What to Look For In a Good Energy Dashboard

Over the past several years, many building operators have been installing metering systems to monitor the amount of energy their buildings are consuming. This has resulted in the creation of huge amounts of data which in turn, has led to the creation of energy information systems. Also known as “dashboards,” these systems attempt to turn this sea of data into useable information. Once a tool aimed only at the operators of individual buildings, energy dashboards are now being requested by all levels in an organization; from the individual building manager’s supervisor up to the corporate executives.

A quick internet search will reveal many firms offering all levels of products. If you have been tasked with selecting an energy dashboard for your company then this newsletter may provide some useful advice as to what to look for.

When looking at a vendor’s dashboard the most important question to keep in mind is, “does it tell me what I want to know…and does it do it quickly?” Now think of a dashboard in a car. What does it tell you? How does it tell it? A car’s dashboard usually consists of only a couple of gauges and some warning lights, but that very simple arrangement can tell you a lot in very little time, which is what you want since your attention should be focused on driving. With just a quick glance you can see how fast you’re going, how much fuel you have, etc.

The dashboard provides you with rapid situational awareness. This is what you want from an energy dashboard as well. Unless energy management is your primary function, you want to be able to look at your dashboard and quickly determine any problems and find out where they are. You want to know if everything is okay so you can act quickly, fix the problem, and move onto other responsibilities.

Of course, exactly what you want to see on your dashboard depends on who you are. If you are the corporate sustainability executive, you may want to see a comparison view showing how each region in your portfolio is performing- relative to your corporate sustainability goals. If you are the building engineer responsible for a single building, you may want to see how the major systems, HVAC, lighting, plug load, etc. are all performing relative to their individual consumption targets. If your company wants an energy dashboard system that serves multiple audiences, you should select one that can be configured to display a view appropriate to each user. Whether each user can also select or drill down into other views may also be an important feature.

If your energy information system is going to be used for more than one building then, at the most basic level, it should facilitate comparing and ranking buildings based on some criteria. The most basic systems only allow comparison between buildings based on consumption. The better systems allow comparisons to some sort of performance benchmark or a corporate goal, target or budget. The best systems allow you to switch between multiple baselines.

A good system should also allow normalizations by square foot and by occupant when doing comparisons. This allows large and small buildings as well as crowded and lightly occupied buildings to be compared fairly. The more advanced systems will also be able to adjust data for weather variations based on degree days. This will allow the user to determine if any unexpected consumption levels were due to unusual temperature variations as opposed to mechanical system problems.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the dashboard system must be able to get the data from your metering systems. Almost all dashboard manufacturers claim their systems can connect to any metering system, but you must look carefully. Often there is fine print that says “any system so long as it uses BACnet or Modbus devices.” This is fine so long as your metering data system uses these very common protocols, but this might not be the case if you have a large portfolio of buildings whose control systems are from a multitude of manufacturers. If some or all of your data is not available in one of these protocols, then there may be only a few dashboard suppliers with the ability and experience required to interface with all your data sources.
Some additional advanced features you might want to consider are the following:

Does the system allow you access to your data?
-Most dashboard systems supply multiple views to the data but the manufacturers cannot anticipate the needs of every client and every situation. For this reason it may be important to your company to have the ability to make your own ad hoc queries to the databases so you can build your own custom reports.

Does the system examine the data and make corrections for missing or bad values?
-If during your search for an energy dashboard supplier, you come across any claims that seem to be a bit exaggerated they will almost certainly be in this area. Carefully examine your own needs in this area.

Are you simply displaying trends or are you trying to use the data collected to verify your utility bills? How important is it to you that each data reading be present and accurate? Is it sufficient for the system to simply detect and attempt to correct only missing data or does the system have to examine each value it receives and come up with an estimate of a correct value for that reading?

About the author: 

John Butterly, Quality Attributes Software’s Vice President of Energy Management, has over 30 years of professional experience in the energy field. With a career spanning three decades, there are not many aspects of the energy business that John has not been involved with. His extensive background includes energy management, procurement and consulting in the commercial, industrial and utility sectors. John’s supplies Quality Attributes Software (QAS) with energy domain expertise and is highly influential in the areas of customer and sales support as well as product design. John is a licensed professional engineer as well as an A.E.E. certified energy manager and energy auditor.