There are many applications (apps) available on our phones and computers to assist us with our business needs. Many of these apps offer to help your business save energy and money, but as the topic can be complex and confusing, it’s often unclear what these apps are really offering. This is a broad-based guide developed as part of an RMIT student project to assist business in understanding the different types of apps which are out there.
As part of the Victorian Government’s 2015 Switch On initiative, all Victorian small businesses were fitted with smart meters. A smart meter reads the electricity usage of an entire premise or building at 15 minute intervals.
Smart meters help energy retailers to accurately track and bill usage. The data is currently available from your energy provider in a spreadsheet. This isn’t the easiest way to access data and some providers have apps which use the smart meter data and present it neatly on your phone or computer.
|Easily available||Not all retailers have apps, requires a manual get data and self-analyse|
|Free||No alerts when usage is high or abnormal|
|Quick insight to usage of a week/month/year||Doesn’t automatically compare periods for abnormal usage|
|Easy to pick up on extra power usage||Doesn’t pinpoint what appliance/machine is using power|
This is good starting point to understanding power usage. It’s highly recommended that you start by downloading the app through your retailer and picking up on times when power is being used when it shouldn’t be.
Sub-meters are small monitoring devices which meter either a single circuit, such as lighting, or can be placed on the power supply of a single appliance. The data about the circuit or appliance can be sent through mobile networks or WiFi; tracking the data to understand usage is usually done through an energy monitoring app or program (these often come packaged with the sub-meter).
|Highly detailed data about a circuit or device||A cost for each device monitored for specific data that may not be helpful|
|Helps troubleshoot efficiency of specific equipment to a high level||Requires time and knowledge to analyse results|
|Some sub-metering can switch appliances on or off||Once efficiencies are found sub-metering may no longer be required|
Sub-Metering is effective if you want to problem solve one appliance or circuit, or if you want ongoing monitoring of usage. For most other purposes, sub-meters can be unnecessarily costly.
Signature analysis devices look inside your business’ usage without the need for hardware on each appliance. They read the overall power like a smart meter but can analyse the electrical signals and interpret which machine or appliance is using power and how much power; they learn by building an online library of electrical signatures or fingerprints of different equipment, enabling you to detect if machines aren’t operating efficiently. This information is generally provided by website or app to enable responsive actions.
|Non-invasive, doesn’t require sub-metering (and cheaper!)||Accuracy, compared to sub-metering, can be unreliable|
|By having an online database there is a huge range comparison to what is efficient||Lacks a comprehensive database as it is new software|
|Links to quick actions and local suppliers||Suggested actions could be based on vested interests|
Signature analysis is a promising tool that can be non-invasive and cost effective, although it’s a new technology and availability and market penetration is low.
This online software enables someone inexperienced to conduct their own basic energy audit. Asking various questions about machines (such as a size and age) as well as energy bill data, it collates the information and compares it with other audits to create an action plan of upgrades and replacements.
|Allows anyone to assess the environmental efficiency of a building||May not have the same level/detail of analysis compared to a dedicated meter|
|Low cost/free||Lacks a comprehensive database as it is new software|
|Links to quick actions and local suppliers||Suggested actions could be based on the vested interests of vendors|
Auditing apps, similar to signature analysis, have a large potential for investigating energy usage in a non-invasive way. While it is a new technology, it can draw on a large amount of pre-existing auditing data.
Performance monitoring apps have performance at the centre of their design; their intrinsic function is to monitor the performance of a building, an appliance or equipment. Most offices have heating and cooling systems which can be managed by apps which adjust temperatures for the comfort of the occupants. Its primary purpose is to adjust temperatures for performance or staff comfort; when these systems are well managed they have the secondly benefit of reduced energy demand and therefore electricity usage.
|Some equipment and appliances already come with the technology||The software isn’t built for energy efficiency and therefore may not optimise as well|
|Increasing comfort and productivity of equipment using these apps can be a greater motivator than energy efficiency||It doesn’t look holistically at the entire energy use of a building/site|
|These apps may be already monitored by a facilities manager, meaning there is someone with expertise already||An expert may be required to properly optimise these apps|
The wide availability of the performance monitoring apps makes them a viable opportunity. Depending on what your business does, there are options for HVAC optimisation or lighting sensors.
This is a long-promised offer of technology that it will automate our processes for us. It is becoming more possible with connectivity increasing with the availability of networked devices. Often referred to as the 'internet of things', automation could even connect our fridges with the internet, getting them to buy milk when we’ve run out.
|Enables scheduling of devices to optimise efficiency and enable paying the best electricity price, such as at low-peak times||Requires either a high level of resources (a facility manager) or high level of cost (paying someone to set everything up)|
|Connectivity with solar and energy market to enable optimisation of use with market price of energy||Currently not very accessible due to cost and complexity|
Investigating automation apps is a good place to start; if there are some of interest it may be worth doing some research and considering trialing one. Due to the complexity and cost of automation it may be a barrier to installation.
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