How to get started with energy monitoring

Conscious energy management is a phenomenon that has been increasingly applied over recent years in companies of various sectors and sizes. It has gradually become more evident and obvious to use tools and software for this purpose. An Beazar, founder and CEO of Enprove and civil engineer by degree, has been working in the energy sector for over 15 years and has witnessed the shift in the industry towards a more conscious approach to energy consumption. “Especially since the Green Deal was introduced by the European Commission in December 2019 – with the ultimate goal of reaching climate neutrality by 2050 -, noticeably more organizations are beginning  to understand the value of tracking their energy consumption. Just as accounting software is very much the norm to have an overview of your finances, it is also becoming a common practice to have the same insight into their energy consumption through software and to literally see where their money is going.”

The importance of energy monitoring in manufacturing
Energy management can be defined as the proactive and systematic coordination of procurement, conversion, distribution and use of energy within an organization, aiming on increasing efficiency, reducing cost and improving sustainability. An important step in the process is the monitoring of energy, which involves gathering accurate energy usage data and analyzing it with software to detect areas of inefficiency. Based on the result of the analysis, action can be taken to optimize the flow.

An Beazar elaborates: “Collecting data in an organized way and analyzing it has advantages in different fields. For maintenance managers and technicians it is an indispensable step to optimize their maintenance scheme or to improve investment decisions f.e. when an asset needs to be replaced. It helps predict machine failure, detect energy loss or find a water leak. In many large companies, there is still a black box when it comes to gathering the usage data of energy. There are often no measuring systems in place or if there are, they are typically old or inadequate and might require manual follow-up. The task for a lot of organizations for the following years is to get started with the existing data and to install (extra) energy measuring devices.”

What can influence an organisation to commit to monitoring their energy?
“I have witnessed a considerable change in the perception of industrial companies on energy management as a support function within the last five years. Before, we always had to convince the corporate management with a strong business case and hard proof that there would be a significant financial return. Energy prices were low or relatively stable up to a couple of years ago, and had low to even zero priority as an input factor within the total cost of the industrial production process. We could see that companies that had already quite some meters in place and available data, were willing to take next steps in optimizing their energy monitoring systems, because they would benefit financially relatively quickly. Companies that would have to start from scratch were more reluctant, because the big investment would only yield small financial gains.

There are a few circumstances thatare co-influencing company’s decision makers lately. The European Parliament recently adopted the Corporate Reporting Directive (CSRD), which will require all multinationals in the EU to disclose data on the impact of their activities on people and the planet and any sustainability risks they are exposed to. This new corporate legislation will oblige companies to gather more insights on their energy usage and to report on their non-financial numbers.” Individual countries or regions can also introduce their own environmental laws. In Flanders (Belgium), for example, there is a law dictating companies to disclose their largest consumers. In their reporting, they are required to demonstrate that the numbers are meter based rather than estimated according to the installed capacity and working hours.”

Also on the consumer side, consciousness is growing: “There is a lot of pressure, especially in certain sectors, to make the carbon footprint numbers publicly available or to put it on the packaging. So if you want to publish this information, you need to assure that you use reliable energy consumption numbers.”

“A fourth cause that we see today influencing the trend towards the implementation or improvement of energy monitoring in the industry, is that banks nowadays are compelled to do a sustainability assessments. Financial institutions are now only allowed to give loans to companies that can show solid proof of their energy efficiency follow-up. The need for transparency and objective numbers is higher.”

How can a company get started with energy efficiency optimization?
“The first step is to make an inventory of the existing assets, meters and data. Then you set up a meter plan and identify the biggest consumers and assets that are prone to deterioration in energy efficiency. An important distinction to make here, is identifying the financial versus operational risks. Operational risks are the ones that may lead to machine failure causing low production output. Financial risks come with the machines that use the most energy – we advise to only start measuring if its yearly energy consumption is minimum 12.000 €  for electricity and € 40.000 for gas. An important note is that absolute numbers don’t have a determinant value. What is key are relative numbers; values linked to the weather or other environmental conditions. You want to measure the cooling output in relation to the used energy, or the amount of air produced at a certain pressure in relation to the electricity input. You will need to set up both machine related KPIs (How much energy is used for a unity of outputs?) as production related KPIs (How much air or cooling do I need for one product?).

Next, you will have to set up new automated meters and a monitoring tool. However, simply monitoring and checking the dashboards and reports still requires a lot of manual work, so the software needs to be improved with automated reports and action triggers that notify you when something is wrong. This step will require some timely investment, because you will have to configure it properly and manually install the alarms linked to the KPIs.”

What are the biggest hurdles when implementing an energy monitoring culture?
“We experience that the most complex task in the early stage of the process is getting the quality of the meters and data quality straight, leading to extra checks. Also, in most cases, a company with multiple sites or plants often has different machine software in each site, which creates the need to install connectors. We always provide inventories and complete documentation of all the installed monitoring appliances and connectors, and integrate it in the software. This facility management of the sensor equipment is a crucial basis but is often overlooked.

The biggest challenge is actually to get the maximum out of your energy monitoring system. The data should not just be used in reports for an audit or a presentation, but they should be triggers to take action when the alarm is set off and to continuously use the data to make improvements. If an anomaly is only detected in the report, then it’s actually already too late.

And last but not least, we have to keep in mind the human factor when monitoring energy. In a plant, there are often emergencies that require more immediate attention than an alarm coming from an energy monitoring meter. The risk always exists that technicians manually change the parameters to have fewer alarms, because they don’t always see the urgence or importance of the monitoring. Obviously, you can’t just change such behaviour overnight among all employees at once, but the company and the management team will have to facilitate this internal cultural switch and make the awareness grow.”

Energy Management is not a “one shot thing”, f.e. for a yearly audit. In the past, I often saw companies who made reports for an audit, set up a list of actions that could be taken but eventually ruled out the actions that would not generate a good enough business case. Or actions were postponed due to insufficient budget and later on got completely forgotten. This process would then be repeated by the next audit, and so on. Energy monitoring is a long term investment that requires an internal culture switch from “looking into it from time to time”, into a constant follow-up. With the current energy prices, the return on investment of possible actions gets higher and the importance of good maintenance practices and improved operations have visible influence.”

What is the link between Energy monitoring and ISO 50.001?
Both are actually intrinsically linked to one another. ISO 50.001 works according to the principle of Plan-Do-Check-Act, which is based on the method of proposing a change in a process, implementing the change, measuring the results and taking appropriate action. So the norm basically obliges you to use numbers and gather data, in order to compare if the results meet up with the goals that were set.

How do you see Energy monitoring evolving into the future?
Once the new European Green Deal legislation will be enacted, we estimate that around 50.000 companies will have no choice but to implement it. Having a system of automatic follow-up and reporting on your energy use will become a commonplace. Luckily there are several technological innovations that will help facilitate this. Sensors are becoming cheaper, smaller and more often wireless and connectable on low frequency networks – which makes them easier to install. Also in the data chain, major advancement has been achieved. More and more systems have APIs that can easily be connected to the energy measurement software, and managing data has become cheaper and easier to handle. On the user side, alarms can be monitored in a more user-friendly way thanks to improved smartphone and tablet connection.

Do you have any final recommendations?
Don’t wait until there is enough budget to install hundreds of meters at once, but get started with existing data to gain first saving opportunities. Even if it’s only the quarterly energy bill provided by your energy supplier or net distributor. You can then add a simple pulse reader on your water meter. This way, you can already check if you have unexpected peaks or usage on times where you don’t expect any. Then you can start working out one business case at the time and gradually keep learning from this process.

Energy monitoring and ISO 50001

The ISO norm 50.001 was developed for organizations in all sectors and of all sizes to establish, manage and improve their energy consumption and efficiency. It is a voluntary international standard that provides a practical way to improve energy use through the development of an energy management system.

It is based on the more commonly known standards s.a. ISO 9001 and ISO 14001, and works according to the same system model of continual improvement. It provides a framework of requirements for organizations to develop a policy for more efficient use of energy and helps to fix targets and objectives to meet it. To better understand and make decisions about energy use, it is advisable to use data and to measure the results. This is where energy monitoring comes in. In a later stage, the established policy is reviewed and continuously improved.