The energy industry is a complicated beast. Constant changes in energy prices, complicated energy grids, environmental needs, evolving political landscapes, governance and reporting requirements, aging buildings and infrastructure, utility contracts, supply chain issues and emerging technologies are just a handful of the factors keeping energy analysts and the rest of the energy industry up late at night.
The amount of data in the energy industry isn’t the problem. Large volumes of data are being collected across the industry. The problem is the data sources are disparate, hard to combine and constantly changing. This makes them hard to analyze. Many of the current processes for analysis are quite labor intensive, but they don’t have to be. A comprehensive approach to energy analytics can solve many of these headaches. To do this, the energy industry needs to capitalize on the increasing availability of innovative business intelligence software. These platforms can pull together the various data sources, analyze the data and visualize the analyses for easy dissemination.
Business Intelligence can bring about “powerful” changes. Pun intended. To showcase the potential savings, environmental benefits and various capabilities of energy analytics, let’s look into who should be using it, who is taking advantage of it and a few of its current challenges.
Energy Analytics Is a Broad Topic
Energy analytics doesn’t simply deal with utility consumption by businesses and buildings. As the name states, it is the analysis of energy. Energy Analysts analyze global energy prices, utility contract data, evaluations of energy companies, the effects of Energy and Climate policies and petroleum consumption data.
Then there are the oil and gas companies. In this industry, analytics is extensively used to improve exploration and drilling. Downstream businesses are then using these analyses for greater insights into logistics and supply chain, marketing and trading. They are using these insights to better manage operations from the demand side to commercial channels.
You get the point. There is substantial energy data available to analyze. It is easy for data geeks to get excited! But for now, let’s delve further into how finding energy savings is possible through analyzing building energy consumption.
The Connected and Conscious Home
Our homes are becoming increasingly smarter and connected. In 2014, Google acquired smart home innovator Nest Labs. To further increase their competition with Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s HomeKit, they recently merged Nest with Google Home. This move takes Google, and the industry, one step closer to enabling a fully integrated home. With these technologies, residents can improve climate control and energy consumption. While these technologies aren’t only focused on energy, they are also becoming major players in the residential energy management industry.
There is fascinating data to analyze and savings to be made at the single home level. Start-ups and large corporations are joining the market. The industry is definitely one to keep an eye on. That said, the power and savings can be even greater at the commercial level. Businesses, utilities, government agencies, property portfolios and facility management organizations are all analyzing energy data with exciting results.
Energy Analytics, Buildings and Business
Buildings consume considerable energy. In 2015, about 40 percent of total U.S. energy consumption was consumed in residential and commercial buildings, or about 39 quadrillion British thermal units. Wrapped up in that astronomical number are possibilities for large savings, decreased resource consumption and decreased pollution… we just the right analytics to find them.
Energy analytics uses sophisticated software engines to track energy consumption. The data often comes from a building’s utility meter. With the advent of utility smart meters, these interfaces have become easier to implement across all buildings. As part of the data collection, most buildings also have building automation systems (BAS) picking up meters as data points and then exporting consumption data in standard formats to business intelligence tools.
Armed with a wealth of data energy, facility managers then employ the next stage of energy analytics… analysis. The basics are: measure and record baseline energy use, identify the high users first, take action, then measure again to verify progress. Repeat for continued savings!
“The largest benefit of utilizing energy analytics is to benchmark and monitor utility consumption and quantify cost savings that result from understanding how utilities are used,” says Sean Delehanty, sustainability manager for BAE Systems. “The resulting benchmarks can also be used to make decisions to positively effect change where necessary.”
- Set building energy benchmarks for electricity and natural gas usage
- Set benchmarks for other energy units such as steam or chilled water in campus situations
- Track measurements for air quality and indoor temperatures
- Electric rate analysis and/or demand response performance
- Peak demand monitoring: the period in which electrical power is expected to be provided for a sustained period at a significantly higher-than-average supply level
- Energy Use Intensity (EUI) KPI: the total energy used by the building in a given year divided by the gross square footage of the building
- EPA Portfolio Manager Score KPI: The EUI of a commercial building is compared to a national set of “like-type” building data based on simple building characteristics, in this case, the size and use-type of the building
Source: New Buildings Report on Key Performance Indicators for Commercial Buildings
Energy analytics is beneficial at the single building level. They become even more significant when used across multiple facilities and geographic locations. Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), large organizations with nationwide portfolios and facility management organizations are just several of the organizations needing to evaluate energy usage at a large scale. On top of monitoring energy consumption by individual buildings, measurements need to be taken at the aggregated level. For example, across a REIT you need to calculate: energy cost per square foot, units of energy (kWh, CCF, etc.) per square foot or BTUs per square foot. This data is often then normalized over regions with varying weather. This helps compare apples to apples.
Energy Analytics and the Intersection of Technology, Businesses and Government
To complicate an already complicated industry, you have a merging of multiple industries and key players including technology companies, utility companies, businesses and governments. That previous sentence alone is enough to give you a headache… it is a good thing analytics is helping facilitate these relationships!
Aging infrastructures, environmental concerns and decreasing resources are a couple of the reasons governments are focusing on energy efficiency in buildings. One example is LEED. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a rating system devised by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) to evaluate the environmental performance of a building and encourage market transformation towards sustainable design.
There are plenty of benefits to a building becoming LEED certified. These include numerous benefits to employees, public image and a company’s bottom line. To gain LEED certification, there is an extensive data collection and analysis process which means these buildings need energy analytics. The certification isn’t a one-time thing, buildings need to be re-certified every five years. This requires consistent data monitoring. The consistent data monitoring isn’t just for a new plaque every five years. Buildings continually find savings opportunities through consistent energy analytics.
It doesn’t stop there: In October 2016, The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) launched its Smart Energy Analytics Campaign. The program encourages the use of a wide variety of commercially available Energy Management and Information Systems (EMIS) technologies and ongoing monitoring practices to help uncover energy-saving opportunities and improve building performance for the long run. The program is in its nascent stage, but has exciting potential.
In the UK, a new data system was created using telecoms technology by Reactive Technologies (RT) and was successfully tested on the UK’s National Grid. The end goal: allow the optimum use of intermittent renewable energy. This is an important feature given the fast-rising proportion of green energy on the grid. Damian Carrington, head of environment at the Guardian, recently wrote about this revolutionary move. He states, “New technology is a significant step towards the creation of virtual power stations that would enable smarter electricity use by homes and businesses.”
There are various other efficiency programs run by governments, businesses, non-profits and utility providers. All of these programs require reporting and governance which can be provided through energy analytics.
Energy Analytics’ Complications
While organizations are quickly adopting new tactics, many are still stuck in the reporting stage. These organizations are relying on static spreadsheets and reports. This is leading to reactive reporting. These companies are managing energy through the rearview mirror instead of proactively cutting costs before they are incurred.
Competing reporting needs and fragmented adoption are also issues for organizations. Facility management executives may be most interested in high-level metrics, while technicians may be more interested in the energy consumption of a specific system or subsystem… this explains why they need different reports.
This is where online business intelligence software can take energy analytics to the next level. KPI dashboards and access to real-time data enable organizations to be proactive. The right tool can easily combine various data sources, without creating a data warehouse first. Cloud based easy-to-use platforms allow for simple scalability across organizations since basic “drag and drop” features require little training. This empowers employees across a business, from facility management executives to technicians, to work with the data they need.
The Power of Energy Analytics
Organizations of all sizes are increasingly investing in energy-efficiency measures, not only because of green business initiatives, but because they view them as smart operational practices. They are also investing in business intelligence. To do this, the industry is leveraging its access to large data sets along with smart grid, advanced metering and other industry innovations to find actionable insights. This data is then funneled into easy-to-use cloud based BI platforms. Through these platforms, organizations are gaining broad visibility into their energy efficiency, reducing resource waste and pollution and realizing significant utility cost savings.