How RTEM Is Rewriting the Energy Management Playbook

Yardi Energy's Annette Durnack sheds light on trends in real-time energy management systems and selecting an RTEM.

Breakthroughs in technology offer property operators a new generation of sophisticated strategies for energy management. Predictive analytics and the Internet of Things can bring efficiency to a new level, as exemplified by the systems known as real-time energy management (RTEM). Annette Durnack, New York City-based regional director for Yardi Energy, recently shared insights into the latest RTEM trends; how to determine whether it can benefit a property; and its potential impact on the bottom line.

How would you describe real-time energy management (RTEM) in a nutshell? What are the main components of the system, and how does it work?

At a very high level, RTEM is a term used to describe a system and the associated services that enable real-time access to energy data and comprehensive analytics so that building operators know how, when and where energy is being consumed. The systems typically consist of hardware, software and cloud connectivity for data storage. Data is gathered real-time and stored in the cloud, and algorithms are used to determine the actions needed to maintain optimized building conditions.

An RTEM system gives building operators the tools they need to employ a proactive strategy for managing their building’s energy consumption using predictive analytics that work in concert with their building management system (BMS). It can be considered an extension of the BMS system, in that it uses Internet-enabled analytics that are communicated back to the BMS system to optimally dispatch equipment.

An RTEM system uses automated control schemes designed to optimize the amount of energy used to meet the desired comfort levels, while taking into account weather conditions, and dynamically adjusting set points, schedules and operating conditions. An RTEM system also monitors and detects the live performance of energy-consuming equipment, such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment, and provides alerts when equipment performance degradation is detected, so potential faults can be resolved before they become costly problems. 

Have you seen any technical advances in RTEM in the past year or two? If so, what is their importance?

The biggest change in building automation systems has come in the form of the Internet of Things (IoT). Being able to access big data and analytics that reside in the cloud has led to enhanced capability to collect, store and use historical and real-time data for predictive analytics to improve building operation. In the past, BMS systems were manually adjusted by operators to respond to dynamic conditions in the building environment. With the use of IoT, years of historical data can be captured, stored, and normalized to allow for continuous refinement of building and equipment performance, which enables the ability to develop optimization strategies to run buildings more efficiently.

If a property already has a conventional BMS, why should management consider adding RTEM? Isn’t a BMS adequate for most properties?

The goal of a typical BMS system is to control and monitor the building’s mechanical and electrical equipment, such as the HVAC system, lighting systems, security systems and fire systems. A typical BMS system consists of a controller that reads inputs from sensors and then outputs commands to the equipment it is controlling. A BMS system allows a building operator to use the data collected to schedule system operation, schedule maintenance and react to faults as they occur. Many BMS systems require manual system adjustments be made to compensate for changing building and environmental conditions.

The goal of an RTEM system is to shift the focus from static control of schedule,  maintenance, and reacting to faults, to a proactive strategy that uses predictive analytics to manage the building automation system. An RTEM system uses a combination of historical and forecasted data to enable prediction and fine tuning of a building’s reaction to dynamic conditions.  An RTEM system is designed to use these proactive performance-based strategies to use the least amount of energy to maintain optimum building operating conditions while managing the health of the building equipment.

For example, an RTEM system will use the historical and forecast data to adjust the preconditioning schedule of a building to match the building’s need to respond to dynamic weather conditions and ensure energy is not wasted. An RTEM system will also use artificial intelligence collected from the building performance data to alert the operator that there is a deviation in the equipment performance that could lead to a fault, before the fault actually occurs. If a building operator is looking to reduce their energy consumption with a more automated solution that makes optimum adjustments to equipment set points, and will proactively manage the life of the equipment in their facility, an RTEM system is the right solution. 

What other benefits can RTEM produce? 

Implementation of an RTEM system will help in identifying energy efficiency opportunities, ongoing commissioning of plant and other building equipment and capital upgrades.  It allows for centralization of utility usage tracking in the building and the monitoring of base building systems. It assists in tracking and comparing energy performance for a portfolio of buildings, thus aiding in prioritizing upgrade projects. It will also result in improved equipment operation and ability to implement a more proactive equipment maintenance program due to the alert systems that are an integral feature of RTEM technology, which could potentially yield lower overall equipment maintenance costs.

For buildings looking to improve either their Energy Star score or LEED certification, an RTEM system can be a significant contributor to the energy reduction/energy efficiency measures needed to achieve those goals. Also, having an RTEM system will provide a building the automated capability to participate in a demand response programs to shed load during which could result in additional cost saving opportunities.

Additional benefits to having a more sustainable building through installation of systems such as RTEM can also come in the form of improving a building’s revenue drivers.  According to a 2017 study conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy, having a more sustainable building can yield the following benefits:

  • 8.4 percent higher market value
  • 28.8 percent higher NOI
  • 4.3 percent higher rent
  • 6.2 percent higher occupancy
  • 6.9 percent lower rent concessions
  • 17.6 percent lower operating costs

Drilling down to the property level, how does RTEM benefit specific systems like HVAC, which consume a high proportion of a property’s energy budget?

Utilities typically equate to 25% of a building’s total operating costs. Having an RTEM system designed to ensure your that property’s HVAC system is operating efficiently and that performance is not only being monitored but also uses  predictive analytics to forecast problems, will improve the life of the equipment and reduce long-term maintenance costs. An RTEM system will give operators visibility into the performance of the building’s equipment at a very granular level.

With the added capability to detect equipment issues in advance, building operators can implement a proactive maintenance program designed to reduce the occurrence of faults due to equipment degradation.  With an RTEM system designed to reduce energy waste and proactively manage equipment life, a building will consume less energy and spend less on equipment maintenance.

How can owners and property managers determine whether RTEM is a fit for their properties? What are the best practices for evaluating suitability?

The key to determining whether an RTEM system is the right fit starts with identifying your sustainability goals.  If a building already has a BMS system and ownership wants to further reduce energy consumption, better manage equipment life, wants to increase an Energy Star score, achieve a certain LEED certification level, reduce the property’s carbon footprint, or adopt a proactive strategy for managing the building, an RTEM system may be the right choice. If a building is experiencing significant tenant comfort concerns or HVAC issues, such as unexpected equipment failures or an unexplained increase in energy consumption, an RTEM system might be the right answer.

Would you walk us through a recent example or two of RTEM in action? What was the challenge, the solution you recommended and the impact on the property?

One large client in New York City had done some renovations on a 1.9 million-square-foot office tower and was looking at solutions that would both reduce energy expenditures and support the mayor’s challenge to reduce energy consumption 30 percent by 2026. In addition, the owner sought to make the property more appealing to tenants by improving the building’s Energy Star score and achieving LEED certification. Another goal: aligning the property’s environmental strategy with that of the building’s anchor tenant, for which commitment to sustainability is a core business value.

The client evaluated multiple solutions and concluded that an automated RTEM monitoring system capable of optimizing heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system performance would position the property at the forefront of sustainable building operations. After a year of operation, the client achieved estimated annualized savings of $190,000 from the installation of RTEM technology, which also equated to a 7 percent reduction in HVAC costs and savings of about $0.10 per square foot.  The installation of RTEM technology also contributed to a dramatic increase in the client’s Energy Star score and paved the way for LEED Gold certification. The client was understandably pleased with the outcome.

Another client installed our RTEM technology a few years ago at a 475,000-square-foot property it owns in Washington, D.C. This property had already earned Energy Star designation. With the installation of RTEM technology, they are saving $130,000 per year, equivalent to a 10 percent savings in electricity costs. The drop in consumption was so significant that their utility company contacted them to find out whether their electric meter was broken!