In order to respond to their energy and environmental challenges, organizations need to clearly understand their energy costs, identify areas for improvement in operational practices, reduce energy costs and environmental impact, develop a baseline to compare against industry benchmarks or future performance, and finally, to track and report their performance. These key initiatives require expertise in various areas, but have one crucible element in common. If you guessed energy data then you are correct. The gathering of energy data is the first step in effective and environmentally-forward energy management. To begin, your organization will need a complete and up-to-date set of utility billing information. But what happens if you do not have this information or if it is difficult to obtain? Where do you start?
The purpose of this article is to help identify ways that companies can collect their utility bill data and establish a comprehensive and accurate energy data set. The first step is to create a data foundation. In order for any company to make informed decisions about energy management, it must establish a data foundation. The age old saying you can not manage what you do not measure is as relevant today as it was a hundred years ago. Why is this important? Well, once the raw data is collected, data manipulation, analysis, trending and comparison can be completed.
Seems easy, right? Now all you have to do is find the data.
Every organization is different. Some companies track data but not all in one place, others rely on utilities or third parties, and some do not track it at all. In every case, establishing a data foundation that is accurate, transparent and complete can prove quite difficult. Finding and collecting the right data can be an arduous task.
Where do you look for this data? It can be very time consuming poking around your organization or even contacting utilities for this information. The challenge is compounded when you have multiple locations, across provinces and / or states, and are searching for multiple data types, such as natural gas, electricity and water data, that include data data like demand, consumption, and total costs.
Once you've obtained the data, the next challenge is to determine how to compile it. This is most pertinent if you are gathering the data from different places. It's important to have one location, whether a file or a database, that will contain all the data, making it easier to manipulate for analysis.
Where to Find Your Data
So where do you start? There are four sources that can help you find and collect your energy data, outlined below:
- Directly Contact Utilities. All utilities keep a historical record of data. You can call the utility and ask them to send you historical information for your account. Each utility has its own policy, but some will send a soft copy of your utility bill, known as a historical print out, which is a screenshot shot from their system of some data points, including amount of bill, consumption, and demand. If you request a hard copy of the utility bill, you may be charged a fee per bill.
- Utility Online Databases. Some utility companies have online databases that allow users to log in and view account details and utility bill information. You can download the utility information online and compile this data in one document. Some utilities offer e-billing services, advising you by email when your bill is ready to be downloaded from their site. Examples of utilities that have online databases include Union Gas, Enmax, BC Hydro, Hydro One, Hydro Quebec. Other utilities partner with Canada Post; they post your bill on their site, and E-post sends you notification by email that your invoice is available.
- Company Accounts Payable Department. A good place to start is your company's accounts payable department. They should have utility data for the current year.
- Third Party. You can hire a third party to help with the 'heavy lifting'. If you use a third party to help collect, track, and manage your utility data, then you are a step ahead of the game. Third parties have the expertise and knowledge to work with utilities and to ensure the right information is being collected. Most third parties will have online portals that give you access to your utility data 24/7.
The Types of Data to Collect
Now that you know where to collect your energy data, what type of data should you ask for? I've outdone some considerations below:
- Size of the Data. Are you looking for a full data set, spanning all of your company's locations, or a sample set that includes only a few? If you are looking for a data sample, you need to consider some factors that may affect the overall complementess, including the location, the weather (winter vs. summer) and the type of business you are in. For example, if you operate a restaurant in Alberta, you would use more natural gas in January due to cold weather than a similar operation in California.
- Number of Years. Are you looking for 12 months or 24 months' worth of data?
- Data Types. These can include electricity, natural gas, water, steam, propane, and furnace oil.
- Data Points. Having all the data points on a utility bill would be ideal, but in the event that this is not possible, the most important ones are consumption, demand, and total amount of bill. You should also inquire if the total amount of bill includes taxes.
Collecting energy data will always be a challenge for organizations. I hope this article identify some steps that may ease this process for your company.