The Key to Efficiency is Good Data–And Challenges Remain

May 17, 2016 By Carl Weinschenk

dataGood and deep data is the key to energy efficiency. This, in turn, drives savings and is important in creating a better image for the organization. However, it is surprising how manual the billing and energy data processes remain.

Many companies are struggling with the transition. The bottom line is that old tools — which are challenged in achieving these goals – are common. Just how common was illustrated in a survey released last week by Urjanet. This, according to Urjanet Director of Marketing Adam Bowers, is not good news. “That’s the key takeaway,” he said. “By using outdated methods it’s impossible to see how well the company is doing.”

The online survey included responses from almost 200 energy executives in the United States. The results are telling. It found that while more than half want to conduct renewable or efficiency projects, four in ten still rely on paper utility bills and 51 percent input energy data into spreadsheets.

A number of other statistics from the survey – many of which speak to the challenges of harnessing data for energy projects – are available in Urjanet’s press release. For instance, 44 percent said that the most inefficient step in their energy management process is “gathering or organizing energy consumption and cost data by site and meter.” This is significant because it suggests that the bottleneck is at the beginning of the process. Therefore, any subsequent effort – even if it is performed efficiently – has little hope of achieving the desired goals.

Another telling statistic from the survey is how many companies rely on an antiquated tool. “Thirty-one percent say that Microsoft Excel is the technology that they value most as part of their energy management efforts,” Bowers said. “That is still a huge reliance on tools that are not a fit for these large sets of data…Using Excel to try to manage thousands and thousands of utility accounts is limiting visibility into the performance of corporate sustainability initiatives.”

The result is clear: The first step toward modern energy management – and the savings that come with it – is to upgrade the measurement of data. “You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” said Sanjoy Malik, Urjanet’s CEO. “You can’t use outdated processes for managing utility spend and energy use. They present a lot of problems in reaching sustainability and energy management goals.”

The companies that are struggling with the transition are not just small and medium in size, Malik said. He noted that multinationals with thousands of locations are mired in the old system. Clearly, the bigger the problem the more is at stake – and the harder it is to switch gears.

Things are changing, however, Malik said. The desire to save money and act in a green and responsible manner are contributing factors. The biggest single driver, however, is an old one: Companies, like people, move from paying lip service to an idea to actually implementing it due to peer pressure. “When competitors go green and sustainable and you are not you start getting feedback from customers,” Malik said.

The move away from highly manual processes that reveal only superficial data of limited value and automated, deep and near real-time systems is being pushed by the demands of owners and investors and pressure from outside forces. The evidence of the impact is the growth of the role of chief sustainability officer and sections of annual reports and other documents dedicated to sustainability.

Data acquisition platforms are enablers of this new sensibility. There are, of course, many approaches. Urjanet offers one. Descriptions of, and links to, many others can be found at Capterra.

*Don’t miss our Environmental Leader 2016 Conference in June.  Click Here.

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