SENSEI’s 2016 Year in Review

This has been a busy year for SENSEI. That’s a bit of an understatement, really. In the past 18 months the way data is collected, manipulated, stored, and retrieved has changed completely. But that’s not all! Administrative users also have a new toolbox to track and manage data, better ways to share and edit saved views, and a set of reports to make sure hardware devices in the field are operating correctly. This barely scratches the surface of the hard work performed by the development team, and the generous hours of support and feedback from the rest of Cascade and SENSEI customers.

SENSEI 3 Makes its Debut

The biggest achievement for SENSEI this year was the release of SENSEI 3. The major version change marked the transition to an entirely different data pipeline. This means that the path data travels from where it enters the system to where it is displayed to the user is brand new. The development team benefits from better tracking and error logging, as well as transparency and redundancy in the pipeline, but SENSEI users get the biggest benefit: increased speed! Initial tests showed that graphs in SENSEI 3 loaded up to ten times faster than before! Since then, small changes have reduced load times even further.

But the fun doesn’t stop there! Measurable data isn’t the only information stored in SENSEI; it also tracks metadata about measurables, sites, users, and more. This information has moved into the same faster architecture as the measurable data and is now accessed through “services”, which are small programs designed to do specific tasks. Generally, a service will retrieve information more quickly because it will only look at a small part of SENSEI rather than the entire dataset. New services are being added to SENSEI regularly as the migration to more modern systems continues.

Another powerful aspect of SENSEI 3 is the new calculation engine. This tool creates an environment where calculations can do just about anything as the library of operations expands. This release also necessitated a new interface for entering and editing calculations. Training users on this interface was an important part of the transition–one that is still ongoing. The writing style itself may be more verbose, but the increased speed and flexibility are worth the extra characters.

Other benefits of SENSEI 3 are the improvements to data tracking and monitoring, and redundancy in the system. Previously when a file arrived in SENSEI it would trigger a script that both transformed its content and put the data into a database. When something went wrong with this script no errors or warnings were given, and the file remained in limbo. Now an arriving file is given an ID and a series of scripts perform individual tasks that are tracked on a central dashboard. If one of these tasks fails to perform, the system produces a warning and may retry the file, depending on the type of error. There are multiple copies of each of these tasks so if one breaks, the system can continue to operate. This prevents the single point of failure in the old system.

Finally, SENSEI 3 is built from the ground up to be modular, scalable, flexible, and replaceable. The world of software is changing more rapidly than ever before and SENSEI needs to be able to adapt and leverage new technology to deliver the best user experience possible. It also needs to be ready to integrate new tools and features so they feel like they were always part of SENSEI, not something stuck on the end. And perhaps most importantly, bugs and other issues need to be easy to diagnose and as simple as possible to solve without affecting the entire system.

Administrative Toolbox Gets a Power-up

SENSEI’s Administrative users are the heart and soul of the software. They are expert users and like to push the boundaries of what is possible. This helps inform and drive SENSEI’s development. As a combined development and operations team SENSEI must balance multiple priorities, which can lead to delays in addressing customer service requests. To help administrative users diagnose and resolve issues on their own, SENSEI released a number of tools that allow self-service auditing of various systems in SENSEI. They range from data tracking to meter health to saved view management.

With the number of hardware devices in the field rapidly approaching the thousands, and a team of four to keep track of everything, the need for meter health and down hardware was growing. Enter a set of reports that cover: days since last reported point, gaps between values, periods where only zeros were reported, and values that lie well outside the expected range. Now there is one location to check if there are any issues with Cascade’s installed devices, which: reduces downtime, decreases issues discovered by end users, and streamlines error checking. On top of these reports, SENSEI has a new endpoint for devices sending data to its servers. It gathers information about the device itself and can communicate when settings change or errors occur. Full transition of devices pointing to this location is ongoing.

Saved views are the driving force in SENSEI’s Explore tool. Every SENSEI customer has a set of views that show energy consumption in their facility. Most of these views are shared among many users, having originally been created by an administrative user. If one of these views needed to change, the administrative user would have to delete that view, create a new view, and re-share that view with the end users. This year SENSEI introduced the saved view edit tool, which allows a user to edit a saved view directly, including with whom the view is shared. The user can even create multi-axis plots that are not accessible through Explore.

Finally, when SENSEI 3 added tracking for data processing, administrative users needed a tool to audit this information and reprocess any data that did not succeed. The file status tool surfaces all incoming files and is searchable by source, date, name, and more. This allows users to see, for example, if a customer has uploaded this month’s production data, or why a particular file failed to import. Once a file imports into SENSEI it is broken into individual data points and processed through a series of operations. The operations report lets the user follow a particular point to see how the values on the graph are determined.

Permissions to Land

Possibly the most important feature of SENSEI? Making sure users can only see what they are allowed to see. If SENSEI doesn’t get this right, nothing else matters. The original permissions system was very simple and easy for the administrative users to manage. However, it made many assumptions based on what it was given, and the possibility for mismatched permissions increased as the complexity of customer data and feature requirements grew.

A new permissions system would need to be both flexible and easy to use; two requirements seemingly in direct conflict! In addition, it would need to support the current method of permissions during the transition period. The system that emerged is indeed quite complex, but by defining user roles, default relationships, and rules for inheritance, the administrative user sees a simple UI and needs only know the definitions of the roles to assign the desired permissions to their customer users. The complexity of the system allows developers to create relationships that mimic the old system to satisfy the transition requirements.

While the new permissions system is already in place, it is not yet implemented across all of SENSEI. The implementation process will continue through 2017 as additional SENSEI modules are rebuilt to support it. It is currently applied to all the new administrative tools described in the previous section, and will be supported in all new pages going forward.

Not to Mention …

While SENSEI offers numerous ways to view customer data, sometimes more flexibility is required to show the information a customer needs. To accomplish this, SENSEI sends data to a reporting database where the schema can better support specific reports created in 3rd party software platforms. This Extract, Transform, Load (ETL) process runs frequently enough to keep the reports updated, but due to its long runtime cannot run as frequently as the data arrives, usually every 15 minutes. With the release of SENSEI 3, the ETL runtime decreased dramatically. This opened opportunities for optimization that did not exist before, as well as the ability to run tasks more frequently.

Besides the new tools in the SENSEI toolbox, administrators also have a set of existing tools to manage customer metadata, such as user, site, and company details. These pages have been the same since SENSEI’s initial release, but with all the changes to the software since then it was time for an update. This also coincided with the deployment of the new permissions system, which needs to be deeply integrated with any administrative tools. While still under development, the new administrative pages have a brand new look and feel to them and are full of more ways to connect with customer information. They will make metadata management a breeze once completed, and streamline new site and company creation.

Here’s to a Great 2017

This year had a clear focus on administrative users. These folks help Cascade’s customers understand their data and get the most out of SENSEI. Without them many customers would be lost in an unfamiliar software platform, surrounded by scary graphs and endless streams of data. That is why SENSEI developed new tools to make administrators’ lives easier, allowing them to better serve the customer. This theme will continue through the beginning of 2017 as the rest of the metadata management administrative pages are upgraded. However, there are big plans for customer-facing modules in SENSEI as well! Updates to Act and Manage are both in the pipeline, and new Dashboards are high in everybody’s mind.

The SENSEI team was sad to say goodbye to three of its members in 2016, but happy to welcome a new face as well! Good developers who share Cascade’s values are hard to come by, but clearly they are out there. In fact, the SENSEI team is currently hiring! Check out the link at the bottom of the page for more information.

A New, Improved Version of SENSEI has Launched

Cascade Energy’s software team recently flipped the switch on SENSEI 3.0. This is a MAJOR milestone that instantaneously improves the SENSEI end-user experience. SENSEI 3.0 puts Cascade’s team in the perfect position to accelerate future development and provide deeper benefits to SENSEI customers. 

Here’s a look at some of the key enhancements that come with SENSEI 3.0:

  • Improved performance. SENSEI 3.0 is much faster. In fact, we’d go so far as to say, it’s “lightning fast!” We are employing extremely fast database techniques and leveraging Amazon Web Services which allows for amazing, parallel processing and speed improvements. 
  • Longer login timeout. The login timeout has been extended to 12 hours.
  • Easier data management. “Measurement Data Edit” now offers a “range delete,” option allowing administrators increased ability to manage their facility data.
  • All new calculations service. The calculations engine is faster and allows for more expressive and powerful formula building.
  • Upsampling. You can now view data at an interval that is more granular than the source data. For example, daily data can be viewed as hourly.

We hope you enjoy SENSEI 3.0! Please let us know if you have any questions or concerns, as we continue to evolve and improve the SENSEI experience.

Cascade Energy Included in Navigant Research Report on Energy Management Information Systems

A new report from Navigant Research examines the global market for industrial energy management information systems, segmented by software and services, with forecasts for revenue by region, through 2024. Cascade is identified as a key energy player in the engineering service company sector. Due to increasing customer demand for EMIS software and services, Navigant projects this market will grow aggressively during the next decade. Read the executive summary here: http://www.navigantresearch.com/research/industrial-energy-management-systems To order the full report contact Navigant Research at research-sales@navigant.com.

OSI Partners with Cascade to Expand Energy Program

Cascade Energy  announced an agreement with OSI, a world leader in providing quality products and custom solutions for the food industry, in support of OSI’s plan to deepen their energy efficiency efforts and expand their single-facility pilot program into five additional plants.

In 2013, Cascade and OSI launched a pilot program at OSI’s Oakland, IA facility that involved: 

  • Setting up an energy measurement, tracking, benchmarking, and reporting system.
  • Performing a tune up on the facility’s refrigeration, compressed air, and high-pressure water pump systems.
  • Delivering a final report, listing action items to be implemented.
  • Engaging OSI site staff to assist with the action item implementation.
  • Reviewing system performance to drive additional energy savings.

Cascade introduced SENSEI to OSI engineers and operators. SENSEI incorporates real-time energy use, production, and weather data to provide visibility into true energy performance. At the Oakland site, OSI used SENSEI to assign, record, and track action items and monitor the resulting energy savings.

During the course of the initial tune up, and after observing Cascade’s engineers walk through the OSI facility and quickly identify sources of inefficiency, OSI Oakland General Manager Mike Koranda responded, “I want our operators and technicians to be able to spot any other possible system inefficiencies and fixes like that!” Cascade developed a two-day industrial refrigeration best practices training program specifically for the OSI team to impart thorough knowledge of the system and give them the ability to propose appropriate solutions for their facility.

As of November 2014, OSI Oakland has saved over four million kWh and over $295,000. Based on the success of the training and tune up results at the Oakland plant, OSI is excited to roll out a three-year program to five more facilities in Illinois, Wisconsin and Utah. Cascade and OSI will work together to help meet OSI’s company-wide goal of 10% energy intensity reduction by 2020.

OSI will focus on developing:

  • Executive support and commitment
  • Site-specific energy goals
  • Dedicated roles and responsibilities for program implementation at each site
  • Program performance monitoring through energy key performance indicators

Cascade will provide support for the program in the form of:

  • Onsite energy efficiency tune-ups that identify and implement low/no-cost energy savings opportunities
  • Training on refrigeration system best practices
  • Cascade’s proprietary energy management information software, SENSEI
  • Technical support over the three-year program to help facilitate continuous improvement

“OSI is taking an aggressive and comprehensive approach to energy management,” said Cascade Energy CEO Marcus Wilcox. “We are excited to build on the success of the Oakland facility, and look forward to our continued partnership, working side-by-side with the OSI team, to strategically manage energy costs.”

Assessment on Industrial Energy Software Released

SENSEI was mentioned in a very positive light in a new report on energy management information systems (EMIS).

The Verdantix report, Smart Innovators: Industrial Energy Management Software is based on interviews with 127 energy directors at industrial firms and energy software applications from 16 suppliers.

The report discusses some of the key energy  issues facing large industrial enterprises today, and articulates how an effectiveEMIS can help minimize the impact of increasing energy costs.The report notes that the most “holistic” EMIS solutions will enable enterprise resource planning, asset management, and energy management; and describes “five factors firms must consider when assessing solutions.”

Verdantix interviewed Cascade’s VP of Products, Dan Brown, as well as a variety of other industrial energy management software suppliers, to understand the challenges in the industry today and how suppliers are addressing them.

A New England Ski Resort Installs SENSEI

As a participant in a utility-sponsored strategic energy management (SEM) cohort in New England, a local ski resort has taken on the ambitious goal of achieving a 15% reduction in energy use. One of the biggest energy hogs at the resort involves snow making. SENSEI will help create a Snow Making Energy Index to assist the resort in managing their electricity costs.

  • Includes 50+ data points from total energy consumption down to individual pump and air compressor operation
  • Points include kW, amps, water flow (GPM), water pressure (PSI), air flow (SCFM), air pressure (PSI), ambient temperature (WB°F), and snow gun operation

The resort is also focused on reducing electrical and propane consumption at their lodging facilities and the athletic center which includes tennis courts, pool, spa, and fitness center. To make their efforts at reducing consumption more effective, each building at the resort will have a regression model uploaded to SENSEI.

Currently the resort has 132 projects listed in SENSEI, including a compressed air leak detection audit on the over 75 miles of pipe buried throughout the mountain.

Cascade Energy is supplying hardware, integration and SENSEI software to support the effort.

We the People … Can Save Energy

 

When we started thinking about building an energy management information system (EMIS) it wasn’t the act of building a software product that spurred our interest, it was the people using it.

We believe that, at its heart, industrial energy management is about people. And that a great EMIS should be built around supporting people with information, education, and motivation.

When we built SENSEI we had in mind that it would function as an information hub that would give people:

  • The ability to manage performance and cost
  • The opportunity to track progress with cause and effect visibility
  • A place to record or upload all manner of program or project documentation

We wanted SENSEI to be a place of collaboration, where people can learn by:

  • Recording or resourcing ideas and drawing inspiration
  • Tracking action item lists
  • Offering suggestions or help

And then we wanted our platform to be a place for motivation that would offer:

  • Benchmarking capability for a single facility, or between multiple sites across an enterprise
  • Potential for inspiring friendly competition between facilities or DSM program cohorts
  • Clear links between actions taken and savings achieved

Operators, engineers, managers, energy champions, CEOs—everyone, at every level of a company, needs to have the right information and tools to effectively manage energy.

People want to know where to go for information; they want to understand what’s expected of them and to be able to connect actions to energy savings. When people can see positive results derived from their actions, then there’s a much better chance of engagement, and alignment across a single team and the entire company.

Industrial EMIS Minimum Elements: Does SENSEI Have What It Takes?

Utility demand-side management programs are increasingly interested in energy management information systems (EMIS). Why is that?  One leading indicator is the number of strategic energy management (SEM) programs being piloted across North America. At Cascade, we are familiar with around 20 current SEM programs and pilot programs, up from the single-digits just a few years ago.

With SEM programs comes the desire to measure savings over and above that which is achieved from SEM-implemented capital projects. The problem is that claiming SEM savings is probably the biggest barrier to deeper adoption of SEM today. One of the ways utilities are recognizing SEM savings today is through EMIS software.

SENSEI has proven an effective SEM software platform – with support from nine programs and counting. One of the many reasons for this is SENSEI’s ability to robustly track savings. In industrial, a custom-fit top-down energy model must be created in order to “measure” facility-wide energy savings from SEM. Accommodating these models is one threshold for an EMIS to pass muster in industrial and large commercial applications.

Last week I attended the Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE) Industry Partners Meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah. There, the Industrial SEM committee discussed minimum elements required for industrial EMIS. I was honored to sit on the panel discussing EMIS in this context.

Framing the issue was a recently released study on industrial EMIS commissioned by NEEA (Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance). This study looked at 43 EMIS systems, narrowing the field down to six qualified candidates. The study is definitely worth a read, for anyone interested in industrial EMIS. The study outlined minimum requirements, and these requirements were in alignment with CEE’s draft minimal elements document. We all had the chance to consider what makes an EMIS successful. Here are some key takeaways.

The categories of value an EMIS should provide to SEM programs:

  1. Streamlined, lower cost tools for measurement and verification of savings
  2. Increased energy savings, and savings persistence from SEM
  3. Improved customer service and engagement
  4. Cost-effective scalability of SEM – to support more participants, over more time, at all facility sizes

During the discussion I suggested the scalability category – we have found it to be an important element that mature SEM programs see as critical to wide adoption of SEM practices. We’ll see if the broader group of CEE utility members agrees.

As EMIS meets these demands for programs, SEM will be easier to justify, and will be better prepared to pass muster with evaluators and regulators. This may lead to a wholesale rethinking of M&V. The SENSEI team and Cascade Energy are excited to see how this unfolds.

SENSEI and MINUS40 Join Forces to Create Energy Efficiency Synergy Down Under

According to that wellspring of Internet knowledge, Wikipedia, the word “synergy” refers to the “interaction of multiple elements in a system to produce an effect different from or greater than the sum of their individual effects.” In short, good things happen when great companies join forces.We’ve recently teamed up with a refrigeration consulting and design engineering firm, out of Sydney, Australia, MINUS40. We’re very excited about this venture and the chance to meet some new “mates” and deliver even more comprehensive services to customers down under.MINUS40 specializes in refrigeration, process cooling, and industrial HVAC and heat recovery systems. They offer full project development services, from concept to completion including engineering design, energy audits and feasibility studies, measurement and verification as well as project management and implementation support.

SENSEI is an essential software component of any energy management program that:

  • Measures energy use, calculates and tracks savings, and reports results
  • Offers anytime, anywhere access to energy data via push reports, alerts, and alarms
  • Promotes communication and collaboration between staff through instant sharing of project status, actions, documents, and reports

Both Cascade Energy and MINUS40 are committed to delivering profitable sustainability through sound system design, and effective energy-management tools and programs that drive ongoing energy and cost savings our customers can count on over the long haul.Cascade recently opened up an office in the UK, and we consider our partnership with MINUS40 in Australia a great opportunity to expand our horizons even more. If you’d like to learn more please contact the folks at Cascade Energy and SENSEI at:

  • North America 866.321.4573
  • UK +44.0.203.289.3744

MINUS40 can be reached in Australia at 02.8850.4811 or via their website: www.minus40.com.au

Energy Management in a Heartbeat

Energy Management EKG
A few days ago I was on the phone with a colleague, who mentioned an off-the-cuff comment he overheard our CEO, Marcus Wilcox make. Marcus was talking about a presentation we were putting together for a client. The presentation showed images from our energy tracking software, SENSEI’s user interface, including a screenshot showing interval data. Marcus said, “Look at this. This is the heartbeat of their company. They’re going to want to see this.”

At the time, I laughed with my colleague and agreed that it was a cool image and the data really did look like an EKG. Then, my own heart skipped a beat, when my co-worker said, “Hey we should come up with a new tagline for SENSEI. Something like: SENSEI—it’s the heartbeat of your company—or your energy management program…”

Long story, short, I ran the idea by our marketing manager, who pretty much shot it down, saying we already had a perfectly good tagline for SENSEI: Your Energy ROI Starts Here—and we shouldn’t go changing it up on a whim. But I can’t get it out of my head. I think the metaphor really holds true. After all, energy is at the heart of any industrial facility. If the health or success of a company depends, in part, on how effectively it uses energy, then energy monitoring becomes extremely important.

Traditionally many companies went to their utility bills to review their energy spend, which certainly painted a picture of the high cost of energy (probably giving more than a few CEOs heart palpitations.) But, the utility bill survey doesn’t come close to answering the question: How can we manage energy better?

Another approach involves energy monitoring in a spreadsheet and tracking meter data at regular intervals to get some idea of month-to-month or year-over-year trends. But, while that approach permits entry of multiple sets of energy data, it doesn’t drill down to specific information around what’s working and what’s not.

To gain deeper insight into the health of your facilities you need interval data monitoring. Interval data is the EKG equivalent, showing the heartbeat of your facility, while monitoring via monthly bill tracking is more like taking your pulse once a month.

Most basic energy tracking software solutions provide access to interval data and automated reporting features that make it easier to report and share data with key stakeholders. More information shared with more people with less effort is a good thing.

But then, once you get into interval data monitoring adding a predicative energy model, created through statistical analysis, can help you gain a much deeper knowledge of the true health of your energy management program.

Predicted energy modeling provides a valuable window into your facility’s energy performance and accumulated savings over time. The model helps to identify and account for key energy drivers, such as weather and production, so the impact of other changes can be measured to give you an accurate picture of the health of your systems and your energy savings tracked over time.

SENSEI takes the basic energy EKG and predictive model one step further by tagging specific events. (What doctor wouldn’t want to look at an advanced EKG and see the history of his or her patient’s actions? This is where you stopped smoking. And this is what happened after you ate that “Widow Maker” burger at Claim Jumper.)

energy tracking software

Integrating event tagging with facility interval data and a predictive model showing your cumulative energy gains offers a complete picture of your facility’s energy use. When all energy-saving activities are tagged on the graph like a time stamp, you can zero in on what’s driving the increased efficiency. Conversely, if specific actions have a negative impact on energy efficiency, they can be quickly identified and corrected.

This powerful view, combined with a robust energy management program that includes operations and maintenance (O&M) actions and capital improvement measures, is a tremendous motivational tool for staff. It also provides justification to upper management that you have an energy efficiency program worth investing in—one that will help your company thrive for years to come.