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AI is leading the transformation towards decarbonised, digitalised, and decentralised energy management, writes Prabhu Ramachandran

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The relevance of decarbonising goals during the downturn

Energy bills are the second biggest operational expense for large, asset-intensive businesses. Rising energy costs could be detrimental to the bottom line. Therefore, energy efficiency is increasingly becoming a part of the CFO’s agenda, writes Prabhu Ramachandran of Facilio.

DUKES found that the average price of electricity in the industrial sector rose by a staggering 45% to 18.64 pence per kWh in the second quarter of 2022, compared with the same period last year.

The government introduced price caps and relief programmes to help businesses survive inflation. While this is momentary relief, rising energy prices are only half the problem.

The problem doesn’t stop at bills; fines are deadlier

The UK government fined 33 companies over £27m for various breaches of climate change schemes introduced to help meet the UK’s 2050 net zero emissions target.

Commercial buildings currently produce 27% of the UK’s total carbon emissions and have a major role to play in delivering carbon reductions of 80% by 2050.

These conditions have placed enormous pressure on sectors like retail, manufacturing, healthcare, aerospace, automotive, and many others.

The built environment is turning to technology for solutions.

Challenges on the path to net zero

The most recent data on businesses’ net zero actions states that 20% said ‘implementing change being costly’ was the main barrier preventing businesses from acting, while 13% of those not taking action were ‘unsure of how to measure their emissions.’

High costs and the complexity of implementations deter businesses from adopting better energy management systems. Sadly, they miss out on an opportunity to gain significant savings in the long run.

Rethink the approach to energy management

Sure, retrofitting old buildings with LED bulbs, cool roofing, solar panels, and the like is good. But that’s new capital investment. What about the investments you’ve already made?

The first step to energy efficiency is to understand consumption. This can be done using utility and interval meters, which are very cost-effective.

The gaps you find at this stage can be addressed with simple workflows and process changes. You can also look at cloud-based software for further optimisation.

There are four primary levels in the hierarchy of energy management, and each step lays the foundation for the next:

  1. Device level: Understanding energy consumption with utility costs and saving analytics, and interval meter analytics for energy savings calculations
  2. Site level: Building Automation System (BAS) data, Retro-Commissioning (RCx), and energy retrofits to tune the system’s setpoints, sequences, and schedules to save energy
  3. Building level: Switching from reactive to proactive maintenance with energy management analytics like Fault Detection & Diagnostics (FDD) and discovering more energy-saving opportunities over time
  4. Enterprise level: Finally, adding an Advanced Supervisory Control (ASC) to close the loop and optimise portfolio operations using tools and data from steps two and three.

Each level is a stepping-stone towards more advanced ways to conserve energy. At the highest level, you need a portfolio-wide cloud supervisory platform to access real-time information from multiple building systems.

James Dice of Nexuslabs has illustrated the reality of a bottom-up approach to energy management hierarchy.

You may visualise a painful number of integrations and implementations and perhaps feel like this is more trouble than it’s worth. Well, you’re not wrong.

The problem with technology in this space is that vendors sell standalone solutions that create more silos at each level. This hinders energy conservation efforts.

Fortunately, a transformative alternative exists.

Do more with less with a platform-based approach

A robust energy management platform gathers intelligence and insights. It opens up opportunities to leverage smarter and cost-effective alternatives.

Here are some ways in which you can do more with less with data backing your every initiative.

  • Choose digital retrofits over capital-intensive physical ones

Digital retrofits fast-track modernisation by enhancing existing infrastructure, rather than replacing it. This is a viable and cost-effective alternative to physical retrofits, which are expensive and time-consuming.

  • Find simple opportunities to close existing gaps in processes, systems, and people

Take, for instance, the BAS data-lock-in problem. Real-time energy management requires access to BAS data for control-based automation.

The options available to access this data come down to

  • A painful building-wide system integration
  • Stitching complex manual workflows together that end up adding to silos

Multiple BAS vendors complicate this further, making it very difficult to get all your ducks in a row. A single platform can help an organisation unlock the untapped potential of its BAS systems.

With a cloud supervisory platform like Facilio to augment site-level BAS systems, you can consolidate data from across the portfolio and optimise operations in various contexts.

  • Leverage artificial intelligence for predictive analytics

AI is leading the transformation towards decarbonised, digitalised, and decentralised energy management. Modern unified data-led platforms leverage AI to point out precisely where energy needs to be optimised better in real-time and empower you with insights to take action.

The longer AI runs and learns from operational patterns, the more energy conservation opportunities it identifies. Predictive analysis can save you 10%-12% over preventive maintenance and as much as 40% over reactive maintenance activities.

Put your business on the path to continued compliance, sustainability and savings

The best way to understand highest impact conservation measures is to let data speak for itself. Platforms gather relevant data to become a powerhouse of analytics and insights and guide your sustainability efforts. They not only streamline and centralise data, but also set you up for energy management upgrades as you scale.

Additionally, they enable contextual maintenance, in combination with real-time energy analysis, contributing to third-party certifications (like LEED & SmartScore for existing buildings), helping secure performance ratings consistently.

Decarbonising goals are especially important during downturns such as this. Approach energy management as a comprehensive strategy to make sustainability a habit. Add a cloud supervisory platform to enable data-driven sustainability, which will save more costs as your business grows, improves the bottom line and also saves millions in fines.

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