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Energy efficiency leaders move beyond small wins to Big Data

<p>Corporate efficiency experts are doing more with data analysis, but some haven&rsquo;t touched the low-hanging fruit, a survey reveals.</p>

With plenty of companies planning to increase their energy efficiency investments next year and move beyond low-hanging fruit, the outlook for efficiency seems good. Yet a decent portion of companies are barely doing anything about their energy use, says a survey from Schneider Electric, and the U.S.'s energy efforts lag behind most of the world's biggest economies.

While 43 percent of the energy leaders surveyed said they plan to spend more on efficiency next year compared to last year, 22 percent said their spending will stay the same and 10 percent expect their investments in efficiency to go down.

“Overall, what we are seeing are good trends in terms of investment and in terms of the intentions of that investment,” said Martin Hanna, vice president of public relations for Schneider Electric, which specializes in energy management. “There is progress being made, but we still have a long way to go.”

Of the 63 percent of respondents that invested in energy efficiency programs in the last 12 months, almost 30 percent performed energy audits and another 30 percent tracked and analyzed data.

Among those that aren't doing much, Hanna said those companies are viewing energy as simply a cost, one that they aren't treating as something they can understand or control.

The biggest driver for larger investments is not surprising. “It comes down to cost,” Hanna said, “That's what the facts show and that's what we hear from our customers day in and day out.”

But it's not just more money being spent on simple things such as efficient light bulbs or occupancy sensors. Experienced companies are doing more to gather and analyze data – Big Data -- about how they are using energy, making decisions based on that information and conducting energy audits, Hanna said.

“It is a mixed bag and we see companies doing nothing today, and their big questions are, 'Where do I start and how can you help me?'“ Hanna said, “And then you have companies that are more experienced that have energy leaders in place that are driving decisions and driving tracking.”

Leading companies that have taken care of low-hanging fruit are now looking at data on everything they've done and how different facilities, equipment and even employees compare when it comes to efficiency.

One Fortune 500 company that Schneider Electric works with has all of its factories report their energy use so it can compare practices among facilities. Another company compares energy use among factory shifts and found the first shift was more efficient than the second, leading to focused training on what those employees can do to match up to the more efficient shift.

Schneider Electric itself tracks energy floor-by-floor in its seven-floor headquarters in France, Hanna said. “We can see variances in different floors and are able to make smart decisions about how to manage that building better from floor to floor,” he said.

Regardless of what leading U.S. companies are doing, more is needed to raise the country's efficiency up: It is ranked ninth out of the top 12 largest global economies in terms of energy efficiency, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

Schneider Electric's survey of 369 energy leaders from business and government was conducted at the company’s Xperience Efficiency events in Washington, D.C. and Dallas earlier this year. 

Editor's note: To learn more about energy efficiency and the convergence of sustainability and technology, be sure to check out VERGE SF Oct. 14-17.

Data illustration by Sergey Nivens via Shutterstock

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