Aloha-Style Energy Efficiency


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If you’re a multimillion-dollar research enterprise spread across 200 acres and 300+ buildings, how do you align energy resiliency requirements with energy efficiency and sustainability goals? And where do you start when challenged with a state mandate to be net-zero with respect to energy use, i.e. producing as much energy as the system consumes across all campuses, within a 20-year time frame?

For the University of Hawai’i (UH), the first step was to get control of its energy data. In order to do this, the university’s Office of Energy Management (OEM) embarked on a project to bring all energy assets and systems into a single platform with the goal of accessing real-time energy data that could be analyzed and utilized for greater efficiencies and cost reductions.

Prior to this project, which received funding from Elemental Excelerator, UH had upgraded from analog power meters to digital utility-grade meters. However, it had no way of centrally visualizing, analyzing, or storing historical data. Facility managers physically went to each meter and performed manual readings, which resulted in inaccurate data and inefficient use of labor hours.

Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity and control solution provider Blue Pillar was selected to implement the university’s multi-campus energy monitoring initiative and, in the process, Blue Pillar set up a new standard for connecting and integrating multiple legacy energy assets and systems with newer power-generating systems to meet the university’s four-fold goal:

  1. Centralize university-related energy usage into one platform, which would allow them to analyze multiple data sets in one place and evaluate equipment energy performance over time.
  2. Provide accurate data and analysis to justify future facility upgrades, such as switching from fluorescent to LED lighting at one of their large stadiums.
  3. Help the university with its reporting to meet net-zero energy and carbon-neutral goals.
  4. Allow the university to build energy management into its overall curriculum by using real-time data and software reporting.

As a first step, Blue Pillar worked to obtain the necessary information needed to integrate building automation systems (BAS) from a variety of manufacturers, including Johnson Controls (JCI), Trane, Automated Logic Controls (ALC), and Alerton. None of these systems were integrated, nor could they roll-up their data or alarms into a centralized, campus-wide view. Using Blue Pillar’s Aurora® IoT platform, the university has been able to seamlessly connect all of the BAS into a single, centralized energy IoT network without having to disrupt the legacy systems or assets they were monitoring. Additionally, the Aurora to cloud API integrations used to streamline the monitoring of these systems have allowed Blue Pillar to centralize the university’s energy data even when it resides offsite in the cloud within siloed, third-party applications.

While most of the original BAS integrations consisted of bringing in data that would allow for a total heat calculation, a calculation that allowed the university to get a good idea of the power being used to cool building spaces, each existed as a disparate system. Blue Pillar centralized these 30 systems for easier data analysis for the original equipment manufacturer (OEM). Additionally, Blue Pillar utilized existing temperature and water flow sensing hardware to perform total heat calculations; the facility was not taking advantage of this hardware to perform this type of calculation before Blue Pillar’s involvement. Furthermore, Blue Pillar brought in data for large chilled water system pumps, cooling towers, etc., that allows the OEM to analyze power and energy usage at an even greater granular scale and potentially assist in determining the right time for major equipment replacement once energy efficiencies diminish.

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Next, Blue Pillar addressed the challenge of connecting the university’s multiple photovoltaic (PV) systems into the same IoT platform to provide greater visibility into the energy being generated on campus. Similar to the BAS, the PV systems were from various vendors including ABB, Also Energy, and SMA. Due to the number of system installations each of the aforementioned PV manufacturers had already performed at the various UH network campuses, Blue Pillar was able to gain access to PV system data from remote campuses via the individual manufacturer APIs that were not part of the original scope of the project. This increased the data able to be accessed from PV systems to a total of five UH campuses: Manoa, West Oahu, Honolulu Community College, Kapi’olani Community College, and Leeward Community College.

After the PV system data was harnessed, meters from legacy energy assets housed in disparate buildings were brought into the IoT network. As the meters started being connected into the Aurora IoT platform, the energy data collected from many of the meters installed before the beginning of this project was not making sense. Data from numerous meters showed a very low power factor, indicative of meter installation issues. Based on the Aurora data, corrections were made, and the meter data now flows to manufacturer standards.

As a result of this expansive integration, the university’s new IoT network system is collecting and analyzing 2,600 data streams every second from more than 30 of the university’s most energy-intensive buildings and integrating data from utility substation monitoring, 75 multi-building electric sub-metering systems, 30 BAS from multiple manufacturers, and a total of 44 solar inverters from multiple PV systems across the UH system’s 10 campuses. The deployment is one of the first university projects in the world with a vendor-agnostic IoT energy platform aggregating such a wide array of distributed assets, systems, and equipment.

As a result, the university’s Office of Energy Management has significantly reduced the number of human-hours needed for monthly inspections, meter readings, and manual data input; improved the accuracy of the readings; and utilized the automated reporting feature to optimize strategies for energy and cost savings.

Through the integration, Blue Pillar has shown that energy management starts with energy visibility and real-time energy data. Blue Pillar’s holistic approach to energy visibility allows UH to see how its energy is being used so it can make intelligent decisions about where to invest its energy efficiency dollars.

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