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Over the past few years, capturing and storing data to create massive datasets — or Big Data — has captured the attention of business executives and energy experts alike. As discussed in McKinsey & Company’s 2011 report, “Big data: The next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity,” big data presents numerous opportunities for several sectors in the years ahead. Yet, Big Data remains a fairly nebulous concept for many facility managers, including those who stand to gain tremendously from it right now: real estate energy managers. The reality is that energy managers can leverage Big Data right now.
McKinsey defines Big Data as “datasets whose size is beyond the ability of typical database software tools to capture, store, manage, and analyze.” We’re not talking about simple spreadsheets full of utility bills and asset information tucked away in various facility managers’ PCs. We’re talking about a single database of all that information and more, easily accessible to stakeholders.
Sound familiar to real estate energy managers? It should, because real estate managers at Fortune 500 companies and large governments are already using very large datasets for security applications, site selection and leasing, tracking real estate costs, and managing maintenance, capital, and other projects. Most of these managers use some form of integrated workplace management systems (IWMS) to analyze this data as a whole in order to optimize facilities management and real estate performance. Real estate energy managers can use such tools, coupled with emerging ones, to effectively leverage Big Data for big energy reductions.
Advanced energy managers are already gaining insights into potential energy performance improvement by looking at monthly usage trends. Which buildings have the highest energy use per square foot? Are there similar buildings (square footage, space type, occupancy, HVAC type) that use less energy? What Energy Star rating do they have?
If hourly or 15-minute-interval energy usage is available through a building automation system, some managers can identify opportunities to save energy through better building operation. Are the lights shutting off when the building is unoccupied? Is the economizer turning on when it should? Are ducts leaking? Sophisticated software can identify problems, in many cases much more comprehensively than an on-site energy audit, and generate work orders if needed to reduce overhead time. The State of Missouri is currently taking this approach for more than 1,000 of its state-owned buildings, saving over two percent in energy costs each year.
Some organizations are testing next-generation operational-savings approaches in smart buildings loaded with sensors, such as a “living lab” where 2,500 sensors provide real-time data in a 35,500-square-foot building, reducing the electricity bill by 20 percent and enabling more accurate energy use projections and, importantly, more accurate reductions verification, than any industry-standard approach could provide.
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