Managing and verifying energy usage is one of the most effective ways to reduce costs. By harnessing the power of the Internet of Things (IoT), it now allows users to optimise operational efficiencies, processes and resources. Graham Phillips, Services Sales Manager at Centrica Business Solutions, explains the potential benefits of energy insight for your bottom line.

As the saying goes, ‘if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it’, and nowhere is this more applicable than with energy usage. In light of ever tightening operational budgets and challenging carbon reduction targets, optimising an organisation’s energy infrastructure can deliver significant savings, while predictive maintenance and condition based monitoring can ensure that maximum levels of uptime are achieved.

Rise of the machine

Combined with the growth of connected devices, the emergence of new technologies offers customers much greater insight into their energy usage over large and distributed sites, helping inform investment, maintenance and improvement strategies. In its rawest form, this can mean significant long-term cash savings for organisations and reduced exposure to future changes in energy costs, while also creating new opportunities for growth.

One of the leading solutions on offer comes in the form of sensor technology that monitors the flow of electricity at device level. Alongside cloud-based analytics, Panoramic Power wireless sensors have been designed to boost the IQ of assets, bringing users real time insights into their energy usage and highlighting system anomalies that could indicate serious operational issues.

Totally non-invasive, the self-powered sensors clamp on to outgoing electrical wires from circuit breakers and can be installed at low cost in just a matter of minutes. Once installed, the sensors transmit data to an analytics platform that can be accessed from smartphones, tablets and PCs with the option to generate more detailed reports such as historic data and benchmarking against similar users. The system can also be configured to automatically generate alarms and notifications, so that users are alerted when energy consumption falls outside of predefined parameters.

At its most basic level, this information can help identify energy efficiency savings in the region of up to 15 per cent, but dig deeper and there could
be many more opportunities to unlock.

Protect and survive

The deployment of energy insight technology as part of preventative and condition-based maintenance programmes can also play a key part in tackling operational expenditure by minimising the risk of unplanned and unbudgeted maintenance costs.

The costs associated with equipment downtime vary widely but, in the case of a manufacturer for example, a break in production could quickly result in a loss of many thousands of pounds. Downtime can also have a severe knock on effect to other business processes that could ultimately hit a company’s brand or reputation.

The problem is that all too often the condition of plant and machinery is not recognised and understood until something goes wrong – and by then it’s too late. With the advent of Industry 4.0, computers and automation are coming together and systems monitor the physical processes of the factory and make decisions.

By adding intelligence to passive devices, these IoT based systems communicate and cooperate with each other and with personnel, allowing a far greater ability to analyse data to assess the status of equipment. For example, if a chiller is short-cycling, a facilities manager can be alerted and take steps to prevent damage and downtime, thereby maintaining performance and productivity.

A great example of this approach in action is a pilot we ran with the Israeli food manufacturing firm Strauss. The pilot focussed on the cooling compressors within the company’s main distribution centre, which were known to be their largest energy consumer. We started by tracking energy use in relation to ambient temperature so when the system picked up a sudden increase in consumption, the site team ran an investigation that identified an incorrect sequence of operation (SOO) of the compressors that could have led to a total breakdown of the process. Fixing a single compressor malfunction resulted in an annual saving of £115,000.

The level of granular detail available also makes it easier to optimise an organisation’s assets,  generating savings and efficiencies by limiting the use of non-essential equipment at peak periods, using back-up generation to generate their power, and selling it back to the grid when it’s not needed.

Take this a step further still and these energy insights can be used to help inform decision-making around future investment to further improve operational efficiency and cost management by deploying technology that is readily available, tried and tested – often recouping capital costs within just a few years.

Benefit check

The changing energy environment has led to a situation where users need to look at the bigger picture from the outset. Optimising operations and reducing costs are significant business challenges but IoT and its application in energy management is transforming the way this resource is used in ways that would have previously seemed impossible.

Quite simply, data on its own is no good – it’s what you do with it that counts.