Enhancing Maintenance Programs with Advanced Metering

August 28, 2007

Imagine that a major auto manufacturer decides to roll out a car with no dashboard gages, reasoning that the gages cost extra money and do not really contribute to the performance of the car. There is no fuel gage, no speedometer, no oil or temperature indicators, no odometer or tachometer, but a consumer can save money on the purchase price of the car without all of these "extras." So you decide to buy the car and save money up front, but you have no idea how fast you are going at any given moment, until, of course, you get a speeding ticket and the policeman tells you. You have no idea how much gas you have left, until your car gets stranded on a dark, lonely stretch of highway. You do not have a clue about engine temperature or oil pressure until that cloud of white steam or black smoke erupts from under the hood or out of the tailpipe. Would anyone opt to save money on dashboard gages? Of course not—you would have to be crazy to buy a car without them. In fact, auto manufacturers are constantly adding more gages to our cars to give us information about every aspect of their performance.

A car without dashboard gages is analogous to the existing situation in many, if not the majority, of federal buildings. Often we do not have the right information about how they are operating because we do not meter their energy consumption, even at the whole building level in many cases. We cannot determine if the buildings are performing well, how they compare with similar buildings, or when things are starting to go bad. We continue paying bills from the utility company without having the means to verify them. We regularly exceed demand limits and pay exorbitant costs because we have no way of knowing when we are approaching the limits.

For the most part, federal building operators are like the consumer who got a price break on a car without gages, and the first sign of any trouble is when the engine blows. In the building operations and maintenance world, this is known as "run to failure" or "reactive maintenance." This has been the dominant form of building maintenance for a long time, and its costs are relatively high because of energy inefficiencies, unplanned downtime, damaged machinery, and overtime expenditures. In this mode, management and the maintenance department are controlled by the vagaries of their machines, and the actual status of the overall plant machinery is only vaguely known. This makes it nearly impossible to plan for maintenance needs, and worse, impossible to predict the state of overall system readiness.

In some cases, run to failure is considered acceptable if cheap and quick repair is possible and failure is not critical to the overall performance of the building and its occupants. From there, however, failures can progress to areas where they have significant impacts on the occupants of the building and their ability to carry out their missions. Repair and/or replacement costs can become significant as well.

To avoid this situation, building operators practice something called "preventive maintenance," which usually consists of regularly scheduled activities such as oil or filter changes, inspections, calibrations, and cleanings. It is not known if this is the most effective means of maintaining mechanical equipment, since scheduled maintenance also assumes that similar pieces of equipment are operated in identical ways under identical conditions and therefore, "what is good for one is good for all." We could very well be doing too much or too little maintenance if we stray from the average operating conditions. However, if we cannot measure fuel consumption and continuously monitor the condition of our equipment, preventive maintenance is considered the best fallback position.

The missing link between reactive and predictive maintenance is our ability to obtain accurate and timely information about our buildings' energy performance and the means to analyze and act upon that information. This is where advanced metering concepts come into play. Advanced metering is defined as:

Meters with the capability to measure and record interval data (at least hourly for electricity), and communicate the data to a remote location in a format that can be easily integrated into an advanced metering system.

An advanced metering system collects time-differentiated energy usage data from advanced meters via a network system on either an on-request or defined schedule basis. The system is capable of providing usage information on at least a daily basis and can support desired features and functionality related to energy use management, procurement, and operations.

When advanced metering systems are introduced into the operations and maintenance picture, buildings operators can begin to practice what is known as "predictive maintenance." Predictive maintenance takes information on energy consumption and equipment conditions and uses that information to develop maintenance procedures based on actual operating conditions, not an overall average for a given equipment type. Without some means to measure, monitor, analyze, and act on information, predictive maintenance is virtually impossible.

Past studies have estimated that a properly functioning predictive maintenance program can provide a savings of 8 to 12 percent over a program utilizing preventive maintenance strategies alone. Depending on a facility's reliance on a reactive maintenance approach and material condition, savings opportunities of 30 to 40 percent could easily be realized. In fact, independent surveys indicate the following average savings resulted from initiation of a functional predictive maintenance program:

  • Return on investment: 10 times
  • Reduction in maintenance costs: 25 to 30 percent
  • Elimination of breakdowns: 70 to 75 percent
  • Reduction in downtime: 35 to 45 percent
  • Increase in production: 20 to 25 percent

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct 2005), Sec. 103 requires installation of advanced electric metering on all federal buildings by the year 2012, according to guidelines set forth by the Department of Energy, in consultation with other federal agencies and stakeholder groups. A document providing this guidance is available on FEMP's Operations and Maintenance Web page and should be applied to each agency's approach to metering as appropriate. The guidelines sort out the requirements of EPAct 2005 by addressing:

  • The many ways to use metered data;
  • Different metering approaches and technologies;
  • Methods of determining metering cost effectiveness;
  • Methods for prioritizing metering opportunities;
  • Alternative financing possibilities; and
  • An outline for developing agency metering plans.

In addition to these guidelines, FEMP will provide periodic training on advanced metering applications for federal facility managers, energy managers, and building operators.

FEMP encourages all federal energy managers and building operators to stop driving without dashboard gages, and look for opportunities to use advanced metering systems wherever practicable. The benefits are real, proven, and there for the taking.

For more information, please contact Ab Ream, FEMP's Operations and Maintenance manager.