As campus administrators heighten their focus on energy efficiency and carbon reduction, the ability to assess an institution’s performance is a critical first step in any plan to reduce power consumption and costs or the broader environmental footprint of the campus. Metering and data quality are an important piece of the equation for colleges, universities, and schools, as it makes the difference in ownership's capacity to quantify and verify in-real-time building performance. However, verifying the accuracy and reliability of this data is often overlooked which is detrimental to realizing the owner’s sustainability-oriented goals.
When collected and analyzed correctly, accurate and reliable data provides critical information required to optimize campus systems, mitigate, or anticipate potential failures, and improve efficiency. Vulnerable, inadequate, or inaccurate data is not only useless for campus facilities management, but more importantly often misleads the larger project team - resulting in wasted time and effort for issues that don’t exist. Delivering a dependable, accurate metering system is dependent not only on the design and construction team, but also equally on the end-user’s engagement - and the process must begin at the conception of a new facility or plant, renovation, or metering retrofit.
Early Involvement – Equipment and Feedback
Quality data input equals quality data output. This process begins with selecting the appropriate equipment for the application. While the design and construction teams are intimately familiar with specific buildings or systems on a campus, the true subject matter experts for campuses are the end-users. Operations and maintenance staff have a unique perspective on facilities operation given their responsibilities and involvement span the life of the building as opposed to the project team, whose involvement typically ends with the conclusion of the warranty period. A building operator’s insight on equipment, software, and metering approach can add substantial value to implementing a metering strategy on a project. To put it simply, they know what works and what doesn’t.
That’s why campus operations and maintenance staff’s early involvement with any initiative involving metering is paramount. The impact of their input begins with device selection. The design professionals will follow campus standards, but what if the specified equipment doesn’t meet the expectations of delivering accurate, reliable, and repeatable data? Through first-hand experience and reviewing work order logs, the owner can positively impact the metering process through feedback on metering equipment in which staff have experienced issues in the past.
Alternatively, the feedback can assist with identifying application or installation issues for a specific metering device. For example, if a client is having repeated issues with a reputable meter, it is probably worth a project team’s time to investigate. The investigation may reveal the complications stemmed from improper application or installation practices and not the equipment itself.
Ultimately, the owner’s involvement, if properly leveraged, can create a closed-feedback loop for metering and data collection. This closed-feedback loop not only has a positive impact on data quality for current projects, but more importantly for future projects as the feedback can be utilized to update and improve campus standards.
Commissioning Scope and Involvement
The integration of metering devices to data loggers and software is a common source of headache for an owner, but metering and sustainability are topics that commissioning professionals encounter daily. If a commissioning professional is being utilized on a project, it is important to understand their scope in relation to metering. In general, the expectation of the commissioning professional is to ensure the meter is installed and communicates with the appropriate systems. To fully commission a metering system, the commissioning professional should not only verify device functionality and communication, but also any form of integration with analytical software.
An owner should work closely with their selected commissioning professional to determine the best approach. The commissioning approach to metering should be identical to any type of system, beginning with testing at the component level and ending with a holistic validation of the complete, integrated system. If their process doesn’t address validation from the metering device to the analytics, there is no guarantee that the collected data is reliable or accurate.
Points of Failure and Response
Technology in today’s world is advancing at a rapid pace and metering is not immune to these changes. More often than not, advancements in technology are synonymous with an increase in complexity of the building systems and software used for day-to-day facilities operation. The downside to increasing complexity is an increase in points of failure. On a recent new construction project, the owner’s metering strategy consisted of metering devices, data loggers, and multiple software’s used for analysis and utility billing. While on the surface this architecture appears simple, particularly for those that interface with it regularly, there are multiple points in which the quality of our data can be adversely affected or disrupted entirely.
At any point where the collected data is transferred from one system or software to the next, there is a risk of corruption and in some cases, a complete loss of data - think of it as a campus-sized game of data telephone. The culprit of poor data quality can be as minor as a single software parameter or a serious hardware failure, however the end results are often equally disruptive. Any degree of mistranslation can be devastating for colleges and universities who are committed to decarbonization and understanding their energy needs.
For any owner, planning and preparation for addressing issues is just as important as designing and validating a metering system. Devices can and will fail; this is the reality of the imperfect world we live in. Even standard-issue software updates for a system's analytical programs can corrupt or delete logged data. To mitigate these often-inevitable issues, an institution's approach to metering and data collection should start with establishing a team rather than an individual. This team should bring together experts from all of a campus' end-points, including operations and maintenance, utility management, and IT in addition to design, construction, and commissioning professionals. When a meter or device has failed, time is of the essence. Ownership's capacity to mobilize quickly and address the issue can drastically reduce the impact of failure and ensure the ability to capture long-term, macro-level trends in the data isn't sacrificed in the process.
The primary goal with metering is efficiency, and helping the end user know exactly how a building is operating. To achieve decarbonization and energy usage goals, an increasingly important factor is the quality of the data collected. When the owner’s level of involvement is provided to the fullest capabilities possible from the onset, the metering process not only runs smoothly in the design process, but for time to come. Leveraging your commissioning professional and understanding their process can prevent day one data quality issues, resulting in a proactive, holistic approach that is key to metering success. Understanding the points of failure in your metering system architecture and establishing a team to address issues will ultimately result in reduced downtime for any failure.