The Case for Permanent Energy Monitoring

Not too long ago, I was honored to be asked by Paul Studebaker, Editor-in-Chief of Sustainable Plant, to prepare a webinar on Energy Monitoring. I had designed, built and installed my first Energy Monitoring system in 1979 and with the recent rising interest in monitoring, Paul asked me if I would be willing to try to pass on some of what I have learned over the years.

Nearly 400 people registered for the webinar, so it appeared that Paul was right; there is a tremendous interest. I have been publishing case studies, articles and making presentations for many years touting the value of energy monitoring but I think the Webinar slides are the best single summary I have ever done. If you like, you can see the slides, which can viewed in five or 10 minutes. The following is essentially the text of the Webinar

I am thrilled at the current level of interest in energy monitoring. It has been nearly 33 years since I built my first monitoring system on my living room floor and used it to save 59% in my first project, a mental health hospital. For years, I had to essentially pay people to let me put my system in their buildings. There has been almost no understanding or acceptance of the value of the information resulting from monitoring during most of the intervening years. Boy, have things changed!

Why are you reading this? Do you want to save energy, save money, increase profits, reduce emissions, slow the use of natural resources, make this world a better place? Do you want to make a difference? Doesn’t everybody? Do you want to learn how to manage your energy costs like all your other costs? To keep people comfortable, systems running properly? To fix small problems before they become big problems? Want to simplify your life?

Let me tell you how. No theories; only my experience. I’ve been doing it for 33 years. In 1979 I developed a unique approach and have used it to create 20% to 67% savings in all types of buildings with no capital projects! How did I discover it? Looking back I think I was just in the right place at the right time; it was a combination of timing and luck.

I was educated as a mechanical engineer and after college I instrumented fighters for five years in the U.S. Air Force. After my discharge, I designed energy improvements for five years with an engineering consulting firm. Then I was a Purdue professor for six years teaching courses in thermodynamics, fluid dynamics, thermal systems and HVAC design. At the same time, I began to manage energy systems in a variety of facilities for a share of the actual, documented energy savings.

I found little similarity between the theory I was teaching for Purdue and the way the actual buildings and systems were operating, and wanted to find out why. I found no energy information in buildings, so I built a monitoring system, installed it in my first project, and found out. The equipment was fine; the problem was operation, maintenance and management. It was a people problem.

I took over operation of the building, installed controls, operated the equipment, managed maintenance and was responsible for comfort. I was on call 24/7 for many years. I used the data from the monitoring system and, with good management of the existing equipment, cut the energy costs 59% in that first project, a mental health hospital. No capital projects.

I found two different worlds, the World of Theory: of preparing to save energy, of audits, studies, designs and capital projects, where people believed that things actually work as designed. And I found the Real World, the world of actually saving energy, of operation, control, maintenance and management – the world of making things work. My company’s experience operating buildings was that one-third of our time was spent fixing things that had been working right but people had screwed up the day before.

I heard an architect say, “I designed a $14 million facility and saw it turned over to someone making $7/hour to operate and maintain.” That made no sense.

Let me tell you how you can use energy monitoring to succeed in the Real World. I ran buildings for 20 years and installed monitoring with my own money as the first step in each project. My only fees came from savings. It’s not hard. Simply combine the fundamentals of Information Technology, Engineering and Accounting. The first step must always be the information. Without information, it’s not valid science or engineering. Imagine medicine or airplanes or automobiles or manufacturing without information. Managing energy requires the right information in the right format at the right time.

The first step in getting the right information is the energy inventory. The energy inventory allows you to select the points to monitor. The right points are the keys to success.

Figure 1: Select the Right Points

Figure 1: Select the Right Points

Figure 2: Install the Monitoring System

Figure 2: Install the Monitoring System


Figure 3: Generate reports showing when and where every dollar is spent

Figure 3: Generate reports showing when and where every dollar is spent

Extend your financial management system to include utility costs. Manage your utility costs like you manage your other costs. A monitoring system is affordable.  It’s the best investment you can make! It pays for itself in weeks or months in every case. It’s good science. It’s good management. Instead of investing in a one time energy audit, invest in monitoring. Then you will have:

  1. An accurate, continuous, unbiased energy audit.
  2. A continuous commissioning system.
  3. A way to ensure that your energy systems are working properly.
  4. A way to ensure that your energy systems are running efficiently.
  5. A way to be notified the instant something goes wrong.
  6. A way to accurately predict savings from possible energy projects.
  7. A way to verify savings from actual energy projects.

Take a look at this project on a refrigeration system in a meat packing plant where monitoring, not just sub-metering but energy and performance monitoring, exposed that the largest energy user, the refrigeration system, was using five times the energy it should have, and had been doing so for perhaps as long as 30 years.

I have been asked more than once, “If your approach is so good, why isn’t everyone doing it?” Good question! I’ve been trying to answer it for 33 years. Here are some of my conclusions:

  1. The energy conservation field has a major credibility problem.
  2. This field is based primarily on making money not on saving energy.
  3. This field is based on equipment, not people; the priorities are reversed.
  4. Fees are based on the sale of equipment and services; not on actual measured energy savings.
  5. People on theory side naively assume new technology will save energy.
  6. Fees should be tied to actual documented energy savings.
  7. Not measuring savings is not valid science.

Here are some examples of things people actually have said to me:

  • “I’m not spending another dollar on energy projects. I have already spent a fortune and none of them have worked” – Business Manager, Public School District
  • “We make all of our money from selling equipment. That energy savings stuff is just a marketing tool.” – Manager, Energy Services Company
  • “We don’t actually measure results because we don’t want our customers to find out we aren’t saving what we promised.” – Manager, (a different) Energy Services Company
  • “Our CEO identified saving energy as the No. 1 opportunity to increase profits. I report directly to him.” – Energy Manager, Fortune 500 Corporation
  • “Our new CEO fired all of my energy managers - said maintenance could do it. We lost all our savings.” – Energy Manager, Fortune 500 Corporation
  • “I don’t need no damn computer to tell me how to run my hospital.” – Head of Facilities, Hospital
  • “I hadn’t noticed.” – Operator, Ice Storage Plant (at noon on 100 degree day when I pointed out there was no ice)
  • “That theory don’t work out here in the Real World. You know, it’s just a theory. It might be right or it might be wrong.” – Maintenance Manager.
  • “An energy auditor told me to install new lights; they missed my largest system using 5 times the energy it should have.”
  • “An energy expert told me to convert my steel mill to solar.”
  • “I think you are among the few who recognize how important continuing proper operation is to energy efficiency.” – President, ACEC Research & Management Foundation
  • “With the data from your monitoring system, we have for the first time begun to understand and manage our electric costs effectively.” - Vice President, Foundry
  • “I believe others in the field will have to adopt your approach.” - Industrial Power Engineer, Electric Utility

Managing energy without monitoring energy usage and system performance is like practicing medicine without diagnostics. Instrumentation has essentially allowed us to look inside of energy systems and uncover unbelievable problems including:

  • A 15,000 hp compressed air system wasting 20%. Operational changes saved $250,000 the first year.
  • A 50,000 gallon-per-day water leak.
  • An energy management system bypassed. The reported $800,000 annual savings were actually zero, nada, zip.
  • A building still using 75% after the client said it was shut down
  • A large dehumidifier using twice the required energy since the system was installed 10 years before.
  • A hospital running full perimeter heat 24/7 since construction 10 years before.
  • Ice arena costs doubled five years after energy savings capital project as a result of poor operation.
  • A piping problem in a hospital cooling system that six engineering firms had missed during the previous 10 years. It was corrected for $5,000, avoiding a planned new $300,000 cooling tower.
  • The wrong start-up sequence in a cement plant. Cut Demand 2,250 kW in one month.
  • The impending failure of 3,000 hp motor. Saved $100,000-plus in one day.
  • A chiller serviceman had turned on two chillers increasing the demand charge by $10,000.

How can this be? What’s the problem?

  1. Part of the problem, at least in the United States, is apathy.
  2. Part is that conserving energy is relatively new in the United States: only since 1973. It’s taken a while to learn.
  3. The technology has greatly improved but the people side hasn’t changed much.
  4. The technology has greatly improved but the profession hasn’t changed much.
  5. Energy auditing courses in 2011 are virtually identical with those in 1974.
  6. There is a widening gap between those in offices in the World of Theory and those in the field in the Real World.

What’s the solution?

  1. This field needs to be professionalized (ISO 50001 should help).
  2. The people side needs to catch up with the technology side: People are the key; Technology is only a tool.
  3. Energy professionals need to be trained in both worlds.
  4. This field needs to:

a. Become information-based.
b. Continuously monitor and report, for all significant energy systems:
i. Energy usage.
ii. Efficiency and performance.
c. Use valid science.
d. Update training.
e. Require certification.
f. Create effective standards.


Imagine every building is an airplane and apply the same standards. Really, just think about the differences in incentive, qualifications, training, accountability, certification, continuing education, follow-up and on and on between people working on commercial or military airplanes and those working on building energy systems. All we need to do is follow their example and we can have buildings that are comfortable, reliable and energy-efficient.

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