While we aren’t yet tapping the full potential of building efficiency, the tide is quickly turning with the infusion of data into energy efficiency evaluation. Utilities are recognizing the need to collect this data and use software analytics across many of their business processes. Mapping to various stages of the utility efficiency lifecycle, the areas we see being positively impacted by greater
data access are:
- Identification: More effective targeting and engagement
- Evaluation: Comprehensive, streamlined energy audits
- Post-Implementation: Improved measurement and verification
More effective targeting and engagement
Industry conventional wisdom suggests that, on average, a major retrofit can save a building 30 percent in energy consumption. While we’ve found that to be true through energy analytics done on our platform, we’ve also seen a major variance in savings opportunities across buildings. Across several utility portfolios we have assessed, about 35 percent of the buildings account for 75 percent of the energy savings potential. As a result of this, it’s imperative to understand which buildings have the best potential before taking the next step to avoid wasting time and money.
Data and associated analytics can help us identify true savings opportunities in a single building or across a portfolio before ever stepping foot on site. Identifying which buildings to target allows us to focus on those with the best potential, making it easier to get buy-in to move forward with an on-site audit, which remains an integral part of the sales and evaluation process.
Better targeting and engagement can also help more effectively manage the grid. Instead of only targeting customers based on energy savings potential, some utilities are considering targeting the highest potential customers, which are served by sub-stations at near capacity. Granular consumption data mapped to network performance can delay capital investments by leveraging energy efficiency.
Comprehensive, streamlined energy audits
Identifying energy conservation measures and determining the savings each measure will drive are critical components to on-site energy audits. On-site energy audits are a critical component for utilities to identify energy conservation measures in each building and determine the savings each measure will drive. Energy audits, which can run from as a little as $3,000 to $4,000 up to $50,000 or more, are a costly endeavor that utilities often pay for or fund a portion of. This means that utilities must not only focus on buildings with good potential, but also ensure they are capturing all of the savings opportunities that exist.
Utilities are also challenged to determine whether the audit findings are accurate and correct. Whether they are done by internal personal or external partner vendors, audits and energy engineering calculations are done with different formulas and different assumptions, which makes it difficult to ‘audit the audit’ quickly and accurately.
By standardizing what building asset data is collected during an audit and the reporting of the findings from that audit, utilities and their partners can systematically evaluate a comprehensive set of measures in each building, be in sync in terms of the savings that will be achieved, and more quickly drive projects towards implementation. Utilities can also more effectively refine their strategy and segmentation over time when this information is centrally stored to see what types of customers, buildings, and projects actually convert into real projects.
Improved measurement and verification
Once implemented, it is often difficult to measure the realized benefits of an energy efficiency project in a cost-effective way, as traditional hardware or manual approaches can be cost-prohibitive for most retrofit implementations. With operational changes and weather patterns impacting energy consumption from one period to the next, energy savings can sometimes be ‘hard to see’ for a typical building owner, leading to confusion and frustration over where savings can and should be claimed. When that happens, a building owner is unlikely to implement retrofits on other buildings or speak positively about energy efficiency.
Granular data on energy consumption or a calibrated energy model, allows one to break down consumption by end use (heating, cooling, lighting, etc.) to objectively determine how a building would have performed if a measure had not been implemented during a given period of time. By comparing this to what actually happened building owners and service providers can quickly align on the true energy savings of a particular retrofit.
These are just three of the ways in which the increase in data availability is beginning to help utilities drive commercial energy efficiency projects faster and more effectively. In each instance, there are various players, programs and initiatives using different data sources in different ways. Converging on standards and best practices to leverage this data will be important for the industry as a whole. As this happens, the commercial efficiency market will continue to grow and invite more participation by asset owners, vendors and investors alike.
About the Author
Bennett Fisher is the CEO and Co-Founder of Retroficiency. The company enables utilities, energy service providers, facility managers, utilities, and building owners to cost-effectively prioritize high potential buildings and evaluate thousands of energy efficiency measures in minutes. For more information, please visit www.retroficiency.com