannot be improved upon, so 1,2, and 4 must be figments of your imagination.
  • Your utility company (ies !)  installed extensive smart-metering that solves all of your problems (doesn't it ?) 
  • Finally, we said "you may not know it yet", because problems 2 3,4, and 5 must be first identified and diagnosed, before you even know they exist
 So put down your pen-knife and let's think about priorities and possibilities!

How would you go about handling this can of worms ? What is the ideal tool-set ?

It strikes me that the first tools we might want to pull out of our tool-sets - are wisdom and experience ! (did I really just write that?) and with that in mind this is how we might go about the task ...

OK so we have fifty sites (probably spread miles apart) so we don't want to send a team of experts to each site or worse experts to sites that don't need experts - too expensive. 

So Step One - We need to classify and prioritise.

How do we do this without visiting site ?

We also have different problem types where some are long term, some sudden onset, and some are behavioural which may fix themselves or maybe someone needs a gentle kick up the backside to pay attention.

So lets see how we might identify or handle these different problems one at a time using automatic meter data. And just for kicks we will do it in reverse order.

The boiler capacity on one of the sites is three-times bigger than it needs to be to carry peak load. A chart of time of day vs weather makes this obvious.  But you dont need to read the charts - pattern recognition can find that automatically (It's that little red dot at the top we are talking about)

Now having boiler capacities that are ridiculously big, is a bit like getting too drunk as a teenager - we've all done it, but that doesn't make it clever (and some of us never learn :)

Fixing it would take plant purchase, installation, control system recommissioning and so on.  But it is a sure fire winner.  It would be nice to know which sites have the problem, what paybacks might be expected (or guaranteed - we are talking gilt edge savings here).

BTW - If this makes you wonder why your software can't evaluate this - maybe you need to buy a new tool !

A compensation curve has been set up with lousy set-points

Yes here maximum output occurs at (32 F - we were presenting in the US) that's just about freezing.  But wouldn't you want it to be at a maximum under coldest conditions (and then fall ! ) - it won't happen if you use compensator set-points out of the box (time to kick your controls commissioning engineers) Yup - smart meters in conjunction with pattern recognition can audit controls commissioning automatically !

Whoops - accident - we said Energy targets need setting for all fifty sites, we seem to be getting ahead of ourselves - that Green band above is achievable and it adapts automatically when performance improves - so why would you need to manually set targets ?

On some sites manually controlled plant (a hot-griddle perhaps) is being left on overnight.

OK this is a classic fail - it happens - it is transitory - and it is identifiable...

So whether its happening on one site per week or on half of them, the appropriate "admonishment" (read "kicking") could even be automated. 

Naturally, It could be polite, have proof copied in a nice report, and it need not take any of the time of the energy manager (is your coffee getting cold - I've nearly finished for today?)  and it does not need a consultant to be sent to site !

Also, if the problem is endemic, it would be possible to accurately calculate (from meter data) what would be saved by a functioning automated time-clock.

A major damper that controls air-recirculation has an actuator arm that snapped.

And there we have it - Our "Swiss Army Knife" fails that is to say "I admit that kWIQly could not diagnose that problem so you need to send the right expertise to site". 

Certainly, kWIQly could help a bit (doing some Swiss Army Knife Stuff) :
  1. see the problem, 
  2. point out that it is sudden onset, 
  3. note that it relates to forced ventilation hours
  4. and quantify the impact
But this is where we are limited - we only have the means to interpret the experience of energy use on the site, not the knowledge of how to get a maintenance guy there to sort it out !

Your experience would need to decide who to send and what to look for.

So nope - Swiss Army knives are only great solutions some of the time, but you may appreciate that now and again (or even in the majority of cases - they can save time and money and in the case of kWIQly - expedite energy management)

Does this make any sense to you ? 

- Feel free to ask questions in the comments below or Contact us for a discussion

and as ever - thanks for your time (we know it's too valuable to waste)  !

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