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.
Once grounded in data, it’s important to utilize a “whole systems” approach to project management. With energy, this means looking at all systems in the building -- or more widely, in the portfolio. Even with the best data and intentions, energy efficiency activity could have unintended consequences if not pursued in a logical manner.
Let’s use lighting retrofits as an example. Say you want to optimize your lighting system, so you switch to LED light bulbs. Then you later conduct a lighting audit and realize that you can completely remove some fixtures that are near windows and utilize natural light. You have now purchased and installed more LED light bulbs than necessary -- wasting time and money.
Another component of success with a whole systems approach is to ensure you’re working with the right vendors who can offer solutions that fit the task. I work closely with my supply chain leaders to optimize the type and timing of vendor engagement. Not only does this improve the performance of the overall project, it can also drive costs down. These themes are central to the work we’re doing with RMI.
With these two approaches, we’re looking for the most common opportunities that could be applied across an entire diverse portfolio. Data helps by revealing the biggest opportunities for the best investment. Whole-systems thinking is leveraging timing and order of operations to eliminate waste and optimize cost structure. Working with RMI, we’re hoping to use these methods to identify wide-scale opportunities to drive energy savings.
In the coming months, we’ll be hard at work. Our next step is to jump into the detailed analysis of our selected pilot site. We’ll be combing through the collected data, identifying opportunities to eliminate waste and looking across all participants and actions to make sure we’re maximizing benefit while not creating inefficiencies along the way. We plan to share our findings widely so that the work truly is scalable not only across our own company, but across the millions of commercial buildings throughout the nation.
We’re excited about the work that lies ahead of us. You can monitor our progress by following RMI on Facebook or through Twitter (@RockyMtnInst). Also, check out AT&T’s sustainability information at www.att.com/csr.
Photo of increasingly larger displays provided by Oleksiy Mark via Shutterstock.