At its best, technology is able to tackle huge problems with remarkable ease.
The General Services Administration, for example, has found a way to save $13 million a year in energy costs across 180 buildings — all thanks to a proprietary algorithm developed and monitored from many states away, in Massachusetts. Among the problems discovered: malfunctioning exhaust fans.
And Kohl’s department store has installed energy-efficiency software in 1200 stores nationwide. “We look at the energy meter and know exactly how much the store is consuming at any point in time,” says Paul Oswald, Managing Director at Environmental Systems Inc., which provides the service along with SkyFoundry. According to ESI, its automation system saves its clients an average of 8%-18% in energy costs every year.
These efforts are a top priority of both businesses and government.
That’s because buildings (both commercial and residential) are the largest single consumer of energy in the US, and up to 50% of that is pure waste, according to an industry expert. That means $200 billion a year is evaporating into thin air — along with significant toxins. Commercial and residential buildings account for about 34% of greenhouse gas emissions. However, in New York City, upwards of 75% of the city’s carbon footprint comes from buildings’ emissions.
Big Data To The Rescue
Prompted by potential savings as well as government mandates and programs, enterprises are using advanced technologies to diagnose and fix costly inefficiencies within their buildings.
The General Services Administration, for example, turned to Massachusetts-based analytic software company FirstFuel to assess its buildings.
FirstFuel’s process is driven by big data. When taking on a client, FirstFuel only requires a few pieces of information: electric meter data and the address of building (and natural gas data, when applicable) – that’s it. From there, FirstFuel uses highly sophisticated weather data, Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping, and semantic public web search to gather information on the client site.
"So we use things like Google maps and Bing maps to zoom in on the physical building," FirstFuel CEO Swap Shah tells Business Insider. Shah says the GIS mapping allows the FirstFuel team to see things including the number of floors, what purpose the building serves, and occupancy. FirstFuel can sometimes identify the building's HVAC system based on the equipment pictured on the roof, and they look for whether or not the building has a lighted parking lot — anything that contributes to energy costs. The data collection process then creates a profile of the building without ever stepping foot or putting any devices on site.
“We've made the whole process of analyzing the energy performance of buildings incredibly scalable and low cost so the time you would normally take to physically walk through and generate a report for one building, we can do for thousands of buildings now,” says Shah.
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