Continuous monitoring takes guesswork out of electricity management

Nina Winham

Traditionally, a lot of production facilities have managed electricity as if they were feeding a black hole: plug it into the plant and pay little, if any, attention to where it goes.

A lot of other inputs get closely monitored during the production process, but with electricity there’s often precious little data about which processes used the most, where problems lie, and where efficiencies might be found.

The black hole is an absence of information that hampers effective production management, cost control, and energy efficiency. That’s why BC Hydro has a program aimed at shining a bright light on industrial electricity usage – and ending the guesswork about costs.

It’s called MT&R – Monitoring, Targeting and Reporting. It’s a proven method for monitoring energy performance, setting targets for future demand, and reporting results to your team. And BC Hydro offers generous financial support to help you get it launched, including new funding for purchasing electrical meters.

Free initial workshop: Assessment (fully funded, value $8,000)

“The first workshop, which is entirely paid for by BC Hydro, gives the theory and basics behind MT&R, and then it goes into [a customer's] own actual data – it’s completely custom to their site,” says Robert Raymond, the program manager for MT&R.

 “The consultant works beforehand with the energy manager and technical staff to learn what they have for metering and basic control systems, and how they manage their information. They also gather up top level production data, and we provide the plant’s electricity consumption data. The consultant does some analysis, and is able to present it the next day in the workshop.”

Raymond says putting all that information together provides a whole new way of looking at operations.

“It’s really great because a whole group of people – operators, maintenance, supervisors and management – get to see exactly what’s going on," he says. "For example, they’ll see that in July, 2008, there was a spike in energy use, and they’ll remember that’s when a particular motor went down, or they changed some equipment.

 "It shows the power of monitoring – if they’d had that information in real time back in July 2008, they could have reacted right away and saved a bunch of money.”

Roadmap: Study and Planning (fully funded up to $20,000)

“Next, we help the customer figure out how they could implement MT&R at their facility,” says Raymond.

"We do two things here – a detailed cost-benefit analysis so they have a solid business case for the work – plus an implementation plan, so they know how to move forward. Usually they have some sort of system in place that is capable of generating MT&R reports; it just has to be programmed to do it. The study lays all that out.”

Meters, models, management: Implementation (up to $30,000)

Next is implementation – installing metering equipment and software, developing statistical models, providing employee training, and integrating MT&R into existing management systems.

“Management systems establish senior level buy-in and ensure there are processes in place to carry things through,” says Raymond. “That way, when an Energy Manager says there’s an issue, the technician in that part of the plant knows he needs to fix it. With modelling, we look at specific process areas and figure out how much energy we think that area should use, so it can be compared to actuals to figure out if we’re on track. The different process models add up to one giant model for the whole facility.

“The computer system – some call it EMIS, an energy management information system – takes information and produces automated graphs. Maybe a manager gets several graphs per week for different process areas, to see how things are running. It’s all automated, it has to happen without any user input.”

Raymond says program funding can now help cover the cost of the electrical meters required to collect and produce data, a cost he says has sometimes been stumbling block for companies working on MT&R projects.

Continuous improvement

“Once the system is running, companies are able to continually improve their use of energy, and use less,” says Raymond. “They start to see the power that this tool provides, and of course they keep saving money as they get more efficient.”

As part of the program, BC  Hydro monitors MT&R reports produced by customers to ensure the systems are functioning and provide advice if needed.

Raymond says the MT&R system can act as an early warning system if something is going wrong, and it can help point out best practices. For example, if one plant operator is doing things in such a way that’s helping to reduce overall energy use, their actions can be studied so other operators can improve efficiency too. He says MT&R puts an end to guesswork – and the black hole of electricity usage information.

“Without MT&R, an energy manager would typically do a study on one process or one piece of technology," he says. "For example, they’d change out the pumps, because their analysis shows that new pumps will save a certain amount of energy. But they really draw a little box around that one project, and measure effects at its front and back end. That doesn’t show you what happened in the system next to the change, or further downstream.

"Is the energy use just being shifted somewhere else in the plant? With MT&R you can see that. It really gives you a window into the success of energy management projects everywhere.”

Nina Winham is a Vancouver-based sustainability consultant and regular