How big data simplifies sustainability cost scenarios

How big data simplifies sustainability cost scenarios

Editor's Note: To learn more about data and sustainability planning be sure to check out VERGE@Greenbuild this fall, November 12-13, in San Francisco.

Which clean energy projects make sense to install in different manufacturing or office locations? Which sustainability project will give your team the quickest payback when it comes to reducing environmental impact?

While past decisions for questions have been based at least partly on guesswork, two new software tools seek to make it easier to make decisions informed by data.

Making one-to-one comparisons possible

Will a conservation initiative that saves 1 million gallons of water have more or less of a positive environmental impact than one cutting the energy consumption in your offices by 30 percent?

The EnergyPoints Analytics application was designed to help teams make one-to-one comparisons so they can make such decisions more easily.

The software takes the different resource considerations associated with a given project and converts them into a universally-recognized unit -- a gallon of gasoline. That data can then be used for different planning scenarios.

Here's what the application looks like:

All the information is normalized for factors such as regional energy mix, resource locations, life cycle considerations and scarcity.

"Cost is not a sufficient indicator and existing resource metrics fail to factor in critical elements like location or resource scarcity," said Ory Zik, founder and CEO of Cambridge, Mass.-based EnergyPoints.

"The application provides businesses with comparative analysis for more effective project decisions,” he said. “By measuring all resources using one universal metric, executives can clearly communicate the true impact of their projects on the business and the environment."

Although Zik won't reveal names of corporate beta customers, the application is being used by Harvard University to help account for the carbon impact of its campus buildings.

EnergyPoints Analytics became commercially available in mid-June, and is aimed at managers concerned with building portfolio management, integrated financial and sustainability reporting and supply chain scoring.

Photo of technology concept provided by Robert Lucian Crusitu via Shutterstock

Assessing current and future costs

The second application, aptly called the Transparent Cost Database (TCDB), is being developed by the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

Its focus is on collecting and analyzing cost and performance data for clean energy generation projects such as rooftop solar or utility-scale wind farms; for renewable fuel technologies such as biofuels production plants; and for electric vehicles. The ultimate goal is to provide information to the public about not only about what these things will cost now, but what they will likely cost in the future based on input from different stakeholders such as utility companies and consumers.

TCDB provides "a first-cut estimate of current and projected costs and performance characteristics for vehicles, biofuels and electricity generation," said NREL analyst Austin Brown.

All the data in TCDB will be downloadable from OpenEI, the DOE's Open Energy Information platform which is still under development. Currently, the database contains estimates from more than 100 reports.