Collaborative Submetering: A Model For Universities

Northwestern University, utiliVisor, and Stein Sustainability prove that results come from working together.

You struggle to track data across buildings. You're recording meter readings with paper and a clipboard, and bill collection is through the mail. You know that your university energy isn't running as efficiently as it could.

But who has time to gather the energy data - much less analyze the data - you need to make informed decisions? 

Even when you did invest in energy management software - no one knew how to use it, so there it sits. Though you're still being woken up by a 3 AM notification that isn't helping you make any decisions at the plant. You know you won't get to everything you should in a day, so you've accepted that if the machines are still running when you leave - it was a good day. 

But now you're being told the university needs to be more efficient with their energy use. How do you do this when there isn't an accurate picture of the university's energy? Your team needs training, and you have no idea how this all fits into the university's sustainability objectives.

Collaborating To Achieve Energy Efficiency At Northwestern University

In 2017, Northwestern University released an inaugural Strategic Sustainability Plan (SSP). The SSP has a focus on energy efficiency and GHG reductions. One of the challenges the University faced was a need to streamline meter reading: spreadsheets, manual data entry, and lack of validation made for a cumbersome effort. Northwestern needed an automated process that allowed all stakeholders to visualize meter data and understand actual usage.

Energy and Operations Experts With The Attention To Detail

First, Northwestern needed to validate the accuracy of their energy consumption. To create visibility of the energy consumption - as well as take the complex systems already in place - Northwestern University partnered with utiliVisor, a leading energy advisory firm that focuses on helping universities improve their submetering and operations.

utiliVisor simplified the monitoring and metering processes and created a system that reflected accurate utility usage across campus that was used to help prioritize energy efficiency projects. Furthermore, utiliVisor set up personalized alerts for the facility staff and provided on-site training to ensure success. 

Once Northwestern had visible energy data and streamlined data collection processes, all university stakeholders had accurate insights on a granular level. Because energy data is in constant motion, utiliVisor continues to provide ongoing monitoring of energy usage that is used for the University’s internal utility billing processes. utiliVisor’s consistent attention to detail frees up operational time for plant managers and facility directors.

Sustainability Expert That Provides Strategic Planning

When a university has lofty sustainability goals, in addition to the need for technical detail and submetering support services, the University also needs an expert to take that granular energy detail and show stakeholders how the information fits into the broader sustainability plan.

Stein Sustainability LLC, a consulting firm that serves as a liaison between the technical work and sustainability initiatives, became involved due to their prior experience in higher education and with utiliVisor. At Northwestern University, Stein Sustainability helped integrate the utiliVisor data and University’s building-related information into the development of an energy management information system and energy visualization platform for the University Community.  

Also, having access to organized meter data provided Northwestern a simplified and more efficient way to report utility data for required benchmarking ordinances. Stein Sustainability also completed the University’s required energy benchmarking in the EPA’s Energy Star Portfolio Manager.

“It's been extremely helpful for Stein Sustainability to partner with utiliVisor and Northwestern because they've [utiliVisor] organized the data and then Stein Sustainability helped Northwestern visualize and fully understand their utility profiles.”
Recognized For University Energy Management and Efficiency

The collaborative approach to university energy management and efficiency has earned Northwestern the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) highest honor: The 2020 ENERGY STAR® Partner of the Year - Sustained Excellence Award for continued leadership in energy efficiency and energy conservation solutions.

Our 7-Step University Streamlining Process: A Collaborative Approach

Step 1: Understand the utility usage. 

Step 2: Understand the billing process.

Step 3: Create test runs.

Step 4: utiliVisor and university collaborate to roll out new process and validate.

Step 5: utiliVisor provides on-going oversight and support to the on-site team to ensure continued success.

Step 6: Stein Sustainability helps universities understand and expand what they can do with the new data.

Step 7: Stein Sustainability helps universities implement an energy management visualization platform.

Conclusion

The collaboration between Northwestern University, utiliVisor, and Stein Sustainability streamlined Northwestern's data collection for integration with an energy management information system (EMIS). The collaborative approach to submetering and energy efficiency has not only earned national recognition, but can also serve as a model for other universities. 

To learn more about collaborative university submetering and energy management, click here.

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