Energy Management Systems Explained

By Michael P. Dipple, Associate Director of Physical Plant, Georgia Southern University

Energy Management Systems monitor and control a individual buildings, groups of buildings, a campus, or any combination from either a centralized or decentralized location anywhere on the planet. Current generation Energy Management Systems are designed to utilize copper, fiber, intranet, and internet communication paths. The most common method, in a medium to large installation, will use the company’s intranet in a networked system to deliver information to one or many operator workstations.

ENERGY MANAGEMENT CONTROL SYSTEMS (EMCS)

Energy Management Control Systems can monitor and control an individual building, groups of buildings, a campus, or any combination from either a centralized or decentralized location anywhere on the planet. Current generation EMCS are designed to utilize copper, fiber, intranet, and internet communication paths. The most common method, in a medium to large installation, will use the company’s intranet in a networked system to deliver information to one or many operator workstations.

The goal of early generation EMCS (1970s) was to simply turn on and off devices based on need and ease of remote operation rather than a conscious effort to control energy usage. These early Energy Management Systems usually had an interface panel whereby computer on/off signals were converted to actions through a relay panel. While crude, they represented a significant advance over automatic (generally pneumatic) control systems. Most first generation energy management systems have been replaced or upgraded by now.

The advent of solid state electronic control devices and the increasing power of computers led to the second generation of EMCS. Relatively simple electronic control boards were now able to convert electric signals to pneumatic operations of valves and dampers. This was a significant advance over first generation systems. With earlier systems the control was on/off. Now building operators had devices to perform proportional control. Rudimentary control strategies began to show up as software became better defined.

The evolution continued with third generation energy management systems. Further advances in end device technologies allowed electronic actuators to be cost effective and powerful enough to replace pneumatic devices. Computers went from mini-mainframes to personal computers, and controllers went from electronic to digital. Computing power was pushed down to the controller level. Software developments lead the charge to the future with much improved control strategies. Arguably, the most important change of the era was the advent of graphical representations of data. So called human machine interface (HMI) now allowed less technical operators to be very successful managing the day to day operations of a facility.

The software is mostly developed at this point with control strategies in place and available for deployment by the operator. EMCS advances are focused on communication technology. Systems today are mostly designed to operate on a common enterprise backbone utilizing internet protocol (IP). This reduces plant wiring and installation costs, and it truly delivers a network-based system capable of reporting information and executing control demands as the owner desires, including wireless technologies.

From: Energy Management Handbook, 7th Edition, The Fairmont Press

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