Software Solution: James City County Government Unifies Energy Management

 

Description:
James City County was formally created in 1634 as James City Shire by order of King Charles I. It is considered one of only five original shires of Virginia to have retained virtually the same political form. The population of the County is approximately 70,000.

Tracking:
James City County manages its entire real estate portfolio of 105 buildings with EnergyCAP; the County also tracks electricity for 82 water utility sewer lift stations and 34 water pump houses. There are nearly 260 active meters, including electricity (226), natural gas (29), and propane (5).

 

Summary

Created as a land grant in 1634 by the King of England, James City Shire is the prospering James City County today. But 21st century realities were exposing cracks in the County’s energy foundation. The situation led the Department of General Services (DGS) with Dawn Oleksy, Environmental Coordinator for James City County, on a quest for an all-purpose energy management solution. The County found its solution in EnergyCAP software.

Oleksy, whose unofficial titles include “Energy Czar”, “Ice Princess”, and “Queen of Darkness” for her practices of banishing space heaters, lowering winter setpoints, and turning out lights everywhere she goes, was personally involved with the EnergyCAP acquisition from start to finish. This case study describes the County’s energy management transition through the lens of her experience.

The Need

The County’s initial forays into energy management really began in 2008, spearheaded by DGS Director John Horne. At that time, energy management staff began compiling historical energy use data for the County’s real estate portfolio of 100+ buildings, and picking the “low hanging fruit” for energy efficiency gains. Microsoft Excel was the primary database tool.

Prior to EnergyCAP implementation, James City County was also relying primarily on quarterly reports generated by a third party vendor for energy reporting. But the available data was limited. Although Oleksy’s department was capturing monthly energy use and cost through a provided web portal, she was eager to dive more deeply into the County’s energy use. It was becoming increasingly important to provide meaningful data to internal and external stakeholders, including the County’s 15-member Energy Team. The vendor’s solution was unsatisfactory since data was frequently incomplete, requiring the use of estimated instead of actual values. The resulting lack of confidence in the completeness and accuracy of energy data hindered project planning and measurement & verification of savings.

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Reporting Nightmare.

The County had few options for data sharing, and compiling and verifying comparison data for longer periods of time was extremely time-consuming. An annual weather-normalized report demanded weeks of effort from limited staff to retrieve comprehensive energy data for the County and set up the necessary formulas to perform the normalization calculations.

While Oleksy was able to use Excel functions and pivot tables to analyze the available utility data, the process was often cumbersome, and it was difficult to monitor the accuracy of the energy database and to maintain consistency from month to month and year to year. The County needed to take its energy reporting to the next level.

Data verification was a significant problem prior to EnergyCAP implementation. “Because our historical energy usage was automatically compiled but not easily verified we would spend a lot of time making sure that our reporting was as accurate as possible with limited data and resources,” said Oleksy. Questionable data was undermining the County’s ability to manage precious energy resources.

Multiple Systems.

The County’s energy information was also being managed with multiple systems and processes. These competing systems were actually creating obstacles by generating process inefficiencies. In addition to the third party quarterly reports and her internal spreadsheet system, Oleksy was using the EnergyStar Portfolio Manager online software to track Energy Use Index score fluctuations on a monthly basis so they could report on their ‘Energy Saver of the Month’ program results. But managing the same utility data manually in yet another software application was a time-consuming chore. James City County needed a single comprehensive energy tracking and reporting tool.

The Solution

The feature-rich EnergyCAP Online software provided a single software solution to unify the County’s energy management program, providing short- and long-term efficiency gains.

For instance, the weather-normalized report that terrorized the County’s energy management staff annually can now be displayed on demand in EnergyCAP with a couple of mouse clicks. “Now we are easily able to identify gaps between billing periods and our reporting confidence has increased exponentially,” said Oleksy.

Since EnergyCAP is a partner organization of ENERGY STAR, the software automatically maintains the County’s Portfolio Manager account. New billing data is uploaded monthly to ENERGY STAR, enabling Oleksy to track and trend the Energy Use Index and the 100-point ENERGY STAR energy efficiency building rating without ever leaving the EnergyCAP software application.

Along with the software implementation, the County also purchased EnergyCAP’s Bill CAPture service, which has transformed their utility bill processing protocol for the DGS.

Bill CAPture is working beautifully. We track 251 meters with Bill CAPture, and the other nine are propane accounts and buildings with shared services that we manually upload. Not only does the technology accurately capture all of the values from the bill and enter them into the EnergyCAP database, but the bill PDFs are stored in EnergyCAP and we can easily view them as a reference at any time. If we had to manually type in all of the bill data that is being collected now, it would take us a full week per month of staff time as opposed to six hours which is what we are doing nowDawn Oleksy, James City County Environmental Coordinator

Energy Integration.

The County’s Energy Team is comprised of 15 James City County staff. It includes representatives from all departments, as well as General Services personnel responsible for Facilities, HVAC, and lighting. The team has benefited significantly from the EnergyCAP implementation. All Energy Team members have a login to EnergyCAP, and they are able to view their customizable building dashboard and energy data at any time. EnergyCAP has been very useful for displaying graphs and charts to quickly explain usage information.

“We authorized an Energy Management Administrative Regulation in 2012 that established setpoints and guidance for energy usage in all JCC facilities,” said Oleksy. “The availability of reliable energy data has enabled the Energy Team to better educate staff about the new requirements, perform energy audits on a regular basis, and to more easily share ideas on best management practices.”

Data Organization.

Oleksy has high praise for the tree structure hierarchy that has been a basic design component of the EnergyCAP software application for decades. EnergyCAP’s Buildings & Meters and Accounts Tree Views are a way of organizing energy information from the most granular levels (meter/account) to the macro level (division/organization).

There are two different but internally linked tree hierarchies in EnergyCAP. Buildings & Meters represents the hardware and physical locations for energy distribution, including buildings and devices, while the Accounts Tree View represents the fiscal perspective including vendors, cost centers, and account properties. The links make it convenient for the software user to switch back and forth between the two views.

BM_accounts_treeThe Buildings & Meters tree begins with its leaves, which are the meters and submeters that track energy use for each commodity. Each meter is associated with a building branch, and each building branch can be further associated with a user-defined organizational structure (department/division/regional grouping) that can be simple or complex depending on the nature of the organization. Using the Tree View, an EnergyCAP client can click on an organizational node of the tree to display all the energy information associated with that node. This makes an intuitive and engaging interface for interacting with energy data at any level of the organization. The user can “roll-up” data at any organizational level and “drill down” to the most granular data in seconds.

“The [Buildings & Meters] tree is a tremendous help to the Facilities department,” said Oleksy. “It allows us to visualize the various properties located throughout the County and stay organized in our management of our building square footage while tying it into energy use at each facility.”

The Accounts tree begins with individual accounts, but the accounts can be grouped into Cost Centers that represent a financial view of the energy information corresponding to the organization’s categorization scheme for monitoring and addressing expenses. The tree views also make it possible to limit user permissions/access by “Topmost” Place or Cost Center. This adds a very granular level of security to the organization’s energy data.

“The tree structure within EnergyCAP is a tremendous resource for us,” said Oleksy, “because now we can easily visualize, manage and explain how each of our accounts and meters relates to associated cost centers, departments, buildings and locations.”

“I use the tree structure to break down all of the accounts by department responsibilities down to the building/campus/facility level,” Oleksy continued. “Additionally, when a building use changes I can easily [click and] drag the account to another departmental responsibility. [EnergyCAP] has proven as a great tool for showing other staff in the facilities maintenance department how all of our buildings and meters are associated with departments.”

Oleksy often uses “roll-up” views of summary data to generate big picture energy reports. In addition, she usually uses EnergyCAP’s weather-normalized and calendarized reports at the building level to compare usage fluctuations from one month or fiscal year to the next to look for trends.

Productivity Improvements.

Initial savings realized through the software implementation have been primarily in staff time and the ability to report on energy savings associated with capital improvements.

However, EnergyCAP is also helping out with some of the County’s accounting issues relating to utility bill payment. When a natural gas vendor merged with a new parent company, account login procedures were changed, which required setup for dozens of new account-specific logins. This created complications for the County’s invoice tracking and payment channels. “Having the bill data organized in EnergyCAP provided an extra layer of security while the provider’s web portal underwent so many accessibility issues,” said Oleksy.

jcc-winner-tableAlso, the County (as a tax-exempt organization) discovered several accounts that were accumulating taxes. It was very helpful to run a report in EnergyCAP to identify the natural gas bills that included a tax line item. The detailed information could then be used to secure credits or refunds from the various commodity vendors.

Other features used most often are the normalization reports, which enable EnergyCAP software users to easily see the fluctuations in the efficiency of County buildings with the data adjusted to account for variables like differences in weather and billing period length. “By comparing our monthly EUIs, we recognize the building with the greatest increase in energy efficiency by giving them a ‘Building of the Month’ award,” said Oleksy.

Oleksy said she has not yet begun using the powerful cost avoidance function within EnergyCAP, but she has been able to capture all energy work orders as ‘projects’, which enables her to view and report on usage fluctuations before and after projects are implemented, and more easily estimate cost savings. Here are some examples:

  • Normalized energy in all JCC facilities is down 5.4% this fiscal year with a net savings of $50,000.
  • Following the replacement of windows and weatherization of Building E, the total energy in that building for the year is down 11%.
  • Following the weatherization of Building F, we have seen a 16% decrease in electricity and a 45% decrease in natural gas.
  • Liquid pool cover was used at the Rec Center saving over $9,000 in natural gas costs for the year.

Future Plans.

The County’s implementation of EnergyCAP software was not without challenges of its own. Because the Bill CAPture implementation phase happened faster than county officials expected, the County exceeded its allocation of Bill CAPture transactions early on. The EnergyCAP team worked with JCC staff to help explain how the situation had developed, and adjusted the number of expected annual transactions for the year. Participants from both organizations learned from the experience, which will help ensure that future contracts will reflect a more accurate number for anticipated transactions during the first year of implementation.

“All of the intricacies of the software are complicated enough when a new client is trying to get it loaded and configured,” said Oleksy. “I appreciated the flexibility of the EnergyCAP team and their efforts to maintain a positive working relationship.”

Moving forward, Oleksy hopes to further integrate EnergyCAP auditing capabilities into their utility workflow. Currently, the majority of the County’s energy bills are set to ‘autopay’ and most of the time errors are only identified after the fact, requiring time-consuming processes for requesting and obtaining applicable credits. The County is not set up to pay bills electronically, so there may be additional efficiency gains in the future using EnergyCAP’s optional accounting interface.

“We are still in the early stages of EnergyCAP so we are still working on a learning curve,” said Oleksy. “Eventually we will use the audit features more effectively and look forward to integrating invoice approvals with Accounts Payable when they are ready to automate payments.”

Conclusion

The County’s energy management vision prior to EnergyCAP implementation was summed up by Oleksy:

“With EnergyCAP our goal was to accurately and consistently capture actual usage data on a monthly basis, have the ability to easily run our own reports and analysis, quickly access and provide usage data upon request, have all of our energy management tools in one place and provide a user-friendly dashboard that would allow interdepartmental Energy Team members to easily view and assess the usage in their own buildings.”

That vision is turning into reality with EnergyCAP.

Acknowledgement

We wish to thank Dawn Oleksy, Environmental Coordinator (General Services), for her assistance in the completion of this Case Study.