Utilities Database

Case Study

Background

In fiscal year 2010-11, the University of California spent $281 million at its ten campuses and five medical centers on utilities such as natural gas, electricity and water, accounting for nearly half of the University’s total $582 million in operations and maintenance expenditures. The University has more than 5,000 separate utility accounts and thousands more campus sub-meters used to recharge individual departments. Utility usage is tracked on a campus-by-campus or department-by-department basis, obscuring the relationship between consumption with expense. Campuses use a variety of methods to track and recharge utilities, many of which are antiquated and unwieldy.

To modernize utility billing and provide consumers with a better understanding of their consumption patterns, UC’s Office of the President recommended and campus Vice Chancellors approved in 2008 the purchase of a systemwide utility database, EnergyCAP, with the understanding that campuses would cover the implementation costs.

So far one campus, UC San Francisco, has implemented EnergyCAP and now uses the system to manage its utility bills. Additionally five campuses and one medical center have begun implementation and are in various states of completion.

Goal

By implementing a systemwide utilities database, the University will harness its consumption data and provide a streamlined process for recharging and payment of utility bills. The systemwide database is expected to offer a variety of benefits, including:

• Bill Auditing: When linked with accounts payable, the database will enhance campuses’ and/or departments’ ability to monitor bills and consumption data for errors and irregularities.
• Bill Processing: EnergyCAP will streamline the process for paying utility bills at both the campus and systemwide level. The accounts payable process will be simplified by having all campuses able to use a single interface for electronic billing and payment.
• Benchmarking: A fully implemented utility database will track energy usage down to the building level. With building-by-building consumption data available, the University gains a better understanding of utility use by building type and can address over consumption in a timely manner.
• Budgeting: With a large database that takes into account the effects of weather and building usage, campuses will be able to generate more accurate budgets from year-to-year and integrate information from new and/or refurbished buildings more easily.

Successes

The initial implementation of EnergyCAP was as a systemwide import of utility bills directly from utility vendors. This import provided for the first time a comprehensive view of the University’s utility consumption and costs. A second import is in process that will provide critical utility data up to December 2011. During the course of the initial bill import it was discovered that the Irvine Medical Center had paid $300,000 more on their water bill than was due.

As the first implementer, UC San Francisco enjoys the administrative efficiencies of robust functionality. Utility data is centrally available to both the facilities department and its recharge clients. EnergyCAP streamlines an extremely complex billing process by automatically paying bills and recharging clients through the campus accounts payable system and calculating consumption and utility charges, including markups and line losses.

Challenges
UC campuses are extraordinarily complex entities, both in terms of accounting and metering. Integrating all campus meters and billing accounts has proven to be a long and tedious process. Despite the fact that EnergyCAP will ultimately reduce the staff time required for utility management, campuses find it difficult to deploy sufficient staff resources for implementation, particularly where budget cutbacks have reduced staff. For example there are 2,000 sub-meters at UC San Diego, each one of which needs to be linked to the building and accounts it serves as well as the upstream meter serving it. Some campuses also have legacy accounting systems that make it difficult to implement electronic bill paying.

Initial Investment
Initial system development began in 2008 and is expected to run through December 2014. The project has a $907,000 upfront cost for the software, paid for by UCOP. Campus implementation costs vary with the complexity of the implementation; fees are not to exceed $60,000 per campus and $20,000 per medical center. Additionally there is a $7,000 per year software maintenance fee for each campus using the system. Bill processing is also available through EnergyCAP with variable fees based upon the billing method and structure.

Fiscal results, current and anticipated
While the total savings is unknown, it is anticipated that the purchased utilities database will help UC avoid significant costs. For example:
• It has been estimated that structured reviews of utility bills could save the University 1-2% of our annual energy bills. One important impetus for purchasing the EnergyCAP software was the potential cost savings from catching billing errors. For instance, a review of PG&E billings early on showed that campuses had paid $600,000 in taxes from which they are exempt. We also expect savings from being able to use Utility data to pinpoint when a particular building is using resources poorly (e.g. energy inefficiency), allowing us to prioritizing maintenance, retrofits and related projects to make timely improvements.
• Staff time will be saved and redirected by automating the accounts payable systems.
Current action and next steps
The University has purchased EnergyCAP software, with a license that lasts in perpetuity and does not limit the number of users. EnergyCAP now has utility data from 2008 through 2011, providing an important baseline about the University’s utility usage and cost. The utility database is operational at UCSF and will be soon be fully implemented at UC San Diego. UC Merced, Davis, Riverside, and Berkeley have begun implementation and other campuses are expected to soon follow.

Concluding statement
The University has a compelling need to manage its purchased utilities in a coherent and efficient way. A systemwide utilities database provides cost savings through bill auditing and administrative efficiencies. It provides the data needed to budget for utilities, enhance our sustainability programs, and to plan for future systemwide utility purchases, especially for our energy needs.