Energy + Information = Challenge and Opportunity

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Frank Teng
Energy and Sustainability Services

I recently learned that the average U.S. utility company manages 40 different points of energy generation which are feeding into the local electric grid. In contrast, Microsoft’s corporate campus in Redmond, WA has determined that they collect more than 500 million data points each day on energy consumption.

This difference in scale strikes me in two ways: The average utility company is likely to see drastic increases in the number of inputs to the electric grid, with the proliferation of renewable, distributed energy options like solar and fuel cells along with distributed storage such as electric vehicle batteries.  And the challenges facing large corporate or institutional energy users is expanding – it’s not only about keeping lights on and costs down but also now about data management.

On Nov. 8th I had the pleasure of speaking at a forum on Retrofitting Corporate Campuses held by the UC Davis Energy Efficiency Center, where energy practitioners from Microsoft, Genentech, Adobe Systems, UC Davis, and Sierra Nevada Brewing Company shared successes and challenges they faced. A key theme that emerged is that large operations are getting more sophisticated at managing energy to a very granular level. This is largely enabled by advances in “smart building” software and wireless mesh networking that allow facility personnel to sense, monitor, and control devices at the lighting ballast, thermostat, and even fan motor level.

 A key challenge that arises for energy practitioners, then, is how to think more like an IT manager? This is a particularly interesting mind-shift for facilities management personnel who have backgrounds from a mechanical or electrical standpoint. Tech support from internal IT departments will likely be limited, unless facilities and IT department leaders agree to strategic collaboration. As hardware and software energy solutions are increasingly developed for the built environment, questions arising around secure networks, data management, and device control will challenge energy practitioners to evolve their ways of thinking. Anticipating this transition can help position them for future success.

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