Utilities Reaching Out Through Analytics

May 31, 2016 By Carl Weinschenk

analyticsBuilding management systems, energy management systems and similar software-based tools and platforms clearly create efficiencies and save money. The ways in which they do this are growing more innovative. It’s all good.

But not everyone makes the decision to deploy these tools. Building management may lack the funding or the desire to deploy sensors and supporting hardware and software to collect and analyze data. While few would argue that EMS and BSM technology are not winners, they are ambitious projects that are not atop every building manager’s lengthy to-do list.

A growing approach is for the utilities themselves to mine bills to create consumption profiles that reveal where steps can be taken by the homeowner or building manager. Such efforts are not new, of course. Utilities always push for efficiencies. However, Navigant Research suggests that such initiatives are emerging as a distinct category.

Brett Feldman, a Principal Research Analyst for the firm, released a report earlier this month that looks at the topic. Behavioral and analytic demand side management (DSM) approaches, he said, straddle the consumer and business/commercial sides. On the consumer side, the end product could be emails or social media messages suggesting that a certain part of the home’s energy usage is above average for the neighborhood and suggest way to address the problem.

In the commercial and industrial sector, the tools can identify buildings that are using too much energy. The idea isn’t that perusal of bills should replace on-site energy audits. Instead, they can point to which buildings or building portfolios are good candidates for such audits.

Together, the consumer and commercial/industrial behavioral and analytic demand side management sector will be potent: Last year, $214.7 million was spent on these efforts. The annual spending will reach $2.4 billion in 2024. In all, Navigant forecasts that $9.4 billion will be spent on behavioral and analytical DSM during the period.

In general, the category puts the emphasis on people, not technology. “The idea as opposed to going out and changing the physical infrastructure – the lights or the HVAC [for instance] – it is about giving the customer information.”

The bills can tell an important story, Feldman said. “They can very accurately estimate a building’s usage both on a holistic basis and disaggregation — breaking it out based on the data without going on site,” he said. “They can, for instance, tell the building owner that 30 percent of the bill is going lighting, 25 percent to HVAC and so own. It has shown to be very accurate and cost effective way to assess customer data instead of flying blind.”

This can be used by the utility as screening tool to determine which building or doing a good job and which need to step their game. “[Analytic DSM tools] can look at whole portfolio, which may be thousands of buildings,” he said. “Historically they would have to look at buildings one by one and send people door to door,” he said. “Now they can upload all meter data into software system and in minutes or hours put together very accurate load profiles. They can rate the custom based on energy intensity against similar building types, and adjust for climates.”

The result is valuable information for the customer – and for the utility, which can make more effective tactical decisions. One building, he said, “may be very efficient and another under efficient, so you’ll know which building to target.”

Feldman points to OPower as a leader in the field. The company entered an agreement to be acquired by Oracle – with whom it has worked with in the past – on May 2. Other leaders in the field, he said, are FirstFuel and Retroficiency.

There are exciting EMS and BMS systems available. However, a tool that is not used does nobody any good. A middle ground — approaches to identifying savings without the capex of an installed platform — increasingly are available from utilities. Behavioral and analytic demand side management platforms can use utility bills to point to energy efficiencies — and convince building managers to use onsite audits to look for more.

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