In the first four parts of this series, we’ve spent a lot of time discussing system design, implementation, and commissioning. With these things completed, you are now capable of streaming a lot of raw data from meters to a server. No one, however, wants to wade through a lot of raw data – even if they could understand what they are looking at.
It is now time to select, install, and configure the software that will:
- Organize & format the data on the server
- Analyze and interpret the data
- Identify normal ranges and detect anomalies
- Display the results in a manner that you can quickly and easily utilize, including the issuance of alarms or notifications for abnormal readings.
This software is often referred to as the energy dashboard but we prefer to view it as the analytics portion of the energy monitoring system. Of course that includes a dashboard function but there is much more going on behind the scenes.
There are a number of these products on the market. The power, flexibility, and level of complexity varies from product to product but most can likely provide the data you are looking for. In addition, we have developed our own energy analytics package, Vitality, which offers certain advantages. As I discuss the options, however, I will be taking a neutral stance on the software package. Our concern is to make sure you have a monitoring system that meets your needs – regardless of the software package you might prefer.
A SHORT LOOK BACK
In the last post, I talked about the data server to which all meter data is funneled. It is important to note that before that server is commissioned, you need to know what software package you will be installing. That software will handle the inflow of data from the on-site metering system, the formatting of that data for storage and the writing of the data to the server. The connection parameters for that server will be dictated by the software package you plan to install. The good news is that this is all usually taken care of when the software is installed and you shouldn’t have to do anything special.
It is important to note, however, that the commissioning process I discussed in the last post cannot be fully completed until after the software has been installed.
When shopping analytics/dashboard software, you should be aware that each vendor has a unique licensing strategy with associated costs. Some vendors sell licenses based on the number of meters; some on the number of “meter points.” For pulse meters, there is only one meter point each, but for an electric meter, there can be literally hundreds of points. It is important to understand the distinction. Vitality is licensed based on the number of buildings that are being metered regardless of the number of “meter points.”
When pricing dashboard software, you should consider the following questions:
- How many meters and/or meter points are covered in the initial price?
- How much will additional meter points cost? This is important because once you see the information you can get, it is very common to want to add meters and points.
- How much are the monthly monitoring/data storage fees?
- Do the monthly fees go up with the metering points? If so, how much?
- Are software updates included or do you have to pay for each one?
- What are the payment options?
Some vendors like to go in at a low cost but tend to make up for it when additional meters and/or points are required while others cover more of the costs on the front end. Others might offer leasing which pretty much eliminates the up-front cost but the total cash outlay over time might be higher. What works best for you can be a matter of company policies, current cash position, or simply the way the CFO likes to pay for things.
So I can only say that you should study the features, prices, ease of use, and long term costs of each package you look at. Once you decide on software, it will likely be installed and configured by the software vendor. When that is done, one more commissioning step is required to assure that the data reported by the software dashboard is the same as the data coming out of the meters. After that has been verified, you’re system is ready to use. You now have real-time energy reporting at your fingertips.
A WORD ABOUT VITALITY
We take great pride in the fact that Vitality was designed by people who have extensive experience as energy managers and who understand what is needed to effectively do that job. The primary focus was on providing useful information in a simple and powerful way. In other words, the software should work for you, not the other way around.
The trade-off between power and simplicity is constantly challenged by our development team. Our goal is to assure that Vitality always provides the data you need to manage your energy consumption in an easy-to-use and easy-to-understand format.
Coming next: The final post in this series: The importance of a maintenance partner.