How useful is live reporting with no live reportee?

In last month’s issue, Bill Hartigan of Providence College and I wrote an article titled, “Open BAS Protocol,” based on the college’s initiative to connect all of its campus building automatic control systems together through computer automation, and to get access to these systems via the Internet. In our story, we discuss open protocol and one of the unique features of this specific project, which will be the addition of what is called an energy dashboard displayed on a high-definition monitor.

As with any really good idea like the dashboard, many companies are jumping on board and offering customized, live-reporting computer programs which are meant to be placed out in the public space for everyone to see. The problem I have with the marketing of these dashboards is that there isn’t much said about what you do with this information: How do you assess it, benchmark it, and report on the energy initiative results? To effectively use an energy dashboard, someone has to be assigned to drive the process, which leads me to my favorite analogy - the automobile - to express my issues and concerns with this idea of having an energy dashboard and my belief in the need for an energy dashboard operator.

Consider going into an automobile showroom to purchase a hybrid automobile because it is environmentally correct and the right thing to do. To save money on this car, you request a vehicle without a dashboard. Sounds crazy doesn’t? Why would you want a car without a dashboard? Well, we all know you use the dashboard to control your speed, obey the rules of the road, estimate the time it will take to get from point A to point B, acknowledge when you need more gas, and estimate the mpg, to mention some of the information provided the operator when they use the odometer, speedometer, and gas gauge.

Without a dashboard, the operator can very possibly waste energy by not taking advantage of the electric engine to save gas when not maximizing the electric power operating range of the hybrid machine. When your hybrid car is delivered without its dashboard people are going to ask you, “How are you going to know fuel efficiency, stay within the limits of the law with your speed, and know how long it will take you to go from point A to point B?”

You answer, “Those are a very good point but look what I’m saving on first cost.” Someone could also ask you, “Why are you investing in a hybrid automobile if you don’t have the ability to efficiently and safely operate this vehicle?”

The same can be said for all those building owners rushing out to purchase high-definition energy dashboards without investing in an operator to drive the process.

What are the differences between a car’s dashboard and an energy dashboard? With an automobile, you get the dashboard and there is an operator to manage the information. With the energy dashboard, you get the dashboard, but you don’t get the operator. Without that energy technician to manage the information, you won’t be:
  • Benchmarking/reference to the live energy consumption. Without a benchmark/reference point, viewers can’t tell how efficient the utility is being consumed.
  • Posting annual energy consumption in Btuh/sq ft/yr benchmark vs. the current energy consumption to date.
  • Converting annual energy consumption to metric tons of carbon dioxide with the monitor showing a graph for this year’s CO2 avoidance (a.k.a. reduction in carbon footprint)
  • Showing other features on the energy dashboard, such as the demand-side management of utilities and forecasting the coming month’s conservation goals to mention two additional database reports.
So to close out my car analogy, would you buy a vehicle without the essential dashboard? I don’t think so. Would you put your car in cruise control, jump out, and let the car go on its own without someone operating the vehicle? I don’t think so. So why would someone invest in a live energy dashboard without someone driving the process? Computers can do a lot of things and provide a lot of information but if you aren’t managing the dashboard information, you may over-shoot your destination, goals, and association action plan.

Energy dashboards don’t work any better in cruise control than a car without an operator. You need both the dashboard and the operator, but I don’t hear very much about the importance of the operator when investing in an energy dashboard. Most likely, the dashboard vender isn’t going to bring up the topic because it would require investing in an operator and that costs additional funds and could kill their sale.

I think we need to remember that operators buy cars with dashboards, but who is buying the energy dashboard? A building operator, or someone who doesn’t plan on using the dashboard to its full potential?ES