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Energy Management Strategy, Roadmap Needed?

A lot has been written about energy management and how manufacturers can turn fixed energy costs into a variable cost and improve efficiency at plants, factories or commercial buildings. At a recent energy management software conference in Chicago, I talked to Arun Sinha, Dir. of Business Development, Opto 22, to gain insight on the energy management culture and technology trends.

Arun Sinha, Dir. of Business Development, Opto 22.
Arun Sinha, Dir. of Business Development, Opto 22.

Automation World: How is the landscape changing with top management and viewing energy-related costs?

Arun Sinha: There is definitely a change happening in which managers and business owners are starting to look at energy as a variable rather than fixed, overhead cost. There is a lot being written and talked about with regard to this topic. So it is hard to avoid or be unaware of the idea that energy does not have to be treated as “given”, an uncontrollable cost; but rather one that can be managed in the same way that say raw materials and labor are.

The challenge is that currently many organizations do not have someone or are not sure of who exactly is responsible for this cost.

Automation World: Are managers asking what’s the first step toward energy management?

Arun Sinha: Some are, and others surely will be asking as this very simple idea becomes more common. The answer to the question of “what is the first step?” is visibility of consumption through real-time continuous monitoring. This can be done at whatever level of granularity is possible. Even a macro view of whole building or facility consumption is a good first step.

The problem is that often managers are not asking this question, because they feel they already have the tools necessary via an existing Building Automation System (BAS), Energy Management System (EMS), or a Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system. The challenge is that often the real-time data in these systems is hard to get at without a specific technical skillset. So what happens is that the proverbial first step never actually gets taken.

The reality is that simple monitoring systems can be inexpensively deployed to get the necessary data in an easy format, in spite of or in addition to the existing, often complex systems. It is bit disappointing that more people are not taking the next step. The concept of real-time energy visibility that leads to savings gets people excited fairly easily. But when it comes time to make the small investment to get started there sometimes seems to be some inertia. I suspect it is a sign of the tough economic times, both with regard budget and the time and manpower required to move forward. It's a “Catch 22”, not only does it not take much time and money to get started, but upon doing so one is bound to find savings that will make the payback period fairly short.

AW: How does Opto 22's (www.opto22.com) hardware integrate with energy management software at the plant, building or enterprise level?

Arun Sinha: We realized that for each of these “data layers” in an organization, the methods of moving data are different. So we took great care in the OptoEMU Sensor to design it with a wide variety of open, standard protocols. At the plant level, it supports the common industrial protocols, there are protocols common to building and facility systems, and at the enterprise level the OptoEMU Sensor can easily move energy data into databases, web applications, or online services.

AW: Why does Opto 22 offer an energy management solution for both commercial buildings and industrial operations?

Arun Sinha: It is a good fit because we have eliminated the need for a specialized or technical skillset to implement the technology for energy monitoring. There is no programming required.

In industrial operations a technical skillset may be available, but in commercial applications it most often is not. But, even in an industrial operation, the persons interested in managing energy might not be accustomed to using typical BAS or EMS tools. Sustainability Managers, Energy Managers, Financial Managers and the like need data presented and analyzed with tools that look and feel like those they are accustomed to.

AW: It seems like a full-service approach could be an answer for some manufacturers, which includes energy management software, hardware and a 3rd party energy manager? Does this have a future?   

Arun Sinha: Yes, we have seen a full-service approach. There are lots of companies out there that will take our hardware, and either the SaaS tools for which we have interfaces built in, or their own software package, and do a managed service offering for their clients.

I think this does have a future. Both of the SaaS packages for which OptoEMU Sensor has an API for, Pulse Energy (www.pulseenergy.com) and eSight Energy (www.esightenergy.com), have an option where a consultant or engineering firm can host the application for one or multiple clients and use their energy expertise to help manage costs. 
** More information on the Demand-Response Energy Monitoring Unit

AW: What innovations have you seen with your Opto 22 EMU product in the field?

Arun Sinha: We’ve seen several innovations with our product in the field thus far, and will certainly see more. It is amazing how certain clients will take your product to new heights and in ways you hadn’t imagined.

 A couple of simple examples: An architectural firm very quickly developed their own energy visualization and analytics front end using standard .NET technology. A college has a large installation and expertise in our standard automation platform (SNAP PAC), but had a very short timeline to get energy data from these systems and move it into a remote-hosted database. They used OptoEMU Sensors as a sort of “gateway” to quickly do this, via the built-in XML data connector feature.

In industrial facilities, we’ve seen customers take advantage of the fact that OptoEMU Sensor is fully integrated with our SNAP PAC control platform. The logical progression is that after a period of monitoring energy loads, exposing and correcting problems, and automated controls scheme is implemented. Energy monitoring is straightforward, but some neat innovations come during Demand Side Management (DSM).

And, the Demand Response (DR) applications certainly seem to be the next wave. The opportunity to not only lower costs but to turn DSM into a revenue stream is too good to not explore. We have some examples of customers using the OptoEMU Sensor “DR” unit in Demand Response applications, such as the large grocery distributor SUPERVALU

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