Facilities Management | Feature

Channeling the Data Deluge

For tech-savvy facilities managers, new data streams can lead to real savings. But can all these data points be too much of a good thing? CT looks at how one college is coping with a flood of mismatched operations info.

Tom Fressilli has data coming out of his ears. As associate engineer III for energy management at the College of Charleston (SC), he oversees 131 buildings, all of which are separately metered. The master utility bill has almost 300 accounts on it. As if this weren’t complicated enough, the college utilizes myriad systems, not all of which speak the same language. And while some campus buildings are hooked up to a master meter and central building automation system (BAS), others are not, making it difficult to track consumption and see where economies can be achieved. “You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” declares Fressilli.

In “Tech Gets Physical” in the February issue of CT, facilities managers discuss how technology is revolutionizing their jobs, although not everyone agrees on who should be responsible for what.

So how does the college untangle this hodgepodge of differing -- or missing -- data sets? A partial solution comes from UtilityDirect, an online utility tracking, management, and reporting tool from SchoolDude, which Fressilli uses to monitor electric, fuel oil, gas, and propane usage. “We feed all bills that come from the vendors to SchoolDude on a monthly basis and the company enters them in the UtilityDirect database,” explains Fressilli."

As a public institution operating under the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education, the college has to report to the state Energy Office, which oversees energy usage by all state institutions and agencies. “The energy office asks for the data in a particular format,” says Fressilli. “They encouraged a lot of agencies to go with SchoolDude so they have standardization in the way that data are reported.”

UtilityDirect streamlines Fressilli’s reporting process. “When I make my annual progress report, the Energy Office asks for all the information in KBTUs,” he says. “UtilityDirect can generate a report that converts all the electricity and fuel consumption to KBTUs, so it gives me the number I need to plug into the annual progress report spreadsheet.” It also makes it easier for him to compare energy usage to that of the previous year, to gauge the school’s progress toward a state-mandated reduction of 1 percent a year. The state’s ultimate goal is to achieve a 20 percent reduction in energy usage by 2020.

Fressilli also uses customized UtilityDirect reports to pinpoint high-usage facilities, where he can get “the most bang for the buck” when devising energy-saving strategies. For example, he was able to zero in on one building that showed up as an energy hog. “Very little attention had been given to when the building was occupied versus when it was not,” explains Fressilli. “That pointed us right back to our BAS.” Fortunately, this particular building was connected to the central BAS, making it possible to calibrate operation of its systems more efficiently.

Using Data to Build Awareness
Fressilli is a firm believer that heightening awareness of energy consumption can bring about behavior changes that will yield savings. To that end, he plans to use UtilityDirect to produce a report for the Office of Residence Life and Housing, which is responsible for its own budget. “It will show them a ranking of how many dollars per square foot per year each dorm costs,” he says, noting a wide disparity in dorm energy usage ranging from $4.68 per square foot to about $1. While some of the disparity might be attributable to differences in building age and construction, notes Fressilli, the higher number is still well above the norm. “The idea of the report is to prod the Residence Life manager to do an energy audit and look at what the principal causes [of energy wastage] are,” he says.

The lack of fully centralized controls remains a problem, however, and fixing it represents a significant expense. Currently, a master meter that goes out from the central energy plant covers only about 1.4 million of the 3.4 million square feet of campus real estate. “We have very little visibility downstream from the master meter about what’s going on in terms of electrical consumption on the rest of the campus,” complains Fressilli.

Thanks to stimulus funds from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA), the college is working to expand the amount of campus covered by its Siemens Apogee BAS. For starters, individual digital monitors have been installed in 18 of the larger buildings. “I'm now getting real-time information that tells me what the electrical consumption and demand are in those facilities,” says Fressilli.

Ironically, that new data requires yet more reporting. “We're on the hook to measure where we spent the stimulus money,” explains Fressilli. “The government wants to know where we upgraded the BAS, and what savings were achieved.”

In Fressilli’s ideal world, he’d have a single system that would automatically sweep up all the data and generate reports: “One of the things we’re trying to do with building automation is to get all buildings linked into a web-based platform that can collect the data and be able to trend it in real time.”

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