A fundamental challenge in commercial building energy management is in understanding where all the electrons are flowing. Most buildings have a meter that will tell the facility or energy manager how much power is being consumed, and smart meters have contributed greatly to their insight (in some parts of the world, including the United States, groups of buildings share a meter). And many, such as apartment buildings, have dedicated meters for each tenant.
But to find out how much power is consumed by tenants or equipment, a finer grain view is needed. It sounds easy to simply deploy more meters or submeters, watch the data flow in, and manage accordingly. But the barriers to additional submeters, including the cost of deployment and regulatory issues, are limiting their deployment.
Most large heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) and other large equipment vendors now sell embedded energy meters with their equipment, making energy management for large systems possible, albeit more expensive. Today, an alternative is on the rise, in the form of in-line circuit breaker meters. These devices snap on to the feeder wires of the breakers, recording the power used inside the cable without interfering with it. All of these companies are touting the fast and easy installation, along with the value of actionable data for facility managers. These are compelling arguments, especially considering the vast amount of commercial space and the massive plug loads associated with them.
Thinking Inside the Box
A few companies use these innocuous looking grey boxes as the data source to manage energy, displacing the traditional meter and submeter streams and setting up an interesting set of partnerships along the way. Pennsylvania-based E-Mon sells a line of circuit breaker submeters that capture power and can then communicate via Ethernet (or TIA-485-A) with an energy management system (EMS). While E-Mon has its own software package, the company recently announced a partnership with Honeywell to use its Attune Energy Dashboard service. Similarly, Panoramic Power formed a partnership with Lucid, joining its ConnectNow partner group. Panoramic Power sells only energy services, not the devices themselves, and uses wireless as opposed to wired solutions.
Enertiv both sells devices and EMSs, using Ethernet to communicate with the EMS. In late July, the New York City-based company received $750,000 in seed funding, indicating the interest in this space. This interest is rubbing off on newcomer Bractlet. The Austin-based company, receiver of venture capital and seed funding from Start-Up Chile, sees circuit-level data as a way to validate the upfront costs needed for building retrofits and a way for building and energy managers to measure the value of retrofits.
It’s a compelling business case. When it comes to retrofits, the first question asked is, “What will this retrofit cost me?” Followed by, “How long will it take to recoup my investment?” The last question is the most difficult: “How will I know if those savings are actually achieved?” Bractlet, along with its competitors in this emerging space, may have the right approach to answering those questions.
Tags: Building Systems, Energy Efficient Buildings, Industrial Innovations, Smart Buildings Program
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