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Unlocking Energy Efficiency with Data

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Former FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff once famously referred to energy efficiency as the “first fuel”.  I believe these are words to live by for the energy industry. From the utilities that distribute our electricity to the generators that produce it, and all of the intermediaries in between like retailers, energy companies can unlock new value for their customers by investing in new products, services, and infrastructures that enable efficiency.

The power of energy efficiency to achieve multiple business and social goals at once such as conservation, carbon emission reduction, and cheaper energy costs cannot be understated. Consider for a moment that in 2013, several gigawatts of electricity generation were used for a small total of 29 hours last year in New York City[1]. The “peaker” power plants, which only run a few days a year, that provided that electricity (typically gas-fired generators), were paid for and maintained throughout the year by socializing some of the operating costs via capacity payments charged to businesses of all sizes. By consuming less electricity and in smarter ways, we can reduce the need for such things as peaker plants.

But none of this is news to individuals or businesses anymore; we’ve all been hearing about the benefits of energy efficiency for years now and the data would suggest that most of us have listened. As I’ve noted before for example, U.S. electricity consumption has generally fallen year-over-year since 2008[2], on the back of the energy efficiency measures, big and small, undertaken by homes, businesses, and governments alike.

So you’ve installed LED bulbs throughout your office, lowered your HVAC use, and encouraged your employees to get smarter about how much water they consume. In return, your bills have fallen, you can now invest more in your own products and services, and you can say that you've accomplished something for the planet. Now what?

For many business owners and facility managers, it would seem like there isn’t much more you can do anymore that is economically viable, until it comes time to upgrade your buildings again. However, there is an equally important resource we can tap into that has the potential to improve even an already efficient building: data.

Imagine you run a restaurant. You know that grease, food, and heat all put stress on your fryers throughout the day. However, you might not realize that over the course of that day, your fryers need to work harder (and consume more electricity) to keep up with your hungry customers. A study of how much electricity your equipment uses, minute-by-minute, could reveal some very real, money-saving insights that you can put to practice right away without having to buy the newest fryers.

Or imagine the facilities manager of a large mall. They know that all of the shoppers leave by 9:30 PM and the store employees are mostly gone by 10 PM. There are sophisticated lighting controls in place already that turn off the main lights. But what if several of the stores in that mall leave their display cabinet lighting on, or supply room lights on? These may seem like frivolous expenses but over the course of a year they can add up quickly, meaning the mall earns a smaller return for the rent it charges.

At Direct Energy, we believe that giving our business customers the right tools is an important part of how we can help make businesses better. That’s why we’ve teamed up with Panoramic Power to introduce a new solution that can unlock the kind of insights that generate energy efficiency in addition to the investments and measures many of you are already taking today. Cheap, scalable sensors can be deployed in your operations that measure the amount of electricity your business is consuming, in real-time, at the system or device level.

Imagine what you could do knowing how much each light costs you, or when critical machinery is under stress or not performing optimally? As a business, you can squeeze more value out of energy efficiency by having the kind of energy analytics that allow you to look deep into precisely how you are consuming energy.

[2] "U.S. Energy Information Administration - EIA - Independent Statistics and Analysis." U.S. Electricity Sales Have Decreased in Four of the past Five Years. Energy Information Administration, n.d. Web. 01 Jan. 2014.

Posted: June 24, 2014