How to use analytics for faster paybacks from smart buildings

It is well documented that energy management for buildings represents a huge untapped opportunity area, both for individual organizations and for society at-large. Globally, buildings are among the largest energy consumers and drivers of carbon emissions. Buildings annually consume about 40 percent of all energy, an eye-opening figure for those who manage buildings, energy budgets, and emission reduction programs across the globe.

Certainly in today's economic and environmental reality, all private and public sector organizations are facing stiff pressure to reduce operating costs while reducing their carbon footprint. Due to the huge role that buildings play in driving costs and emissions, executives and managers are increasingly looking at building energy management as an opportunity area for differentiation, and are looking for partners who can help them manage programs to peel back the layers of excess cost and inefficiency in this area.

An important and relatively new way of tapping into the building energy efficiency opportunity is through continuous data analytics, which is less capital intensive than replacing equipment or conducting building retrofits.

Data analytics allows building owners and managers to optimize the existing building and equipment as is. While the benefits of capital-intensive retrofits are real and well-documented, the payback periods for many retrofit projects are relatively long (seven to more than 10 years), and are therefore problematic for organizations that need to drive savings within a shorter window of time.

Luckily, the convergence of building and information technologies has given rise to analytics-focused, or "Smart Buildings," approaches to building management that can optimize building performance through continuous monitoring and fault/exception reporting in order to realize much faster payback periods (12-24 months).

Since these analytics-focused approaches -- such as fault detection and diagnostics -- are continuous and "always on," they also offer the advantage of driving energy savings that persist over time, unlike traditional point-in-time building audit or retro-commissioning approaches. As with an automobile or any complex machine that faces continual use, the performance of a building and its systems will naturally degrade over time.

By plugging a building in to a continuous analytics solution, adjustments can be made on an ongoing basis to stave off declining performance, and also to optimize building maintenance practices.

Taking advantage of analytics-focused approaches to building management is not always straightforward. Some buildings lack control and network infrastructures that can readily support the continuous polling of building data for analytics purposes. Some organizations are not inclined to accommodate even modest investments in new building technologies, and some are not currently structured to allow such investments to take root and drive new building management behaviors.

Yet the existing challenges can and will be overcome -- there is too much to be gained. Those who succeed in doing so will be rewarded by driving significant benefits to their bottom line, and to the world around them. Already, the approach has proven effective. Across a range of Smart Buildings projects, Accenture has seen clients realize annual savings levels between eight and 19 percent of overall energy spend.

Looking ahead, all signs point to increased adoption of continuous analytics in building energy management, and to a proliferation of Smart Buildings as a means to cut costs and curb carbon emissions. This is good news for those poised to take advantage of the opportunity, and for all of us who live and work in buildings every day.

Smart building photo via Shutterstock.