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Efficiency Technology Energy Summer 2018

Access to MGE Energy Data Drives Better Energy Management at WPS Health Solutions

Data matters.

Although it's a message that might be more commonly associated with consumer buying patterns and online marketing, data is just as critical to effective energy management. That's a lesson Ken Alegria, maintenance manager, facility operations at WPS Health Solutions, learned firsthand when his company enrolled its Corporate Center building in MGE's On Demand Savings (ODS) program in 2016.

Access to MGE Energy Data Drives Better Energy Management at WPS Health Solutions

Ken Alegria, maintenance manager, facility operations and Craig Campbell, chief administrative officer at WPS Health Solutions, check out an LED pilot installation at the company's Corporate Center. It allows employees to experience LED lighting firsthand and offer feedback.

"Jeff Reynolds (senior account manager at MGE) told us about ODS," Alegria said. "It aligned with the efforts of our Green Team and seemed like a great tool to evaluate our operations and do a better job managing our energy use."

What is the ODS program?

The ODS program helps participating business customers uncover ways to cut overall energy use and/or shift it to off-peak hours. Customers who have an automated energy management system can use ODS data to program set points; those who don't can use system data to drive manual load-shedding/shifting strategies. The ODS program is especially valuable during the summer months when electric use peaks in the Midwest.

To participate in the ODS program, companies must be on a time-of-use electric rate—which means they're billed different rates for using electricity at different times of day, based on system demand—and use at least 20 kilowatts of electricity each month.

As of first quarter 2018, there were 32 unique site addresses in the program.

What is on-peak demand?

"On-peak" is the time of day when systemwide energy demand is at its highest. Companies on time-of-use rates are charged at a higher rate for electricity used during this period, making it a desirable time to minimize energy use.

On-Peak demand is for the 15-minute interval when you use the most electric power to run your equipment, lights, etc., during the on-peak time period (10 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays).

Data dashboard key to uncovering opportunities

"ODS includes a data dashboard that provides nearly real-time updates on our energy use," Alegria said. "The dashboard allowed us to understand our energy trends and be more strategic about managing on-peak demand. It was quite exciting to have access to this information: I often found myself wondering, 'What else can we do with this data?'"

Alegria described many of the insights the dashboard uncovered as "low-hanging fruit" that made a much bigger difference than WPS originally expected.

For instance, ODS data showed that a vendor hired to test lights was doing so at a time that negatively impacted peak. It also helped Alegria and his team pinpoint ways to more efficiently cool their facility. These included using blinds to manage solar gain and adopting a precooling strategy. With precooling, facility temperatures are set to cooler-than-normal levels in the morning—during off-peak hours—and warmer-than-normal temperatures later in the day, during peak hours. This facilitates a comfortable work environment in a more energy-efficient way.

Added Reynolds, "ODS can save a company money without a big investment in equipment or staff time. There's no cost to be in the program and no additional equipment is needed to participate. Plus, once a company has enough data to uncover their demand trends, we help them develop and implement strategies to avoid creating a new peak."

ODS alarms also critical

"Even with the dashboard, it could be very easy to get busy and miss an energy spike that could set a new peak," Alegria said. "The alarm assures we're not caught off guard and can take corrective measures as we approach peak demand."

ODS helped WPS save an annual average of 389,590 kilowatt-hours at its Corporate Center facility (for 2017) and, perhaps even more important, set the company on a course to do even more. "ODS was the spark that's catapulted us into investigating a range of new opportunities," Alegria said.

Increasing Efficiency with Strategic Energy Management program

"As we started to see the impact ODS was having on our energy use, it was a natural progression to look for other opportunities," Alegria said. "MGE suggested we investigate the Strategic Energy Management program."

Facilitated locally through Focus on Energy, the Strategic Energy Management (SEM) program offers technical, management and financial support to companies looking to improve energy performance and lower energy-related costs.

"While ODS is specifically designed to lower peak demand and focuses on behavior changes, SEM is more global and tends to integrate capital improvements," Reynolds said.

"The insights we've gained from ODS and SEM have helped us better understand our consumption and allowed us to strategically set goals to reduce it each year," Alegria said. "Although we've always worked hard to be good energy stewards, these programs light the fire and make us want to achieve even more."

One critical change WPS will be making this summer based on its new data awareness: upgrading its building automation system. "We currently have multiple systems that don't work together as well as we'd like and knew we could be even more energy efficient with a better system," Alegria said.

The new automation system will allow WPS to better manage energy use at three of its campus facilities: Corporate Center (the building first enrolled in ODS in 2016), the Koenig Building and the Nordby Building (both added to ODS in 2017).

WPS is currently investigating an impressive range of energy efficiency improvements throughout its campus:

  • Switch to LED lighting in the WPS parking structure.
  • Investigate a conversion to LED lighting (inside) that incorporates both the latest technology in daylight harvesting and motion-sensing capabilities.
  • Convert steam boilers to high-efficiency boilers.
  • Update air distribution systems to variable air volume systems.
  • Add variable frequency drives to hot water pumps.
  • Switch any remaining pneumatic controls to direct digital control.
  • Reconfigure data center ductwork to improve efficiency.
  • Program the building automation system to manage fresh air distribution based on carbon dioxide levels.
  • Use load shedding programming to improve energy management (to better manage peak demand).
  • Update failed sensors on campus mechanicals.
  • Conduct life cycle studies for cooling and heating systems.
  • Better manage economizers. (This equipment uses outside air for free cooling. WPS is working to balance fresh air requirements without adding unnecessary heat load.)
  • Investigate installation of solar technology where appropriate.

"MGE has been an important partner to us throughout this process," Alegria stressed. "Not only do they provide the data and trend information Focus on Energy and the Strategic Energy Management program require for their models, but they've helped us pinpoint opportunities to save and are great network and awareness builders. I appreciate that MGE, a company that's in the business of selling power, is so committed to helping its customers reduce their energy use."

Added Craig Campbell, chief administrative officer at WPS, "Being part of ODS and SEM has been a win-win for our company: These programs allow us to be good stewards of our funds and good stewards of natural resources. In the past, we didn't always have a good understanding of our energy use and didn't fully appreciate the impact various choices could have. Thanks to these programs, now we do."