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December 20, 2017

Crunching Numbers for Green Success

Patrick Jones

(WDG Photo/Shutterstock)

We live in a technology age where data is king. With the growth of connected devices, the sheer amount of available data is increasing rapidly — and by 2020, IDC predicts there will be twice as much high-value data worth analyzing. Homeowners are fueling the data increase, too, by adopting home automation devices at a higher rate than ever before, at 15 percent.

However, it’s tech-forward companies that are leading the charge into analyzing data pulled from their organization’s connected devices. They’re not only inspecting every part of their business to find new ways to capture data, but they’re also using that data to become more efficient in their work processes. This especially holds true for companies that want to monitor and reduce their energy usage — and luckily, this energy data already exists.

Many companies simply need to look at the data they already have to begin analyzing their own levels of energy consumption. Utility bills, for example, are a good starting place to begin a company’s energy journey and to validate expense reductions; but since it only comes 12 times a year and lags by 30 days, interval meter data (IMD) is a more accurate measure. IMD offers real-time usage monitoring insights and reveals feedback for immediate action — making it a stronger tool for each building’s real-time energy usage. This data can show each building’s patterns in usage of electricity, gas and water, in addition to waste output; and can offer an immense amount of data to encourage understanding of a company’s energy consumption.

This is especially helpful to organizations that are setting their sights on significant growth. The numbers they unknowingly have in their back pocket can guide their decisions as they consider ways to improve their energy usage for their future buildings. GameStop, the world’s largest video game retailer, for example, planned to open over 200 new stores within three months. Knowing each store would yield an increased level of energy usage, GameStop leaders chose to get ahead of the uptick by implementing specific methods to monitor their energy usage, resulting in significant energy savings in just one year.

Many large organizations could anticipate a similar response if they look beyond one-time energy initiatives. Replacing incandescent bulbs with LED fixtures is an important first step; but to make a lasting impact, business leaders need to put their existing data to work. In each of their sites, they’re consuming various levels of gas and electricity, and expending varying amounts of waste. Their energy needs also change based on the number of employees, holidays and seasons, weather, store hours, store production units, and buildings and campuses across the globe.

Data analytics can be used to benchmark energy use among different buildings (WaitForLight/Shutterstock)

Energy costs are also impacted by rate structures and supply-and-demand curves that change hourly based on peak demand times; and water availability and usage is impacted by changes in the weather. With these variables in mind, there soon becomes an astronomical number of ways to evaluate energy patterns — and the need for big data and analytics comes into full view.

One key benefit of using data to go green is that it allows a customized approach. Each company has different energy needs and patterns, and the data collected is unique to each site. With data analytics, it’s possible to compare similar retail box stores to each other to better benchmark their performance, all while taking into account the weather impact on a building and type of structure.

For example, a building in Louisiana will naturally have different energy patterns than its sister site in Michigan. It’s important to consider these differences, along with other types of differences that could impact a building, when transitioning to a more sustainable way of energy usage. Using this information, combined with the data unique to each site, will strengthen the accuracy of each building’s energy needs, which ties back to key factors that drive energy initiatives — benchmarking and budget expectations.

In the end, each business initiative ties back to cutting costs. Any given C-suite executive can ask, “What’s the value of the programs we’re putting in place?” and the project lead is expected to have an answer prepared. By instituting regular data collecting routines, energy managers and business leaders can use those numbers to demonstrate the benefit of their green initiatives. This will not only arm them with the tools needed to establish sustainability goals, but also help them benchmark against future goals. Prepared with data, business leaders can insert energy benchmarking into quarterly conversations to demonstrate the success of the program.

Consistent data collection and analysis allows new opportunities to reduce energy usage, and thereby reduces an organization’s energy spend. The numbers are already there — in utility bills, various meters and alarms, and external sources. Now, it’s time for business leaders to collect the data, connect the dots and put those numbers to work.

About the author: Patrick Jones is Ecova’s expert on everything related to expense management and complex payables. As the Expense Management Product Management Director, he draws on more than 15 years of industry expertise, including vast experience implementing operational software tools and services across telecom, waste and utility spectrums.

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