Modern Energy Management

Carleton College: How Technology Modernized their Campus Energy Program

December 03, 2019 Nate Nilles & Amber Artrip Season 1 Episode 11
Modern Energy Management
Carleton College: How Technology Modernized their Campus Energy Program
Modern Energy Management
Carleton College: How Technology Modernized their Campus Energy Program
Dec 03, 2019 Season 1 Episode 11
Nate Nilles & Amber Artrip

In this episode of the Modern Energy Management Podcast, Martha Larson, Manager of Campus Energy and Sustainability at Carleton College shares her journey of modern energy management on campus. 

In this episode Martha shares:

  • Her modern energy management journey
  • How technology helped Carleton modernize their energy program
  • Why the role of "Energy Manager" is changing

and much more.

Don't forget to subscribe to the Modern Energy Management podcast wherever you get your podcasts. Visit for more information about the podcast and additional resources to modernize your energy program.

Get a free copy of our "2019 State of Energy Management" research report with feedback from over 200 energy and sustainability leaders about.

Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of the Modern Energy Management Podcast, Martha Larson, Manager of Campus Energy and Sustainability at Carleton College shares her journey of modern energy management on campus. 

In this episode Martha shares:

  • Her modern energy management journey
  • How technology helped Carleton modernize their energy program
  • Why the role of "Energy Manager" is changing

and much more.

Don't forget to subscribe to the Modern Energy Management podcast wherever you get your podcasts. Visit for more information about the podcast and additional resources to modernize your energy program.

Get a free copy of our "2019 State of Energy Management" research report with feedback from over 200 energy and sustainability leaders about.

spk_0:   0:00
Hello, everyone. And welcome to the modern energy management podcast. This is the only podcast for energy manager sustainability professionals and building owners and operators to share their stories of modern energy management out in the field with their peers. My name is Amber, Our trip, and I'm the producer and host of the show. Today we have a very special episode for all of you. One of our good friends. Martha Larson, who is the manager of campus energy and sustainability at Carlton College, is here to share her story of modern energy management. Thank you for being here, Martha.

spk_1:   0:37
Thanks very much, Amber. It's good to be here.

spk_0:   0:40
So why don't you take some time to tell us a little bit about how you got into the industry and your role in Carson?

spk_1:   0:48
Sure, I'd be happy to do that. So, as you mentioned, I'm the manager of campus energy and sustainability at Carlton. So that's both general campus sustainability, um, waste and sustainable food, et cetera, and also all of our energy management. And I am the first person to hold that position. Carlton created that role in 2010. When I started working here, I came to the role from essentially a degree in mechanical engineering from Northwestern University. And first, my first stop in my career was actually an acoustical engineering. I had a music interest, and so I went that direction, which exposed me to a large projects like performing arts centers and theaters, which in turn exposed me to project management. And I worked in that field for a while, all the while kind of realizing the environmental impact of buildings and lead rating systems were becoming popular. And I I, uh, became LEED certified and gained even deeper awareness of the impact of buildings on the environment and energy use. So when the position arose at Carlton College, it was a perfect fit for me to take my project management experience and merge it with our true focus on energy and environment.

spk_0:   2:10
Wow. So they it was a brand new role, and you stepped into it and kind of I imagine you built the role from scratch.

spk_1:   2:17
Yes, that was the fun part about It is they had, of course, the job description and some general guidelines and goals that they wanted to achieve. But really let it let me shape of the position and also a lot of the objectives for the sustainability department.

spk_0:   2:33
Can you unpack that a little bit for me? What were, um, some of the key things that you did to really set the foundation for this program?

spk_1:   2:43
Well, the first step was Carlton had signed on to the American College and university president's climate commitment, and with that commitment came goal to become carbon neutral by the year 2050 and then also the requirement to submit a climate action plan that defined how that goal could be reached and there could be some DVDs in there. But in general, there had to be a few near term strategies that could be enacted right away. So I was able to leave the team a very talented steering committee of faculty, students and staff through a process with the aid of some consulting to develop a climb action plan. And that plan included energy as one of its biggest components for carbon mitigation and then also food, waste, transportation and procurement, all folding into our mission of education and outreach. So that was where it began, and that really laid sort of the strategic plan for my role at Carlton, which I've been chipping away at ever since then,

spk_0:   3:46
and you do a great job. I know your story and it's one of our favorites. And when I think about folks who really epitomize what modern energy management is, you know your name always floats to the top of the list. So could you tell our listeners a little bit about how you activated modern energy management at Carlton?

spk_1:   4:07
Certainly I I sort of think about energy management from a number of facets, as we all do, Um, but what makes it modern? I would say it's not just the technological advancements of renewable energy and advanced metering, but also simply that has become a big data field. It's a place where there's a lot of, you know, kind of small, simple packets of data, but just so many of them that it's hard to see the patterns amid the noise. And so, um, when I arrived here, our energy data collection was still very fragmented. I think there are were 12 people who each had their fingers on a part of the process. A lot of that data collection was happening and excel in really heavily formatted, um, worksheets that were not easy to break down into raw data, we have to winter prints that produce skated data that has its own communication protocols. We have to building automation system vendors and, you know, other quirky things, like solar panels, that e had their own way of communicating. And so I started to collect these data sources and realized that some of them were in the accounting department in Excel. Some of them were hand written logs in the boiler plant. Um, a lot of them were, you know, in people's file drawers. Frankly, So my first thought on this was that I had to be able to manage that data in order to gain insights and make recommendations.

spk_0:   5:41
And that's a very common thing that we're seeing across. You know, we talked about energy managers every day who are looking to kick off their programs and, you know, we find that 55% of energy programs are still using forms of manual data collection. We just did. A research report was smart interview decisions, and that's what we learned, which is shocking because it's so time consuming. So, you know, Keith, tell us a little bit about how you kind of jumped over that hurdle from manually collecting data. Thio. Finding a better way Sure,

spk_1:   6:21
I think like many campuses, we have a maintenance staff, and one of their roles was to on a monthly basis. Walked the campus and read the meters. And then those handwritten logs would come back to the office, where an administrative assistant would type them into excel. And then each of those files would get sword kind of individually by year. And I only kind of, um, enunciate that process to kind of illustrate how many points where there could be errors or inconsistencies, beginning with simply the fact that the meter's weren't red on the same day every month. And it was hard to tell, Really. Of course, it's not interval data, so it's hard to tell what's happening in between. Um, so my first, my first, uh, push was, too. Pull those datas, which were head a pulse output and be able to integrate them into a system that would automatically collect interval data. That would be data at 15 minute intervals so I could get real time data. And then when I was comparing a month of data one month to another month. I knew that that was always exactly one month. Um, what I also wanted was to quickly be able to change that data into whatever interval I need to study at the moment or output to a faculty or student who is requesting it. So having that data in a relation all database was step one so that it could be quickly exported and a monthly value or a weekly value daily hourly, even a 15 minute interval, and, ah, I over laid so different meters could be over laid on each other. So my first step, really as I kind of entered the energy management world, was to do a search for a product that could do exactly that. Take all of this data, automate the collection and put it into a relation all database that made it much, much easier to work with and much more raw so that it could be manipulated depending on the task at hand.

spk_0:   8:19
So you decided to do some research for an energy management system, and and I know you went with ours with building us, but can you just talk a little bit about why you decided to go all in, um, with any of my ass and And what that's done for you?

spk_1:   8:37
Certainly. Yeah, I think for me, the real true insights come from having transparency, invisibility in all the data. I always think of it like a budget manager who has to use a budgeting software to view the financial activity across all the departments in the college. And if you view the activity off, you know, 75% of the departments, but the other 25% are still invisible to you. It's not a useful system. And so, as I'm responsible for the energy budget, I looked for a software that could, in intake, all of the building meter data so that I could compare all of the buildings, uh, against each other and then also integrate with other systems like the wind turbine data. Because for me, there's a lot, a lot of the questions I get in a lot of the, um, evaluation that I need to produce has to do with how those systems interact. So it was important to have everything in one place, So I did go all in right away and uh, pulled in all the major data for every building across campus, and that would be heating, electricity and water data.

spk_0:   9:49
Awesome. And how long ago was that?

spk_1:   9:52
Well, I started that process in 2013 and I think just because of the amount of meters that were dealing with, we did it in a couple of phases. But the other important step was after we got the meter data in, we did an integration with the billing data, which then automated that data entry so that our bills would be our cost. Data would be automatically uploaded a swell. So once. Once we went through that process and it took a while for me to work with lucid technical teams to get all of those data flows working. But once they were there, they're true patterns. And the true visibility started to pay off very much

spk_0:   10:32
so. So current state. Now, you have a lot of those data sources integrated compared to back when you were driving around and manually writing down meter readings. What? Um how much time have you saved and or money by just having access to the data?

spk_1:   10:53
I certainly think about the savings part of me thinks about it. As I said, like a budgeting software, we're really I can't do my job without it. But the savings the system itself does not make savings recommendations. That's why the college has me as the energy manager, Um, but the savings I can only really view the potential for savings by having that visibility into the data. So the fact that it takes me, you know, seconds to export a file at whatever interval or time range or building comparisons that I need compared to, um, you know, reformatting all of those separate, fragmented Excel spreadsheets that amount of time is is hard to calculate, but it's it's extreme, especially the ability now to easily send data out. And I do allow, um, extreme consultants to have access, allow students and faculty to have access so often times if they're doing a lot of work with energy data, instead of calling me each time they need a report, they can go into the system themselves, make their own selections and export data set that's tailored exactly to the question they're trying to answer. Meanwhile, on the maintenance side, all of those hours that were previously spent in the truck driving around to collect meter data, and the hours of just simply data entry are now alleviated. So, you know, I think we we can go somewhere between 15 and $20,000 a year, just in the save time from the maintenance department.

spk_0:   12:25
That's amazing. We're, um you know, we're working on a opportunity cost calculator for manual data collection here. And so you know, it's really it's really fascinating to see those productivity savings mean a lot, and it's exponential. They dio Congrats on that. That's great. Um, so switching gears here a little bit. I want to talk about the role of the energy manager and how it's evolved. So in your opinion, when you think about a modern energy manager, you know what does that entail to you? And then how has the role evolved?

spk_1:   13:01
You have certainly seen it evolve even in my 10 years at Carlton. Um, I think originally it was important for the energy manager, too. Review the monthly bills and make sure and check them for accuracy and work with the utility company on power procurement and any sort of, um, no interruptible agreements and getting the best price is basically ah, and managing energy to that directive. Um, it's become much more layered now that climate change and environmental issues are in such strong focus, and the technology is there to really make vast improvements in how buildings use energy. So the rule of the modern energy manager to me, is to navigate all of that. To navigate the big data, Thio use the advanced technology to answer the complicated questions that ultimately save costs and save, um, greenhouse gas emissions. And on a campus, it's really to me, it's really fun because it's almost like a small scale controlled community. So in and of itself, a pilot project pilot city that one could think about. You know, managing data on our grid is a smaller version of what it could be to manage energy and manage data on US municipal grid at a city level at Carlton with the two wind turbines. And now we've moved thio from steam toe hot water and ground source heat exchange with geothermal, so we're also now able to take that to a district energy level and look at not only how are we using energy, but how are we producing energy, and it's it's great. Thio, as a modern energy manager, have both sides of that equation to think about him to play with and to play off of each other, which is something that I don't I don't think the technology was there previously. Thio even conceive of having that much control in that much, um, ability to manage what we're using here and how we're using it.

spk_0:   15:07
Yeah, we were talking a little bit about this, you know, before we started recording here. And energy management. It's a journey, and it sounds like you know, you use you started with the foundation als with understanding the data, and now you guys are doing some really advanced awesome work. But I think the hardest part for people is figuring out where to start. Indeed. Yeah, that's really great. So when we're talking about your day to day workflow, um, what's your pattern of technology usage and that could be daily weekly er annually. How often are you using technology in your in your workload? It's

spk_1:   15:50
fairly continuous. Um, and as we said, you know, I've made a wholesale investment in getting my data all in one place. and therefore I'm able to use it really frequently so daily. I definitely am watching for alerts that my meters air having problems because the foundation of making her decisions is having good data and if the meters are failing. That, of course, puts a big gap in my ability to manage that. So I get daily alerts if meters are offline. That also includes if the wind turbine has a fault, which is something I always want to know right away on a weekly basis. I've set up some reports and dashboards that are automatically e mailed to me on Monday mornings so I can take a look at the last week's worth of energy use by building type and how that compares. And I can kind of get a sense for if things are changing, because the more I look at that data, if I look at it weekly, never really good gut instinct on what's normal and then I can immediately recognize when something is not normal. I'll give an example, which was I noticed one week in December, which is our winter break. All the students are gone. The chapel energy usage suddenly spiked up and made the chapel kind of, you know, one of our biggest energy users next to the science buildings. And I asked the maintenance department if they've noticed anything strange. And they said, Well, the, uh, community Children's Choir has their series of concerts during that time, so all the stage lighting is on for a couple days straight makes it s so it all made sense. But you know, the ability to catch that in real time so that no one has to really go way back in the archives to figure out what happened on that day. It was something that was fresh in their memory. I was able to get my question answered and move along. And you know, if there are issues where it's not a normal part of our programming, but rather an energy issue, our equipment malfunction, it's It's very valuable to catch those in real time, so that's happening kind of weekly. I'm getting those reports, and often I'm sending them to the maintenance department. And then, occasionally or frequently, you know, all set up dashboards, toe look at particular problems or particular questions. Um, I all I download data on call for requests from students and faculty and consultants that need energy data to do their work. And I, also on an annual basis, use a lot of the dashboards that I've created and the data visualizations thio insert into my annual reporting. And it's it's much quicker and easier to be ableto download a PNG file from the lucid system rather than create those in excel.

spk_0:   18:40
That's great. So you pensioned students and faculty in a some consultants that you have who are in the system. Um, how many users are actually have access to the data and you know, how do you track their behavior or do you track their behavior?

spk_1:   18:58
You know, I just had that question of the day, so I had the opportunity to look at it. I hadn't looked at it in quite some time, but I was. I was kind of pleased to see that I have 50 total users that would include me and of those users. Um, all but 10 of them had used it within the last year, and at least half of them had used it within the fall term that I was looking at it, um, so I can see the last time they logged in, which gave me confidence that it's being actively used our whole, um, with a group and on campus called the Energy Club. And so those students have been, most recently in there as well, a cz, my own students who are actually working on projects for me, a couple of professors and a few consultants that are working on building renovations and needed some demand data to understand. How do we, oh, design the renovation of the electrical system? So there's old is quite a variety of users using it for very different reasons, ranging from curiosity to engineering design. And they're using it at their own pace, which is something I really love, because I can get involved when I need to. But most of the time they can get what they need on their own.

spk_0:   20:14
That's so cool. Are they going in and making their own dashboards and graphs?

spk_1:   20:19
Some of them are. I would say, my students certainly are, because I'm making specific requests of them, and then a lot of the students, like the Energy Club, are using it in their weekly meetings, too. Think about projects or even just a za group learn about Carl's and energy data.

spk_0:   20:37
Really cool. So do your students that work for you are their aspirations to get into energy management or sustainability as well.

spk_1:   20:46
I certainly hope so. I have had a variety of students from many majors in arranging from political science to geology. They're not. There is no engineering program at Carlton, and I'm actually thankful that they're not all environmental studies students. Um, so they're coming at it from a variety of backgrounds, but I have had some that have done summer internships in, um, energy policy and law, and some have worked for utilities. So I know that some of them are really forming this tapestry, of course, work through their curriculum, actual applied work in my office, working at an energy management setting and then also going out into internships and adding to the experience working for something like a utility company. So I think that that that combination is really creating a well rounded student that I hope will be well prepared for the job market.

spk_0:   21:43
That's so great. So thinking about students, I know that you ah, Carleton College, you have some faculty who are using the tool in the classroom. Can you tell us a little bit more about that? Certainly,

spk_1:   21:56
that's that's a fun one for me because they're always surprising me with the ways that they're thinking of using the data. A lot of the requests that I get for access come from computer science and statistics who, what some sort of generic data set to use for an exercise. But they want they like that. It's related to Carlton. It's also more fun for the students sometimes to know that they're using data from their own dorm or their friends storm so they'll use it just for this. They'll use the data for the sake of data itself. Um, I also then have some physics classes, and I've had some environmental economics classes, et cetera, that have used the data for its content as energy data. And they've done some of their own visualizations and comparisons. Um, and a lot of what they're working with again is taking the theories of that our plight of physics or, uh, thermodynamics. And they're applying them to data sets that they're familiar with so that they can really see that data in action in the context of their own college.

spk_0:   23:03
That's so cool. I love, I love. I think that's such a untapped opportunity for Look, we have a ton of higher ed clients here, and only a handful them of them are using the tool in the classroom. And I think it's a really great opportunity to get real data sets into the hands of students. And you're right. They can dream up amazing things with a tool, which is really cool. Um, so I have one more. Have a couple more questions for you. Um, where do you think the industry is going?

spk_1:   23:38
It's a great question. And it's something that as an energy manager, I love to think about, um I think we're certainly the big data trend will continue, so there will continue to be the access the data and then the need to manage data and develop insights out of data. Um, what I'm looking forward to most of all, is this interplay between the demand side on the production side. So how much are we using and how can we reduce that? Then how are we producing energy and how can we make that cleaner or simpler or safer? Um, So I'm I'm sort of wouldn't say going quite as faras and micro grid here at Carlton. But looking at as we get more and more able to provide our own power, how does our relationship with the utility company change? How does their road man play out? Our particular utility, which is Excel Energy, has pledged to be carbon free to offer carbon free electricity by 2050. So something interesting there is. Well, now does that does that? How does that change Carlton's own carbon goals? If our utility is going to provide green electricity, do we want to wait that long or should we try to do some of our own? Uh huh. Of course, smart meters and storage are big. So as those and smart grids, as those concepts evolve, I think yet another layer will, um, layer of excitement will come to the energy management world is it's there now. But as those things become more marketable and more, um, accessible, it will become even more exciting.

spk_0:   25:17
It was an exciting future out of us. Well, Martha, I cannot thank you enough for being on our show and sharing your story with our audience. Um It's really great to see all the good work you've done it, Carlton. And I'm excited to see what you do next. I remember. Yes. And when we think about you know, all of our listeners out there coming from different backgrounds, different industries Um, what advice would you give to them when they want to think about implementing modern energy management practices at their organization? You

spk_1:   25:50
know, my number one advice is stay open minded and, um, positive about the future of energy management. Um, I know that a lot of us in the higher ed setting do sometimes struggle for understanding or approvals or funding. It's it's oftentimes a bit of a slower approval process than it can be in a corporate setting. But, um, I feel like the the lovely thing about higher ed, especially, is that we're in it for the long term. And so the decisions we make today are intended toe last 4 50 to 100 years, if not longer. So that's that's really my advice is play the long game and be open to ideas and willing to going t o stretch the boundaries in order to move into that era. That air of truly modern energy management.

spk_0:   26:48
I love that. And I want to emphasize your point on being optimistic about the future. Because, you know, doing this podcast has been a bit eye opening for me, hearing all the stories of people who are from cities and universities and corporate campuses who our working day in and day out to make a huge impact on the climate crisis. And it's really powerful. And it's exciting. I am really looking forward to seeing what our industry can d'oh um, in the space. So thanks again, Martha, for being on our show.

spk_1:   27:23
Thank you very much. Ever. It was a pleasure. I

spk_0:   27:26
hope you come back next year and tell us all about the good work that you have done in 2020.

spk_1:   27:32
I'm looking forward to it. Happy to do so.

spk_0:   27:35
Thank you so much. And for all of you listeners out there, um, Martha will be joining us, Um, on the smart energy decisions Webinar on December 17th at 10:30 a.m. Pacific time. So I will go ahead and link that in the, um the notes section of this podcast, if you are available, would be great to have you join us? Until then, this is the modern energy management podcast. We are available on all podcasting platforms. If you like what you hear, please be sure to subscribe. You can go to Modern Energy management dot Co to find links to Spotify apple stitcher all of the different podcasting platforms. We will be back next week with more great stories for you of modern energy management. Until then, have a great day.