Is energy data the missing piece of the energy efficiency puzzle?

This week I was invited by the White House to attend the 2014 Energy Datapalooza in Washington DC. Approximately 160 private and public sector guests, came together to connect, collaborate, and converse about how we can reduce costs, save energy and protect the environment. The session opened with comments from Todd Park, U.S. Chief Technology Officer, and Assistant to the President, and John Podesta, Counselor to the President, and was followed by lightning presentations from leading technology providers in the energy efficiency, Smart Grid and Renewable energy space. The afternoon provided a technology showcase and an opportunity to network with government and entrepreneurs.

In a May 28th press release regarding this event, the White House states:


The Administration has also long recognized the value of providing homes and businesses with secure access to their own energy usage data to spur innovation and enable informed choices. In 2012, the Administration launched a Green Button Initiative in partnership with the electric utility industry to provide families and business with easy and secure access to their own energy usage information. Today, over 100 million Americans have access to their own “Green Button” data — and the opportunity to use new private sector tools and services to manage or upgrade their own household or building energy performance.

What did I learn? Green Button is gaining momentum, and governments are seeing the need to build a database of buildings, and energy consumption within those buildings, but they are still struggling to take actions which turn energy data into energy efficiency. The GSA, with 375 million square feet of occupied space, has a big energy efficiency problem to deal with.

One of the presenters was FirstFuel (Lexington MA). FirstFuel is a good example of a company using Green Button data to try to understand what actions can be taken in individual buildings to reduce energy consumption, and they are working on GSA buildings. To date, FirstFuel has analyzed energy consumption in 54 million square feet (104 buildings) managed by the General Services Administration, and are scheduled to complete up to 300 large GSA buildings over the next four years. FirstFuel has found that typically 42 percent of potential savings will come from recommended operational changes, with the remainder from various technology upgrades. Where does the GSA go from there? How do these recommendations get analyzed, vetted and implemented? And once implemented, how do we measure how well the building meets the financial, social and environmental needs of the building stakeholders.

But the problem is much larger than that. The three hundred large buildings analyzed by FirstFuel are only about 1 percent of the 30,000 (or so) buildings owned and operated by the GSA. With a goal of a 3 percent annual reduction in energy consumption, the GSA must not just address these 300 buildings but the entire building portfolio.

Dan Tangherlini, Administrator for the GSA, pointed out that the GSA building stock is geographically dispersed, and sometimes very remote. His example of a typical building was the land-border port of entry building in Portland Maine, as he described “as far away from anything as possible and still be in the US”. The diversity of the building stock under management in size and geographic location creates an enormous challenge to the GSA for unified facilities and energy efficiency management.

Several presenters talked about occupant behavior and building operations and maintenance practices as major factors in building performance. If we look at each of the 30,000 buildings, we quickly realize that each building is really used, operated and maintained by a unique “community” of people that together determine building performance. Within these communities are occupants that use the building, operators that manage the built environment, and service providers (like HVAC & electrical private contractors) that service and maintain each individual buildings as well as the equipment and work space within.

So what is the missing piece of the puzzle? How do we get 30,000 building “communities” to work together, operate and maintain buildings more efficiently, to reduce energy consumption?

Energy data is necessary, but not sufficient, to ensure economically and socially acceptable energy efficiency across the building portfolio. The missing piece of the puzzle is collaborative facilities management which brings expertise and information to these stakeholders to take action on building performance across each “community” in the portfolio.