e-News #95: Building Dashboards – Monitor, Measure, Manage

November 25, 2014
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Energy information systems (EIS) in buildings have been around for years, starting as humble building automation systems and developing through the years into more robust energy management control systems providing whole-building energy use information.  The addition of visualization features – more commonly called dashboards – to EIS is growing in popularity because, much like an automobile’s dashboard, a great deal of information is conveyed quickly and easily.  Just as drivers can see how fast a car is traveling, check how much gas remains in the tank, or see an engine light when driving, building staff have the ability to review and evaluate building operations in real time.

But, depending on dashboard features and the particular person using it, a dashboard can provide users different information.

Who Uses Dashboards?

Facility managers might use a dashboard not only to review operational information, but also to identify energy-saving opportunities in equipment schedules or to improve comfort levels for building occupants.  Possibly the most attractive aspect of a dashboard to facilities staff is fault detection.  Identifying faults – patterns of operation in collected data that do not conform to established equipment behaviors – can be extremely helpful in maintaining smooth building operations.

For those with financial interests, dashboards can track consumption and costs week-to-week, month-to-month, quarter-to-quarter, etc. This provides benefits not only for budgeting and forecasting purposes for a building, but also in comparing one building to others within a company or investment portfolio.

For building occupants or the general public, seeing building operations broken out by cost or energy use may satisfy simple curiosity.  But for the building owner or manager, a public dashboard can become a marketing tool to highlight how “green” a building may be, what carbon footprint the facility has, or how facility improvements have increased efficiencies through time.


Table 1. Dashboards can benefit multiple user groups

Yet for anyone to use a dashboard for the reasons they do, it is important to keep in mind that dashboards are a delivery system for data and don’t generate savings.  Dashboards are a data visualization tool that can drive people to act and generate savings.  And for any savings to be realized, the data coming from the EIS to the dashboard needs to be sound.

An EIS and Dashboard Case Study

Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) installed an EIS on a 90,000 gross sf office on the LBNL campus in Berkeley.  The facility, called Building 90, was typical of 1960s construction with poor insulation and inefficient heating, ventilation, cooling systems, and controls.  The poor HVAC system led to elevated energy consumption and was an uncomfortable work environment for occupants.  The building’s EIS was installed after an HVAC system upgrade failed to meet cooling expectations.

For LBNL researchers, the task of integrating an EIS and dashboard to an existing building pointed out a number of issues that anyone managing an older building will need to consider in selecting a dashboard and connecting it to an EIS and existing controls system.

Existing Energy Management System

Although Building 90 had an existing energy management and control system, it lacked the level of sub metering needed to disaggregate end-use loads (lighting, HVAC, etc.), high-resolution data, and temperature data in office spaces.  As a result, LBNL had to add sub meters and temperature sensors to improve real-time data collected for use by the new EIS. 

Their first step was to identify the building’s energy loads and determine how they were being monitored, if at all.  This involved documenting the locations of existing energy sub meters and identifying loads not being metered.  This task can be impeded if accurate equipment and electrical drawings have gone missing.  Then LBNL had to ensure existing meters could communicate with the EIS.  This involved a number of vendors and an array of different meters to meet LBNL’s data needs.  After equipment was installed and reporting data to the EIS, the data systems had to be commissioned to ensure accuracy of reported data.  Lastly, LBNL also had to ensure information from the existing controls system could be communicated to the EIS dashboard.

Dashboard Components

LBNL’s EIS dashboard had three main, pre-configured components or screens:  Dashboard, Management Charts, and Reporting.  Each screen was capable of creating customized dashboards for use by different user groups.

The “Dashboard” screen was the interface for the general public, in this case the building’s occupants or visitors to the building.  The information exhibited on this screen showed general information about total energy consumption and compared usage to theoretical situations, such as the building’s energy load compared to the amount of energy needed to light the Eiffel Tower for a certain amount of time.

The “Management Charts” screen was the interface for building and facility managers to create charts and tables, or to export data for other external uses.  This screen showed real-time data for energy consumption, which in turn could be broken down into charts by building zone, floor, or by use.  This interface easily could be used to create breakouts for department heads and other building staff regarding energy use.

The “Reporting” screen allowed EIS users to generate more detailed reports based on collected data, such as financial costs associated with building loads.  This screen of the dashboard was used for top-level and fiscal reporting for management and building owners.

The Dashboard in Action

Figure 1. Dashboard graph of LBNL Building 90 total electric use, by end use.
Image: LBNL-4283e, p. 11.

Once LBNL had their system up and running, the EIS started to provide useful and actionable information to facilities staff.  As can be seen in Figure 1, a graph was generated showing a baseline for total electric use as broken out into end-use categories.  Of interest in the chart is the teal-colored “Other” line, which represents miscellaneous electrical loads, such as computers, monitors, printers, task lights, etc.  This “Other” category made up roughly 60 percent of the building’s energy consumption.

Reducing energy use in LBNL’s “Other” category can prove difficult to facility managers since they often cannot – if ever – directly control the plug loads of building occupants.  Facility managers are much more likely to reduce energy consumption through a building’s mechanical and electrical systems in a retrocommissioning context.

Figure 2. Building 90 simultaneous heating (red) and cooling (green) on a warm October day.
Image: LBNL-4283e, p. 12.

As seen in Figure 2, the EIS and dashboard detected a situation no building manager wants to see:  simultaneous heating and cooling on a high-temperature day.  For LBNL, this information, easily available from their EIS and dashboard, led to an immediate systems improvement to keep the situation from recurring again.

Case Study Lessons Learned

The researchers at LBNL pinpointed a number of good lessons learned from their experience in installing an EIS and dashboard into an older building, all of which also carry over to new construction and the integration of EIS and dashboards.

  • Dashboards are dependent on several different building networks and system components, all of which need to be operating correctly to provide accurate information to the user.  A reliable network of measurement devices is vital to ensure metered data is reliable and collectable at the levels needed.
  • Dashboards need to match information with specific users.
  • Dashboards need to transform data into knowledge.
  • Dashboards can help lead from knowledge to action.

The Dashboard Value Proposition

Most, if not all, business decisions come down to dollars and cents.  With that in mind, building owners may ask what the return on investment (ROI) for a dashboard may be.  But as already noted, dashboards on their own don’t generate savings, but they can lead to actions that result in savings.

For example, what if a dashboard were to identify that a rooftop unit is running overnight, outside of its planned schedule, because of an error made when programming the building automation system?  The facility manager takes action in identifying the cause, corrects the code, and the problem is fixed.  But how long would the problem have continued without the dashboard flagging it?  A week?  A month?  Obviously, there is a savings as a result of the fix since the overnight usage is no longer occurring, but how is or should that savings be calculated? 

In a sense, using dashboards to review collected data is a means of managing the risk of building systems or individual equipment malfunctioning.  In this way, dashboards help ensure that building energy use does not go up from an established baseline.  And how is an ROI on that determined?

Dashboards Today

Although dashboards have been around for some time, their growth in popularity is being driven through their ease of accessing real-time data and presenting it in easy-to-reference graphs and charts for a wide array of audiences.  For facility managers, a dashboard could be a new best friend that provides valuable assistance in ongoing retrocommissioning efforts, but only if the information the dashboard conveys can motivate action ... because dashboards do not fix problems.  That still takes people.

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e-News is published by Energy Design Resources (www.energydesignresources.com), an online resource center for information on energy efficiency design practices in California.

Savings By Design (www.savingsbydesign.com) offers design assistance and incentives to design teams and building owners in California to encourage high-performance nonresidential building design and construction.

Energy Design Resources and Savings By Design are funded by California utility customers and administered by Pacific Gas and Electric Company, Sacramento Municipal Utility District, San Diego Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison and Southern California Gas Company, under the auspices of the California Public Utilities Commission.


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