Energy Monitoring: A Critical Piece of Going and Saving Green

Let’s say you have a million dollars. Of course, you want to make it grow, right? You ask around…find the right financial advisor…discuss your options. When you are absolutely sure you are comfortable with your new portfolio, you make your investments and never think about that million ever again. Right? Of course not!

Savvy individuals monitor their investments. Whether it’s a daily check of the markets, connecting with a broker on a regular basis or just perusing quarterly dividend statements, any investment worth making is worth watching.

When it comes to making a green investment in new construction or retrofitting an existing building, not having a way to monitor energy usage and savings is akin to walking away from that million and never looking back.

Neil Chambers, CEO and founder of New York City-based Chambers Design, Inc., said, “Monitoring must be a critical part of any green effort. You spend a lot of money to install your system and, if you are not monitoring it, you have no way of knowing if you are really getting the most out of it.”

Many companies that choose green buildings rely on energy bills to determine return on investment of a sustainable energy system. Chambers said, however, that monthly energy bills tell customers one thing: how much money to pay. What they don’t tell you is why you are paying that much, how you can be saving more energy and money, and whether or not you are making the most of your original investment.

Simply put, energy monitoring is an essential piece of green design, he added. “By monitoring your system, you can be sure you are away of your daily usage and energy expenses. You can track use and forecast energy needs. You can plan financially because you can use historical data to know what your costs are this month compared to next and year over year.”

Further, energy monitoring not only allows you to be certain that you are getting what you paid for but also allows you to immediately know when the system is not working at its best.

The Liberty Science Center, a 295,000 square foot museum in Jersey City, N.J., is a great case in point. The facilities manager wanted to know exactly how his building’s systems were operating in an effort to save money and energy. LSC installed Noveda Technologies web-based energy monitoring energy systems and discovered overnight that the facility was consuming three times more energy than originally estimated. By readjusting the night settings, daily electrical consumption was reduced by approximately 11 percent. The museum’s energy bills were reduced more than $700,000 and its carbon emissions were cut by 40 percent after only one year of energy monitoring.

Govi Rao, CEO of New Jersey based Noveda, said LSC is one of a host of customers who are serious about energy and cost savings and leveraged the data collected by his company’s systems to the fullest extent. “The Noveda system has been deployed and has been continually used to achieve sustained cost savings and lowering energy usage. It has helped LSC understand where they can save and continues to do that month over month and year over year.”

“Most buildings use more than one type of energy. You may have solar, electricity, natural gas, steam and others. All of those energies cost different amounts of money. A good energy monitoring system will tell you how much of which type of energy you are using and when you are using it,” Chambers said.

If you see you are using a particular type of energy more than the others, you can make changes in usage. System tweaks are easy and can save you untold dollars. But if you aren’t monitoring your system, you are operating blind.

Going forward, Chambers added, regular energy system monitoring allows you to make savvy financial decisions in other areas of your business – to save even more green. For example:

• Spikes in energy usage at various times of the day may cause you to initiate company-wide policies aimed at saving more energy such as automatic lights or shutting off monitors when not in use.

• You can track CO2 levels with employee performance and absenteeism, since air quality is known to impact productivity.

• And, going forward, a review of energy usage trends can offer ideas for ways to make changes to the system at a later date.

While the concept of keeping an eye on a major investment may seem obvious, Chambers said the idea of energy monitoring is relatively new to the general public.

“People want to go green but they see the monitoring part of it as an extra cost that they don’t want to pay for,” he said. “Truth is, they just don’t understand the value of energy monitoring. It’s a very important extension of green design.”

Article by Bari Faye Siegel, a technology journalist with a passion for green initiatives and sustainability. She can be reached at

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2 comments on “Energy Monitoring: A Critical Piece of Going and Saving Green


Its unfortunately true that most energy users – from single family residences all the way up to high-rise buildings and college campuses – don’t do much more to quantify energy use than checking the monthly bills.

For residential customers, there aren’t too many options yet – a Kill-a-Watt or some of the more expensive HEMS can help, but are really for the the ahead-of-the-curve adopters.

At the commercial/institutional/industrial level, electric utilities are increasingly offering systems to record interval data for individual meters and make it available (usually for a monthly fee) to customers. Its been around for quite a while, but outdated meter technology and customer ignorance mean that its not a resource that is frequently taken advantage of.

Getting the fuel mix (and emissions profile) for the electricity consumed is at the same time much easier and much more difficult to track. On the easier side, the utility is almost certainly required by the state utility commission to provide the generation/fuel mix to users. -Dispatch-specifics aside, that’s the annual average of how a customer’s energy is produced.

Where it gets much more difficult is tracking the source of electrons at any discrete time interval. The utility is buying energy on the ISO – its a big pool of electrons and there is no way to say that the electrons that powered the lights in a customer’s building came from the PV panel installation 30 miles upt the road or the coal plant 2 states away.

We may start to see systems that interface with the ISO markets to determine which blocks of generation are being bought/sold on the market at a specific time to give a more granular picture of the generation mix. Making those systems interface with the building level system will take more work: it will be a while before we see any scale.

For customers that produce their own energy locally – CHP plants, PV panels, etc. – it is much easier to keep track of energy stats.


One of the critical areas of building operations involves commissioning, which is; to calibrate building energy systems as per client’s requirements or design drawings. I hear often from energy auditors that systems are installed in buildings, but are rarely commissioned to perform in the right way. Thus comes the whole concept of retro-commissioning.

A much more inexpensive and proactive way of continuously monitoring your building’s performance is to use energy monitoring devices on your energy systems. An annual report of building energy performance for a typical building can help any learned auditor to assess the issues with a building, without having to go through a detailed site survey, thereby saving time and money. In other words, its like viewing your car’s dashboard display to schedule an oil change!

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