What’s involved in an electrical site survey? Why it’s critical to good energy management

Last updated: February 2021

Electrical installations in commercial and industrial sites are typically the result of a long history of expansions linked to changing needs and requirements, with the majority not documented. Electrical installations all come with their own little surprises, that you generally discover once project proposals and payment terms are agreed and signed off, i.e. too late. Any monitoring and targeting project must, therefore, start with a proper site survey to specify the scope of works for the project proposal; any other approach could end up very costly.

Site survey

Electrical Site Survey

Site surveys are carried out to define the exact requirements to support an energy efficiency project’s execution and validation. In particular, site surveys are necessary to:

  • Gather information about the electrical installation (and all potential surprises)
  • Devise a clear energy monitoring strategy
  • Quote what is going to be installed
  • Serve as a reference to go back to when managing conflicts with the end-customer

Step 1: Find out what the customer wants

Although project specifications are mostly driven by what the project is trying to achieve, precious insights can be gathered by discussing with the end-customer. Very often these discussions will add additional monitoring requirements and drive the project towards a successful outcome.

Questions about energy project

A number of questions should be asked to the end-customer:

  • Have you got any metering system in place already?
  • Do you have archived data sets you want to integrate?
  • Do you want specific equipment to be monitored?
  • Do you know how energy is used throughout the site?
  • Do you know the main energy offending machines and areas?
  • Are you interested in electricity, water and gas metering, or other?
  • Have you already conducted an energy audit to base our work on?

This information will help focus the site survey and match the customer’s expectations in the project proposal. It will allow you to quote for the exact tasks that will be conducted, and avoid you going the route of trying to get extra payments from your customer. This usually ends up going the extra mile for free to close the project and get the full payment.

[Related content: How many metering points does my site need for good energy management?]

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Step 2: Picture the electrical installation

Electrical installations are generally the result of original installations combined with a number of changes and upgrades made over the years to accommodate site expansion or new business requirements. Subsequently, electrical wiring is very often not optimised or logical, and more importantly poorly documented. Now that you have got some sort of introduction from your customer through well-targeted questions, a number of more technical checks should be made to provide you with the most up-to-date information.

  • Get your hands on the electrical wiring diagram and ask the site electrician to explain it to you and to point all recent changes that have been made

Site survey set up

  • Take a tour to the main switchroom where the building gets its power from the grid, and where all the smaller distribution boards are fed from. Try to match circuits to sub-boards with the wiring diagram, and write down any discrepancy. This task will provide you with a high-level picture of how power is distributed within the building. The idea is that you don’t miss that extension circuit that is not on the diagram but that is very important and that nobody told you, could end up being very costly.

Electrical boards

  • Walk-through the building to locate the distribution boards powering areas of interest for your customer, and note their type as a way to assess the monitoring complexity

Electric scheme for circuits

  • Pictures, pictures, pictures… note any information you can find such as circuit labels, wiring sheets, cable size, MCB size, etc, anything that will help you, later on, to remember the setup, specify the right equipment, and estimate the installation time. For example, bus bars, double/multiple-fed circuits and generally any circuit rated over 600A will require more expensive CTs and Rogowski coils.

[Related content: Tips for kWh and kW demand analysis, and finding what’s driving your energy use]

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Finally, labelling is one of the most important factors for a successful installation, and non-existent or incomplete labelling of circuits can jeopardise your profits. No labelling means that the link between electrical loads and circuits monitored is unknown. When labels do not exist or exist but are incorrect or meaningless then the measurements provided on your energy management platform are misleading. Inconsistent labelling should be identified during the project proposal stage, because customers will otherwise expect you to label circuits (which is lengthy and difficult) at no extra charge, leading installation to be lengthened, postponed or cancelled.

Step 3: Find out how you will deploy your energy monitoring system

Deploying a monitoring system comes with a number of requirements in terms of power supply, access to cables and access to the Internet.

How to deploy smart meter

 

You must clarify during the site survey how this will happen:

  • Where can the meter be located (DIN rail/panel mount)? will you need a separate enclosure?
  • Where will the current transformer (CT) leads pass through to reach the cable chambers of the meter(s)?
  • Another question to ask yourself is: Is there a spare miniature circuit breaker (MCB) and neutral that can be reused for the installation or must they be deployed? Can they be deployed on installation date considering board shutdown is necessary for that?
  • Are wall sockets available to power up a laptop during installation?
  • Can the customer network infrastructure be used to connect the monitoring system to the Internet?
  • Is there a wired Internet point in the vicinity of the board that can be used? will the IT department provide that in case?
  • Is the GSM signal strong enough should a GPRS/3G router be needed (you can check with your phone or use a signal analyzer)?

 

Step 4: Discover annoying issues early

Some issues are more cumbersome than others, as they can dramatically delay an installation and incur massive hardware and labour costs that would not be budgeted in the first place.

Electric issues during installation

Some examples of recurrent issues are:

  • Components of the same machine are fed from multiple distribution boards in different locations, e.g. production line, meaning that metering equipment must be deployed at multiple locations.
  • A circuit feeds more than one machine, meaning that metering equipment must be moved to the level down closer to the machine of interest
  • Circuits can only be powered down during scheduled shutdown periods, meaning that circuit breakers and current sensors must be deployed prior to installation or at agreed dates such as weekend
  • Labels are non-existent or not clear, meaning you must go through a tedious labelling exercise
  • Existing equipment does not work as expected, e.g. existing pulse meters are defective and do not issue pulses, meaning that you must take into consideration troubleshoot of 3rd party systems

 

Step 5: Size effort for dealing with 3rd parties

Now that the electrical wiring is pretty clear and you have a picture of how you’re gonna tackle the metering aspect of your installation, you must not forget the work related to dealing with all the various organisations over the course of the project.

Discuss energy project with your customer

Very often project management proves to be time-consuming as you must go to the site and meet various people to get the information you need. The items below should be considered and discussed with your customers:

  • Switching offloads: is management pre-approval required, should a person with authority be present during installation, can machines or circuits be switched off, etc.
  • Integrating 3rd party systems: who can get you authorization to request data from the energy provider or connect loggers to utility meters. Communication with city councils and energy providers can be tedious and lengthy, datasheet and technical information may not be available.
  • Obtaining tariff information: what are the tariff and charges applied, is the tariff structure standard
  • Access to IT network: what are the requirements, is the IT team aware and available to help.
  • Access to on-site electrician: can site electricians label circuits and install circuit breakers before the installation date? Is an on-site induction required?

If you are integrating your smart meters with an energy management system, it is advisable you take into consideration the following:

 

electrical panel
 

Hardware requirements. Many energy management systems are compatible with a very limited number of smart meters and sensors, typically supporting only 1-10 models. The Wattics Energy Analytics system is hardware agnostic and compatible with 200 devices and varied file formats including FTP, HTTP and API for data transfer. Wattics works with its partners to ensure that the best method for data transfer is decided upon according to their needs, before the necessary hardware is purchased.

Data format requirements. High-quality analysis requires that one takes into account all possible variables which affect energy consumption – eg. production/temperature/air quality data as well as making sure that the energy management platform can accept a needed unit. Some platforms are limited to water, gas and temperature data, whereas the Wattics platform accepts any numeric value including the aforementioned + weather, production data, square feet, number of visitors and more.

Type of reports your client requires. Each software platform has its own capabilities and visualisations. Request from the software provider the details of the platform’s reporting capabilities and agree with the client what they will be getting.

Frequency of data readings and data granularity. Most software platforms have 15 or 30 minute granularity/meter readings, which is most common for the commercial sector. If you need more frequent readings (some industrial facilities require 5-minute granularity, and some require readings every minute), make sure your smart meter can record readings as often as needed and that the platform can display meter readings. It is advisable to discuss with the client how often they intend to monitor consumption; if they need real-time data or if daily updates would be sufficient.

Cost per user and client access. If you are using a software that has a cost per user, ask your client in advance how many users he might need to ensure that there is no loss later down the line. Not every software platform has this cost associated with it. At Wattics, partners can have an unlimited number of users at no additional cost.

When sharing the unique functionalities of your advanced energy management system with a client, make sure that your offer has unique services/features attached to it so as to prevent customer churn and ‘cutting out the middleman’ later on (i.e. you as the energy service provider). At Wattics, partners have the option to limit clients’ access to the tools the partner chooses. This helps keep energy monitoring and analysis for the end-user simple and ensures that the relationship between the partner and their client is ongoing.

Electrical panel with smart meters

In summary:

To plan your smart meter installation and energy efficiency project in the most effective way and minimize future issues, we suggest the following:

  • Talk to your customer about their needs and expectation. Interview your client, let him/her speak and share all they have in mind.
  • Go to the site and identify all potential points for monitoring and document everything (use those photography skills!) that might be used in your planning.
  • Be proactive rather than reactive. Predict potential issues, or ‘red flags’ and take the necessary action to prevent these.
  • Check all conditions of collaboration with other companies and different departments involved in or affected by the project. 
  • Ensure that the energy platform that you are using is able to cover the needs and requirements of the project. There’s nothing worse than project being halted to due to inadequate tools.

 

Wattics is a cloud-based Energy Management platform that can be presented to your customers as your own solution for energy monitoring, auditing, analysis and verification. Check out the capabilities of the Wattics energy monitoring dashboard to see if it is a fit for your project! Book a demo now by simply filling out the form below:

 

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