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Federal Energy Mandates – Simple as Child’s Play?

This is the first in a series about the Federal struggles meeting Congressional energy mandates.

Do you remember playing the game “telephone” as a child?  It’s a game in which a message is passed on, in a whisper, by each of a number of people, so that the final version of the message is often radically changed from the original. Such is the message of EPAct 2005 as it applies to metering at Federal facilities.

EPAct 2005 metering was supposed to be completed by October 2012.  The date has come and gone and many agencies still have work to do.  It required metering of electricity on all applicable Federal buildings at hourly intervals while collecting the data daily.  The new meters were supposed to connect through communications to a software platform that would automatically collect the data. All metering systems are comprised of the same three building blocks – meters, communications, and recording software. So why has this been such a challenge to Federal agencies?

Just like the telephone game, the metering message gets changed as it is passed to the people who have to follow the mandate. The Federal government has 15 departments which are comprised of more than 450 agencies. Metering has been difficult for many Federal agencies due to their missions. There have been guidelines from the Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) to assist the agencies in their metering but each agency interpreted the guidelines with the constraints of their mission.  The individual agencies unique requirements became a stumbling block which caused varied interpretations with implementing comprehensive meter plans.

Schneider Electric has sold more than 20,000 advanced power quality meters and multiple comprehensive metering systems to help the Federal government meet this mandate. We have been more than a casual observer to this game of government “telephone”. Schneider has used the expression “you can’t manage what you can’t measure” for over 20 years.  The rules seem simple. Install new electric meters on all applicable buildings at Federal facilities.  Why does this conjure up memories of the telephone game?

Federal energy mandates did not stop with EPAct2005. Several other mandates have passed since then including EISA 2007, EO13423 & EO13514.  Each one has refined the requirements and expanded the energy metering scope by including piped utilities like water, steam and natural gas. Let’s tell everyone in the circle a variation of the original message and see what that does to the story.

All of the mandates were well intended.  The problems can be compounded by understanding the intent of the metering – which was to record energy data as a first step to reducing energy consumption.  It is easy to miss the intent of the legislation if electrical metering is not your primary focus.  Many agencies interpreted EPAct2005 as requiring consumption data instead of energy data.  Consumption data does not provide the roadmap needed to become more energy efficient.  It can only show how much energy was used over a period of time.  That doesn’t show a complete picture of when, where or how it was used. Only advanced power quality metering data can reveal power factor problems, harmonic issues, demand peaks or utility spikes.  All of those issues contribute to larger energy bills or premature equipment failure.  Both of these take away money from the agency’s mission and waste our tax dollars.

This is a correctable problem.  It doesn’t require outages, dollars or cyber security experts.  It requires a concerted effort to guide the Energy Managers across the entire Federal space to understand why this legislation was enacted.

The journey of 1000 miles starts with the first step.  That first step is to understand why it is critical to understand your facilities energy usage.  That is the only way to insure the first step is in the right direction.

I told you, “install advanced electrical metering systems” now pass it on….

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