Introduction

Companies and facility managers who want to track energy and resource usage, whether to cut down on costs or to gain an energy efficiency rating, often have to spend time each day taking readings from meters around their building or campus. This can take significant time and doesn’t provide actionable information without in-depth analysis.

In the case of DCU Alpha, a staff member spent nearly two hours every day reading and noting the readings from meters across a multi-building campus.

The Challenge

• Combine readings from multiple meters into an easy central management system
• Connect meters to the cloud without a gateway, even deep indoors and in boiler rooms
• Provide data visualization that allows users to gather actionable insights

The Solution

Several Phinect modules were installed at meter points across the DCU Alpha campus, allowing the facilities manager to monitor usage of water, gas and electricity. Multiple buildings were included, and electricity was also sub-metered by floor and use, i.e. sockets, lights and other systems like security.

The Phinect has up to 15 years of battery life, so it doesn’t need to be hardwired into the building’s electrical system. The user can control whether the device sends its data every 10 minutes, every hour or every day, which helps to conserve battery life. It can also be configured to take frequent readings but only send them over Sigfox periodically, and many other variations. The Phinect has built in memory, so it never loses data, even if it the network connection is lost.

The DCU Alpha units were installed easily and without the assistance of an electrician, though this can vary depending on the existing metering hardware. Several units had to be installed in the boiler room, which is where the Phinect’s superior radio performance is critical, allowing it to send messages over the Sigfox network even from deep indoors.

Each Phinect device can be used to connect up to 3 data points and also provides ambient temperature and humidity levels. Readings from each meter point are sent to the cloud over VT’s Sigfox network. The information can then be pulled into the third-party applications through an API, or can be displayed on the Phinect mobile optimized web platform, which provides data visualization, target setting and the ability to add multiple users with different permission levels. Phinect is offered on a service basis, with fees being charge per month per connection point. While there are fees for each connection point, an unlimited number of users can be added on the web interface at no charge.

This creates a centralized dashboard with all the user’s consumption information organized by zones. The software also gives detailed information about each device’s radio performance and how many messages have been missed, if any.

Phinect can be used for more than just consumption monitoring. They have also been deployed at solar farms to monitor how much energy is being produced, and send alerts when no power is being generated. The graphs clearly reflect the rising and setting of the sun, but also the level of cloud cover on any given day. It can also be used by manufacturers to determine how much energy is required to create their product, such as per square kilometer of road asphalt.

 

Resource usage can be seen in one graph or broken down into more detailed views. Sensors are sorted into zones, and in addition to the data overview, readings from each sensor can be viewed individually.

 

Using Phinect's IoT energy monitoring system, companies can set energy reduction challenges
Using Phinect’s platform, companies can set energy reduction challenges for themselves and see whether they are meeting their targets.

Why Sigfox?

Indoor coverage

Sigfox uses ultra narrow band radio waves, which generally penetrate walls well. This, along with the Phinect’s well engineered hardware and antenna, allow it to transmit information even in difficult conditions, such as a boiler room.

Low power

Very little power is required to send messages over the Sigfox network. This allows the Phinect to operate on battery power for one to more than 15 years, depending on its settings. The devices are easier to install because they don’t require hardwired power or proximity to a wall socket.

Security

The devices don’t use the intranet and they don’t need TCPIP settings, so there’s no need to ask the IT manage or CIO to install the devices. Thanks to the structure of Sigfox, the hacking risk is virtually zero.

Low cost

The Phinect only needs to send small readings periodically, and sometimes only once a day. This made Sigfox an ideal connectivity solution, as it provides the right level of data transmission at a low cost. Since multiple devices can be required to monitor different meter points across a business, health care or school campus, keeping connectivity costs low is important to maintain the Phinect’s affordability.

Benefits

In France, companies have used the Phinect system to become ISO 50001 certified, which recognizes that they are meeting international best practices for energy management. It also allows them to lower their energy costs.

Installing the Phinect system can save hours of manual meter reading every day. In DCU Alpha, it also helped to identify anomalies in water usage, which was running throughout the night when it should have been falling to zero.

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