The importance of database accuracy

Why do you want an Energy Bureau?

When asking our customers “Why do you want an Energy Bureau?” we would always anticipate the answer to be the identification of savings, and monetary returns from suppliers. However, in recent years the trends have changed – instead of the highest priority solely being on cash returns, we have seen that customers equally value the Energy Reporting that is produced by our Energy Bureau service. This is of course reflective of customers’ drive to bring down energy usage (cost and carbon), as well as the ever increasing legislative requirements that customers find themselves having to adhere to.

Accuracy in Reporting

Reporting is only as valuable as its key ingredient: accuracy. Why report on energy if the information is inaccurate? It is understood that there is a risk of errors when energy suppliers produce and issue utility bills. If these errors aren’t identified, then the inaccuracies will never be put right, and could be ongoing until such time that they are highlighted. T this means that an organisation could be over paying (or even sometimes under paying), but also it means that the information that is disseminated from your organisation is not reflective of the true picture.

Managing your portfolio

What is actually meant by accurate data? Utility invoices can be difficult to understand and interrogate with so many intricacies and industry terms used, but there are also more high level issues that can affect an organisation. For instance, if the supply address is incorrectly recorded, then how does an organisation know whether they are actually paying for the correct site or not? Of course there are tools at your disposal, such as an accurate asset register to help identify your meters, but when you are conversing with a utility company over any queries there can be a stumbling block if the site you are referencing differs from the site name on their system. Straight away, there is a tangible benefit to undertaking a matching exercise between your own portfolio data and the data held by your supplier. This problem is multiplied indefinitely when considering a customer that hold accounts for several tenants or end users.

Where to look first…

Within our Energy Bureau we typically inherit a customer’s own asset register (site names, meters, MPANs etc.) to set up a database. One of the key checks that we undertake is ensuring that the suppliers are using the same data as the data we hold. Once we are confident this is correct, we can start moving on to the nitty gritty of the portfolio and billing details.

Consumption and cost data are the most likely areas of inaccuracy that customers experience – there are other areas of potential as well, such as the meter factors being used, the CCL & VAT rates or even the seemingly obvious, like dates of invoices following on.

Looking back

Sometimes a customer will ask us to check over a period of their historic utility billing, especially if it hasn’t been interrogated in the past. Dependent on how intensively this data has been looked at previously, there is potential for us to try and correct historical billing and gain those important cash returns. Just as importantly though, it means that a supplier will re-submit the consumption data, meaning that any reporting that references historical data is put right.

Benchmarking and budgeting

Going back to the point of reporting, one of our most popular reports for customers looks at Year on Year comparisons. Again, these hold little value if what you are comparing with or against is not accurate.

Often this data is not just used for our point of contact (typically, the Energy/Estates Manager) but is also fed through to other users post our involvement. For instance, it is common for the Finance department to have a keen interest in the data, and nearly all of our customers have an obligation to provide their energy data ‘further up the chain’. To later amend information supplied to senior management because of inaccuracies not identified at the time can cause embarrassment to all parties, in the case of legislative reporting this can have a much more serious impact.

Accuracy for energy legislation

Some of the most fundamental energy related reporting that we are involved with the UK energy legislation and compliance requirements; including Carbon Reduction Commitmment (CRC), Greenhouse Gas Reporting (GHG), Display Energy Certificates (DECs), Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs). With significant cost liabilities against CRC, customers require the most accurate data possible. With every tonne of carbon costing the customer more, they need to have confidence that their datasets are accurate. When the submissions are signed off at the highest level within the organisation, it is imperative to our users that we provide the information in a timely and accurate manner.

Achieving accuracy

What steps can be taken to achieve energy data accuracy? There are the obvious and sometimes expensive routes that an energy management team can go down. AMR data is becoming increasingly popular, albeit not always 100% accurate and we still see examples of suppliers not using the data for billing, as well as the configuration issues that customers encounter if their meter is not compatible with their new energy supplier. However, meter readings are still prevalent and ultimately it can be dictated by the end user as to when they are taken and submitted. Again though, these do not ensure actual billing as suppliers are often unable to bill to the data of the read, and still accrue an end value.

Consistency – regularly review your data

Accuracy takes time. Reporting on your data can often ensure that anomalies are highlighted – comparing one month to the next is a simple way of looking at costs and consumption, as well as comparisons to previous years. Of course this requires an accurate benchmark for comparison, a line in the sand.

Speaking of benchmarking, any ‘normalisation’ data that your organisation has access to can help with accuracy. If you know how many beds are in a hospital; how many workers in an office block; how many computers in a data centre; then you can start to find industry averages to compare against. Any sites or meters that do not correlate to expected usage are a good place to start looking for inaccuracies.

How we do it

We have a team of staff who are skilled in interpreting the data and looking for potential issues. With access to the right Monitoring and Targeting (M&T) tools, the checking for accuracy becomes a lot easier. We are fortunate to customise our validation rules by site, by organisation, by seasonality and more.

When these are configured correctly they are a great automated check against any datasets, but goes hand in hand with our team of staff who are skilled in interpreting the data and looking for potential issues.

Find out more about the TEAM Energy Bureau service.

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