Riptide IO taps big data to manage energy in small spaces

It's relatively easy to find examples of businesses using sensor-gathered data and energy management dashboards to drive down power consumption in their biggest buildings. FirstFuel's work with the General Services Administration (GSA), for example, offers a vivid illustration of what can go right.

But managing this process in microcosm, across the millions of smaller branch offices and stores in the United States, presents a dilemma of an entirely different sort.

For a start, it's really hard to count on every facility using the same sorts of controls: heterogeneity is a given. And even though these spaces are relatively finite — maybe 2,500 square feet in size — the sheer magnitude of data points generated by operating them in aggregate, from HVAC systems to kitchen plumbing, is overwhelming.

Riptide IO, a technology integrator based in Santa Barbara, Calif., thinks it has a solution for making sense of all that information. Its platform, powered by an NoSQL database from DataStax, uses low-cost sensors to collect data on everything from potential water leaks and lighting to the power being consumed by air-conditioning or heating. The company already has scored some high-profile customers for its approach: AT&T, Walgreens and Verizon.

"What we are most excited about, and I think our customers are, too, is the ability to take these low-cost sensors … and expand their view into all manner of metrics, not just energy efficiency," said Marti Ogram, Riptide IO's vice president of business development.

Ogram, along with the company's co-founders Michael Franco and David Leimbrock, were previously with network powerhouse Cisco, which shut down its building energy management program in 2011.

Aside from the consulting services needed to pull everything together, there are two primary components: BrightEdge, a piece of hardware that gathers sensor and controls information and then "normalizes" it into a format that can be analyzed and visualized; and BrightWorks, a cloud-delivered analytics application that runs on the DataStax infrastructure. (Businesses can choose to deploy BrightWorks in either their own data center or use a version hosted on Google Cloud.)

The data can be interpreted according to the specific desired metrics of the given business, Ogram said. For example, Walgreens, which uses the system to manage 5,000 U.S. stores, has created key performance indicators including energy consumption by square foot and energy consumption normalized by weather.

But the technology isn't just about managing power: It could be used to keep tabs on waste management, detect water leaks or even just to more appropriately time filter changes for an HVAC system.

Who gets to see this data? That, likewise, depends on the business but usually it's both the store managers responsible for running operations and a centralized operations analyst who can watch the dashboards for anomalies that could indicate equipment problems or that might serve as best practices for other locations. Because the Riptide IO solution is so new, Ogram wasn't ready to share specific customer results.

Although the setup time will vary depending on the size of the location, Ogram said it typically takes about four hours to deploy the sensors and smart plugs and tie them into analytics system at a larger site. Likewise, the setup fee varies but starts around $1,500; a per-store per month service charge starts around $35.