How IT creates 'intelligent efficiency' for buildings and transport

How IT creates 'intelligent efficiency' for buildings and transport

Practiced on a system-wide scale, energy efficiency has the potential to create hundreds of billions of dollars in savings and productivity gains, dwarfing the impact of traditional sources of energy on the bottom line, says a new report released by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).

The report concludes that 22 percent of current U.S. energy consumption could be replaced with "intelligent efficiency" by infusing IT and communication technologies into building networks, transportation systems and city sustainability solutions.

Interviewing a wide swath of companies and industries -- including Schneider Electric, Johnson Controls, Verizon, Opower, Intel, the Department of Energy, and Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory -- the ACEEE report predicts intelligent efficiency is ushering in a new way of systems-thinking.

"System efficiency opportunities produce energy savings that dwarf component-based efficiency improvements by an order of magnitude," said Neal Elliott, associate director for research, ACEEE. "One of the cornerstones of systems-based efficiency is information and communication technologies, such as the Internet, affordable sensors, and computing capacity that are the foundation upon which systems efficiency are built."

Several examples of "intelligent efficiency" case studies were included in the report.

A city-wide initiative in North Carolina called "Envision Charlotte," with continuing participation from Duke Energy, Cisco, and Verizon, has set up digital signage kiosks around the community with interactive video to monitor and track energy use in lobbies of downtown office buildings. The near real-time information helps give tenants awareness and transparency of energy use with a goal of reducing energy consumption by 20 percent in the downtown area.

Also, the Department of Defense hopes to cut energy use at its Naval Station Great Lakes in Illinois by 30 percent in 2015. Through advanced energy management software and control technologies, the building facilities are expected to see cost savings up to $200 million.

Another highlight was Opower, which works with 70 U.S. utilities to develop specific profiles for residential energy consumers to send information -- via mail or Internet portals -- comparing energy usage to similarly sized homes.

Arkadi Gerney, senior director of policy at Opower, said the report showed "how engaging energy consumers with smarter behavioral strategies and advanced analytics turns an avalanche of data into actionable insight." Opower has found residential consumers can reduce anywhere between 1.5 and 3 percent of residential energy use by getting timely, accurate information and energy saving tips.

For its part, ACEEE identified three specific frameworks in where "intelligent effiiciecy" takes place:

  • People-centered efficiency with real-time feedback such as energy dashboards for buildings, real-time pricing, mobile apps and GPS-enabled technologies for vehicles and fleet management.
  • Technology-centered efficiency for automation and optimization, such building sensors or control energy management systems, plant-wide automation, smart power grids and vehicle electronic systems.
  • Service-based efficiency and behavioral and structural changes including videoconferencing, e-books, car and bike sharing and business-to-business e-commerce.