Energy Management and Lighting, Maintenance and Operations, Sustainability/Business Continuity

The Future of Energy Efficiency: EUI and Predictive Maintenance

At the forefront of all facilities managers’ minds is the importance of reaching energy efficiency goals in the near term. All levels of government in the public sector, along with large companies of all sizes in the private sector, have set goals and expectations across the board to reduce carbon emissions, with the ultimate goal of reaching net-zero by 2050. Energy Use Intensity (EUI), a common metric used across many different industries, is one tool facilities managers are using to help reach these goals.

This article will focus on EUI, why it’s important, and how EUI is connected to predictive maintenance. It will also touch on the nuances between preventative and predictive maintenance, why both are vital for reaching energy efficiency goals, and a look ahead to the future of energy efficiency.

Energy Scores

EUI is a simple metric that incorporates and simplifies multiple complex data points. EUI scores, therefore, become a way to report on the average energy use per square foot in a building. Because EUI has become a standard benchmark, data comparisons exist for a variety of building types in virtually every climate region globally, allowing managers to see how their buildings rank compared to peers.

Higher-than-normal EUI scores help managers understand, at a high level, that opportunities for efficiency gains exist, including opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Although buildings don’t physically emit CO2 themselves, since they buy energy from a utility plant that’s burning coal and natural gas, there is indeed a direct correlation between EUI and CO2 emissions.

The widely recognized application of EUI in the industry is ENERGY STAR, which provides a facility with a score equivalent to a school’s letter grade system. For example, if a building receives a score of 75, the building receives a passing letter grade. Large organizations have been using ENERGY STAR to track their energy usage; now, we are seeing local municipalities requiring buildings to be benchmarked by ENERGY STAR and use its tools, since it is easy to track and obtain a score. All that’s needed to calculate an ENERGY STAR score is a building’s or a facility’s data.

While ENERGY STAR is an easy baseline metric to begin tracking energy efficiency, if facilities managers want to improve a facility’s EUI, they need to look a step beyond EUI and ENERGY STAR to create and execute a plan. A strategic energy plan will address both the old assets and infrastructure in the facility, as well as new projects that managers may want to implement, to improve energy efficiency and reach sustainability goals and energy usage benchmarks. The strategic energy plan should address retrofitting, to track an older asset’s energy consumption by using technology to collect data; a mix of capital projects and addressing the efficiency of current operations; and focus on conservation.

Predictive Maintenance

EUI is not the only tool facilities managers should use to track energy efficiency. When coupled with technology like Internet of things (IoT) or artificial intelligence (AI), managers can track and collect data, like energy consumption, on a facility’s assets. This practice is known as predictive maintenance. Together, tracking EUI and employing predictive maintenance is a one-two punch to achieve energy efficiency.

Predictive maintenance and EUI tracking should be key components to any facility’s maintenance strategy. Put simply, predictive maintenance maintains efficiency by collecting data from sensors, using IoT or AI, attached to assets. Predictive maintenance aims to maintain an asset’s current state for as long as possible.

Predictive maintenance prevents asset failures that can lead to costly repairs, thus allowing facilities managers to get the most value out of their assets. It also includes building automation systems and warnings and alarms, for example, to alert managers of the state of their assets in real time. Over time, managers can track the facility’s energy use and compare it to itself. In another example, preventing repairs can also prevent dips or gaps in maintaining energy efficiency, since predictive maintenance tools monitor for faults in different assets and their subsequent energy losses.

Facilities managers shouldn’t choose between a predictive or preventive maintenance strategy for the facility’s assets. Both forms of maintenance should happen at the same time for a facility to experience maximum energy efficiency and cost savings. They are similar, but they do have their differences, and each uniquely positions a facility for success. Preventive maintenance relies on physical checks of an asset to track how it’s performing and if there are any problems. Predictive maintenance, on the other hand, uses technology to gather data on the asset in real time.

If an asset is failing, the predictive maintenance strategy will alert managers right away. Managers might not catch the failure until the next physical check under a preventive maintenance plan, which can cost energy, time, and money. When using both strategies together, managers know how assets are performing in real time and can also have their own eyes on the assets, which is an optimal way to ensure the facility is meeting its energy efficiency goals.

There are some common challenges managers encounter when implementing a predictive maintenance initiative. This strategy requires more frequent data collection due to the constant monitoring of an asset’s condition. This data must be stored somewhere, oftentimes in the cloud, and it’s imperative to have ample storage space for all the data. Another challenge managers face is the cost of installing sensors on multiple assets. This is an expensive practice, and it is possible that the sensors won’t capture all the necessary data.

As energy efficiency becomes top of mind for facilities managers, they must weigh their options and make big decisions for their assets moving forward. The status quo approach to asset management based on an end-of-life expected timeline has shifted. There are more options now than ever before for managers to explore, like adopting a predictive maintenance strategy, to achieve cost savings and improve energy efficiency, among other benefits, that will result in achieving energy efficiency goals.

Dan Arant, CEM, PEM, is a Solutions Consultant Manager of Energy and ESG at Brightly. Dan joined Brightly in 2013 and is a Certified Energy Manager through both the Association of Energy Engineers and the Institute of Energy Professionals. Dan graduated with a Bachelor of Science from the University of North Alabama in 2010. He currently resides in Birmingham, AL, with his wife and three daughters, where he works alongside Brightly’s Energy Business Unit. Dan is passionate about empowering the public and private sectors to reduce utility waste in their facilities and operations.

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