This guest post was written by Sam Krasnow, FirstFuel’s Vice President of Regulatory Affairs & Market Development
Efficiency plans were never easy, and every year they get a bit harder. With the low-hanging fruit long-since harvested, a fresh set of goals must be planned for, and achieved, annually. Looming in the background is a daunting set of cost-effectiveness tests to tackle. At the same time, ratepayer parity demands everyone should be encouraged to participate – but inspiring the uninspired remains a persistent, vexing problem. How many more rabbits can we (the EE community) be expected to pull out of our hat?
Working across the country with utilities and stakeholders to pass legislation and achieve PUC approval for aggressive EE plans has provided me with a detailed view of the size and contours of the consistent challenges. What’s become clear is that deep data analytics enables deployment of “intelligent efficiency”; and that such optimization is now becoming a basic necessity to meet a myriad of regulatory demands and expectations.
This moment of clarity and renewed optimism came when I realized analytics solve very different problems that emerge at different moments along the regulatory lifecycle – much as Shel Silverstein’s proverbial “Giving Tree” offered tailored solutions to problems throughout the life of the Boy. To be successful, utilities must (often simultaneously) Plan, Implement, Monitor, and Report. Below are example best practices of how analytics solve common problems faced in each phase:
1) File Plans that Meet Aggressive Savings Goals
In the planning phase, analytics provide a clearer, more nuanced view of the EE potential within utilities’ service territories. FirstFuel recently examined nearly 30,000 commercial meters for a large North American utility to re-prioritize the existing program mix and identify new savings opportunities. The process of identifying savings at scale through actual meter data analytics surfaced an all-too-often-ignored source of new, low-cost savings: Operational/Retro-Commissioning (RCx) measures. This previously elusive, “lost continent” of savings had now been permanently found by interval data analytics and is a huge new opportunity to meet savings targets. RCx and operational measures have historically represented 2-3% of commercial EE spend despite now being shown to account for ~50% of the savings potential. Using analytics, utilities are starting to rapidly expand their RCx budgets in current program filings.
2) Pass Cost-Effectiveness Tests
Analytics-enabled efficiency savings boost cost-effectiveness ratios in multiple ways. First, many of the new measures identified have lower costs per kWh and faster paybacks than traditional measures. Second, pre-targeted efficiency means lower costs of acquisition, marketing, sales, and overhead costs Third, technical analysis, services, and EM&V provided via software-based analytics platforms are less expensive and higher yield than the status quo. Taken together, these added benefits and lower costs boost the benefit-cost ratio of utilities’ broader EE portfolios.
3) Increase Participation with Scaled Customization
Intelligent and targeted customer engagement enables programs to offer the right customers, the right measures, at the right time to dramatically increase program participation. FirstFuel has found 6-8x improvements in efficiency sales cycle time through personalized analytics, i.e., the time from first customerengagement to securing a commitment for action is 6-8 times faster than traditional means. Just as importantly, this approach can be focused on hard-to-reach segments of the market to help achieve dual goals of increased overall participation and ratepayer parity.
4) Ensure Persistence with Continuous Monitoring
Providing dynamically-updated performance baselines, customized for each building, improves measure persistence by keeping customers alerted and engaged with their savings. For example, a portfolio of buildings with completed measures can now receive detailed, on-going monitoring, anomaly detection services and push notification for each and every building to avoid drift and measure degradation.
5) Achieve Full Attribution with Robust Reporting
By tracking and documenting utility interventions continuously throughout the efficiency lifecycle on a single common platform, SaaS-based analytics solutions ensure utilities receive both: (A) full attribution of claimed savings towards their regulatory goals and (B) hard-earned performance incentives. In states with aggressive building codes, such as California and others, analytics provides the continuous, detailed documentation necessary to prove that utility programs enabled – and thus receive credit for – savings both up to and beyond existing building codes.
Analytics is offering tailored gifts to solve the most intransigent problems associated with achieving aggressive EE savings. We have the opportunity to make the most of those gifts and achieve great things.
In addition to the individual analysis of thousands of buildings, FirstFuel is learning a lot by taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture. From our database, answers are emerging that can help inform our customers and their major efficiency investment decisions.
Recently, we looked at where efficiency opportunities are hidden across the typical commercial portfolio – across building types, use types, geographies, consumption patterns, and more. As utilities move through their portfolios in pursuit of increasingly demanding efficiency targets, the task is getting more and more difficult. Savings hide easily in a portfolio of thousands of buildings. If utilities can’t find them without going one-by-one from building to building, they can’t scale their programs. FirstFuel analytics are finding hidden savings within buildings and across portfolios. While every portfolio is different, some interesting trends are emerging.
1. 25% of buildings represent ~75% of the total efficiency opportunity in a commercial portfolio… On the surface, we all intuitively guessed that something close to the classic 80/20 rule is at play in efficiency. However, for the first time, we now have the data to prove it and, more importantly, to go a level deeper. The key is finding out which buildings to target, and which to avoid, as we maximize limited energy efficiency resources.
2. …but the big savings are in mid-size (not just big) buildings. Even now, most utilities focus on the largest buildings, knowing that they can rely on getting big savings from big buildings. However, our data shows that 40% of the savings in the portfolio come from mid-size buildings, slightly more than the 35% of savings that come from the largest. Why aren’t we aware of this? For starters, mid-sized buildings get a fraction of the attention because of the perception that savings are minimal. Some believe the savings are just harder to find. Using analytics however, utilities can cost-effectively navigate the mid-size building segment can effectively create a new greenfield source of savings potential.
Similar to operational savings, medium size buildings represent a large, overlooked opportunity within commercial efficiency. And this is where the right kind of energy analytics can play an outsized role. Through our upgraded Remote Building Analytics platform, FirstFuel can rapidly screen hundreds or thousands of commercial buildings to identify the 25%/75%, and then conduct deeper remote audits on the most inefficient buildings to help utilities engage building operators with customized energy conservation recommendations (ECMs) that deliver real savings. The cost and speed advantages allow you to get to scale and, in the process, find those medium-sized buildings that are hiding in plain sight.
To access graphical representations of the FirstFuel Data Insights mentioned above, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
The American Council for an Energy Efficiency Economy (ACEEE) has had a busy 2013. In less than two months, the leading non-profit has released two powerful studies that examine the past and foreshadow the future of U.S. energy efficiency. In calculating annual investment patterns, the ACEEE found that national spending on efficiency increased by approximately 80% between 2004 and 2010 – arguing that the EE leads to far more economic productivity than energy supply. In a separate, but equally comprehensive study, the non-profit projected that new energy efficiency-enabling technologies and programs have the potential to reduce forecasted U.S. electricity use nearly 30% by 2030. It is without doubt that President Obama’s SOTU rally call for doubling energy efficiency by 2030 was steeped in ACEEE-based analysis.
A few weeks ago, FirstFuel Software discussed advancements in commercial building efficiency and analytics at ACEEE’s headquarters over lunch. Diving deep into FirstFuel’s Remote Building Analytics (RBA) platform and recent customer engagements, the discussion was even more thought-provoking and livelier than expected. While many areas were covered during the extended session, we believed there two important takeaways from the session:
1. The importance of advanced analytics – In discussing the emergence of big data analytics in the commercial sector, there was much discussion about different approaches to evaluating building energy consumption and performance. FirstFuel used a medical metaphor to explain some of the differences in building analysis. Many top-down approaches rely on ‘like-building’ or benchmark analysis to determine where they think energy might be going in a building. For example, these might use physical information about a building, such as its location, age and building type (a medium office building in the NorthEast) to guess at what percentage of consumption goes to lights, cooling etc, or what ECMs have been present in prior audits of such buildings. These methods have similarities to WebMD – quick access to information, but with results that are not always accurate or specific. Conversely, bottom-up approaches that build models of energy use based on a building’s specific consumption data, patterns and time-signatures are more like an MRI– more comprehensive in scope, customized to the patient/building and ultimately more accurate. If you’re just interested in your health or have a particular concern, WebMD is great. If you’re serious about your health, perhaps even considering treatment, you probably want the MRI.
2. The importance of operational savings – As part of our own study, FirstFuel found that operational savings represent half of the savings potential in commercial buildings. With a deep discussion around investment ROI and fast payback times, ACEEE staff saw the opportunity often missed by utilities, government agencies, and building owners/operators. Discussion also focused on how remote meter data analytics can often identify operational savings opportunities that onsite audits typically miss – a point that has come up often during rigorous technical validation of FirstFuel’s RBA platform.
Overall, FirstFuel was energized by the opportunity to debate and discuss emerging commercial energy analytics approaches with a group as experienced and talented as the ACEEE team. Leading technology providers and leading policy institutions must continue to communicate and share their latest visions for the future. We are, after all, on the same mission to deliver on the ambitious efficiency goals being set in cities and states all across the country.
The commercial building retrofit has gained widespread perception in recent years as one of the smartest approaches to delivering large-scale energy efficiency. Pike Research estimates that the energy efficiency retrofit market will double by 2020 – reaching $152 billion worldwide. The Rockefeller Foundation believes energy savings from retrofits could reach $1 trillion over the next ten years. “Deep Retrofits” have become a popular term to describe whole-building analysis and construction processes that can reduce a building’s energy consumption by a whopping 50%-75%.
These optimistic projections and perceptions are not without merit. Through engagements with several utilities and government agencies, FirstFuel Software has helped uncover and enable several retrofit opportunities with significant savings potential and at reasonable payback periods. However, what we’ve learned from nearly 18 months of commercial building energy analysis is that another tremendous efficiency opportunity exists in today’s marketplace – one that currently goes largely unnoticed and underserved.
This observation comes from a detailed analysis we recently conducted on the drivers of commercial building inefficiency. Utilizing a representative 60M square foot sample of building space that FirstFuel analyzed through its Remote Building Analytics platform, we found that half of commercial efficiency savings potential resides in operational improvements – many of which can be implemented immediately, and at little or no cost to building operators.
Click on the infographic below:
What does this mean?
First, it demonstrates that the commercial sector has the chance to essentially double the potential for energy savings through efficiency measures. Given the disproportionate focus on retrofits in today’s market, many of these hard-to-identify, but easy-to-implement operational improvements go unfixed. If you extrapolate our sample (designed to mirror the broader commercial building sector) to the entire U.S. commercial market, operational improvements in commercial buildings represent a market opportunity close to $17 billion.
Second, it shows that the costs for efficiency implementation can be slashed by a significant margin, simply by balancing the focus between retrofit and operational opportunities. Most operational savings found by FirstFuel require, for example, changes to equipment sequencing or scheduling that cost almost nothing to building owners and operators. Payback periods are nearly instantaneous, and the nominal savings potential can be quite large.
How much is the industry capitalizing on this opportunity?
Our market experience and reach suggests not much. However, several of our customers are beginning to recognize the massive potential for operational improvements, and the importance in helping them wisely allocate efficiency program dollars and meet aggressive internal or externally-driven efficiency targets. At FirstFuel, we’re excited to continue leveraging our market-leading meter data analytics platform to identify low-no/cost operational savings opportunities in ways previously unattainable. We look forward to seeing how this untapped market opportunity evolves towards our ultimate goal – the full scaling of commercial energy efficiency.
Last Tuesday, December 11, we were honored to be joined by dozens of individuals from our investor, customer, and partner communities to celebrate the completion of our new Lexington office space and major 2012 milestones. The Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Rick Sullivan, joined our ribbon cutting ceremony as guest of honor, and heard our Buildings, R&D, and Marketing teams share 2012 successes (and work we are set to do in 2013) in helping utilities and government agencies reduce energy consumption across their commercial building portfolios.
Here at FirstFuel Software, we believe that energy efficiency is indeed the “first fuel,” with the potential to fundamentally alter the global energy and economic landscape. That is why we invited some of Massachusetts’ top energy names to learn more about how we’re enabling commercial building energy savings across the region and beyond. We are proud of the work, and excited to see what 2013 will bring.