Achieving scalability in energy management

One of my favorite views of my hometown Chicago is from the sky. Every time I fly into the city, I’m struck by the diversity of the buildings dotting the streets. They come in all shapes and sizes, no two the same. They serve different needs, and operate with different systems.

As Executive Director of Energy at AT&T, one of my biggest challenges is figuring out how to find an energy strategy that is scalable across our buildings, which are as diverse as the Chicago skyline and even more numerous. One size doesn’t fit all, but how do we find similarities to increase our impact?

This fall, we’re teaming up with Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) in its Portfolio Energy RetroFit Challenge to tackle that question. RMI is a think-and-do tank that focuses on radical resource efficiency. The goal of the Portfolio Challenge is to demonstrate to building owners and operators that deep energy retrofits are both technically feasible and financially prudent when applied at scale. With our internal Energy Scorecard system, which charts energy use data and projects at our top 1000 energy consuming facilities, we’re working together to look for scalable solutions.

Data, data, data

When I look at an opportunity like enterprise energy efficiency, I intuitively start with data.  I can’t help it.  Maybe it’s my background in Quality Management, but I just don’t have confidence that we’re going in the right direction without taking the time to develop the basic data points that help me understand where the opportunity is the greatest.  RMI agrees, and together we’ve walked through a thorough scoping of the opportunity we’re tackling together in this Portfolio Challenge.

The tenets of the Six Sigma approach have been our foundation. For those unfamiliar with this term, Six Sigma is not the name of a secret society, but instead a management process aimed at driving out waste and error. The idea is straightforward:  when you measure how many defects you have in a process, you can systematically figure out how to eliminate them and get as close to "zero defects" as possible. The analysis then highlights areas that need to be rethought and improved.

From an energy standpoint, this could mean using data to identify where equipment is incorrectly engineered or maintained because the data shows unexpectedly poor performance.  It can also be used across a portfolio: With visibility of performance data across buildings, it becomes clear which buildings are performing well and which buildings have room for improvement. This approach to energy management can have meaningful impacts to the bottom line. Over the last two years, AT&T has realized $86million in annualized energy savings from 8,700 energy efficiency projects.

Next page: Using a whole systems approach