Power Monitoring for Businesses: Importance, Basics, and Equipment

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Energy use and emission output have become top-of-mind concerns for businesses of all industries and sizes. As energy bills continue to rise and demands for detailed emission reporting intensifies, there are several reasons why power monitoring has received so much excitement from C&I businesses. In this article, we will run through some of the basics of power monitoring — covering the fundamentals of a power monitoring system, equipment used, power monitoring vs. power metering, and how businesses can benefit from integrating a power monitoring system.

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What is power monitoring?

At a high-level, power monitoring is a system used to continuously monitor and analyze a building’s electrical usage — monitoring both power quality and power consumption throughout a facility.

Using both a power metering device and power monitoring sensors, these systems will measure how much energy is being consumed by each power-consuming device in the facility after it flows through the meter, as well as the quality of the electricity each device is consuming. Measurement data includes the individual consumption of devices like machinery and equipment, lighting, HVAC systems, refrigeration, generators, essentially any piece of equipment in the space that uses electricity.

By collecting and analyzing data about the usage and quality of electricity in a facility, businesses can gain insights into their energy usage and identify opportunities to improve energy efficiency.

What are the basics of power monitoring systems?

Power monitoring systems typically consist of a power metering device, which measures the overall facility power consumption and power quality, along with a monitoring system that measures how energy is distributed throughout the facility after passing through the meter.

A power metering device is typically installed within the main electrical panel, and the power monitoring sensors (CT’s) are typically installed within smaller subpanels to measure energy usage by device type, or within specific areas of a facility.

The monitoring system may be a standalone device or a software application that is installed on a computer or server, depending on the service provider. For example, with a PEC energy monitoring solution, non-invasive wireless CT’s are installed to measure the electrical current flowing to each device. The CT’s then relay that measurement data to a monitoring dashboard, where users can access the data in real time. In addition, the dashboard provides users with historical measurement data, customizable reports, and data visualization tools to easily see usage trends and potential areas for efficiency gains.

Power monitoring systems may also provide alerts and notifications when certain electrical parameters exceed pre-set thresholds or when there are other issues with the electrical system.

What is the importance of a power monitoring system?

There are several reasons why a power monitoring system is important for businesses.

  • Spotting energy waste: Power monitoring provides unprecedented insight into energy consumption to help leadership, facility management, and sustainability teams easily identify areas where energy is being wasted. By understanding how energy is being used in a facility, businesses can implement energy efficiency strategies to reduce their power consumption, reduce emissions, and save money on their electric bills.
  • Measurement and verification: A key driver of power monitoring adoption is the growing need for reliable measurement and verification (or validation). Regulations that focus on greenhouse gas reporting and reduction efforts continue to get more stringent, so having a solution in place to reliably monitor facility-wide usage, benchmark, detect waste, and measure improvements from efficiency investments can save significant time and resources needed in compliance efforts. Power monitoring pulls all of this needed data into one consolidated place for easy reporting and analysis.
  • ESG initiatives: Pressures for businesses to make progress on their ESG commitments continue to mount from investors, stakeholders, and consumers. Businesses that integrate power monitoring have a big advantage of both spotting the most impactful investments that can be made in their building efficiency, while having a system in place to easily share results with key stakeholders.
  • Improving power quality: Power monitoring systems are also critical for improving power quality. By monitoring voltage, current, and other electrical parameters, businesses can identify issues such as voltage surges or “dirty power” that can damage electrical equipment. By addressing these issues, businesses can significantly improve the reliability and lifespan of their electrical equipment.
  • Identify safety hazards: A power monitoring system can also help identify potential safety hazards. For example, if a circuit breaker is repeatedly tripping, it may be a sign that the circuit is overloaded and could be a fire hazard. When machines are seeing erratic energy consumption, maintenance teams can be automatically alerted to quickly resolve the issue and prevent any potential accidents or safety issues.

What is the difference between metering and monitoring?

Metering and monitoring are two related but distinct concepts in power monitoring. Metering refers to the measurement of electrical parameters such as voltage, current, power, and energy consumption. A power meter is used for metering and typically provides a readout of the measured parameters.

Monitoring, on the other hand, refers to the continuous collection and analysis of data as it flows to each device in the facility, then provides reporting tools to analyze and share energy use trends. The combination of monitoring and metering gives businesses a centralized system for monitoring both top-level power consumption and power quality, along with detailed device-level data for enhanced reporting and optimization efforts.

What equipment is used for power monitoring?

While every monitoring system will have its own variations, the monitoring solutions provided by PEC are comprised of 3 key hardware components:

  1. Monitoring sensors (CTs): These devices are small, non-intrusive wireless sensors that clip on to wires in the electrical panel. The CTs then measure the flow of electrical current to each device in the facility. Monitoring sensors are typically installed in small sub-panels.
  2. Metering sensor: This device is installed higher up in the electrical hierarchy (typically in a main panel) and measures both the facility voltage and the overall current flow to determine the power quality and overall power consumption in the facility.
  3. Data bridge: Data bridges are used to receive the real-time measurement data from the metering and monitoring devices, then securely routes the measurement data to a cloud-based monitoring dashboard.

Software: In addition to the above hardware, users will typically get access to a monitoring dashboard to analyze, visualize, and share their energy use data. Administrators can create customized reports, as well as alerts and notifications for key roles like maintenance teams to be notified when machines are down or seeing erratic energy consumption (spikes or surges).

Beyond power: Rounding out the system with flow sensors

Flow sensors can also be incorporated into the monitoring system to measure consumption of gas, water, and air flow from HVAC systems to help businesses gather a comprehensive understanding of the facility’s overall utility usage.

  • Water flow sensors: Non-invasive ultrasonic sensors can be installed at various locations of the building to track water flow in real time. These sensors can be used to identify leaks, monitor irrigation systems, and track water usage throughout the building.
  • Gas flow sensors: Small sensors can also be installed within gas pipes to learn gas consumption levels of different parts of the facility. Gas flow sensors can be used to optimize heating and cooling systems, and spot additional opportunities for efficiency improvements.
  • Air flow sensors: Monitoring air flow can help businesses further track and optimize their HVAC systems within different areas of their facility.

Final thoughts

Power monitoring solutions have immense potential to help businesses spot energy waste, easily report on energy consumption, and confidently invest in efficiency upgrades that move them closer towards their sustainability objectives. However, every business has its own unique set of challenges and goals. If you are considering an investment into energy monitoring, its important to work with a solution provider that can help tailor the right system for your top business objectives.

That’s our role at PEC. Learn more about about how we can help you design, deploy, and manage an energy monitoring solution that delivers impactful results.

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