There’s no question that energy efficiency is on a hot streak right now. With Opower recently filing for an IPO and Google announcing its acquisition of Nest Labs, the energy efficiency market is at a pivotal turning point. While some of the largest marketplace innovations and success stories in recent months have come from energy efficiency initiatives in the residential space, I believe we’re about to see energy savings really take off in the commercial sector (which has more than double the savings potential as its residential counterpart) as utilities and service providers increasingly utilize next-generation technologies to target and enable efficiency opportunities at scale.
One of the largest recent breakthroughs in commercial efficiency is advanced analytics of meter data. The United States is currently sitting on a mountain of largely unused consumption data that can provide tremendous insight into how our buildings are designed and operate. The benefits of utilizing analytics to systematically crunch this data and provide customized insights are myriad—lower costs, faster speeds, and increased scalability—but an often overlooked benefit is the potential impact that rigorous data methods can have on standardizing how energy performance is evaluated.
Currently, many utilities and building operators rely on the expertise of individual auditors to analyze their buildings’ energy use. While on-site audits remain an important part of the efficiency equation, they also introduce a very real component of variability in terms of energy use measurement. This challenge was made evident in a recent study conducted by the DOE’s Energy Efficient Buildings Hub (EEB Hub), which brought three on-site auditing firms to its headquarters to determine the potential for energy reduction. The three auditing teams arrived at three distinctly different conclusions for how the building should be upgraded, even disagreeing on some basic improvements around lighting and cooling systems. These discrepancies can be the result of differences in auditors’ experience, modeling techniques and, in some cases, motivations. As a result, utilities and their commercial customers may not have the go-to information they need to make updates that will realistically increase their buildings’ energy efficiency.
This is where remote energy audits can begin to impact the energy performance game. By conducting deep and technically validated analysis of a building’s historical meter data, remote audits have the potential to eliminate subjectivity and cut straight to the building’s actual energy performance. With the addition of inputs such as hourly weather, square footage, and other publicly available information, some analytics platforms can consistently analyze key data to ensure a repeatable, reliable approach.
Utilities and government agencies appreciate the standardized approach because of the cost, speed, and scalability that remote audits offer. But they are also starting to see real value in approaches that analyze every building the same way. Comparable outputs enable true apples-to-apples comparisons of building energy performance compared to peer buildings, which enables a level of accurate segmentation, targeting, and engagement that traditional methods fail to provide.
Building energy performance standardization can also provide a means to accelerate the market for energy efficiency investments. The financing community is often wary to put down money for energy efficiency enhancements without precise data to back up their value. With standardized information, however, investors begin to feel more comfortable that the risk they are shouldering is commensurate with the actual savings opportunity that exists in the building or across small portfolios of buildings.
While there will always be a place for on-site audits, the key to a bright energy efficiency future is to leverage the advanced technologies at our disposal that can transform key parts of the sector. By relying on the consistent and accurate outputs of deep data analytics, combined with experienced onsite investigations where specifically needed, utilities, governments, and building operators will be able to drastically slash energy consumption and its associated costs—further spurring increased energy efficiency worldwide.
Swap Shah is CEO of FirstFuel. With the addition of inputs such as hourly weather, square footage, and other publicly available information, FirstFuel’s Remote Building Analytics platform was able to offer end-use comparisons, operational savings, and consistent findings in the above EEB Hub example to uncover 22% savings potential for electricity and a 15% savings potential for gas across eight efficiency measures.