How can big data make organisations more energy-efficient?

For many companies, one of the biggest challenges of the modern era is making their operations as energy-efficient as possible. An effective approach here can not only save money, but also improve the image of a business as a responsible, environmentally-conscious organisation.

However, identifying where operations can be improved may prove tricky – and this is where new technologies can help. It was recently noted by Business Insider that big data analytics can greatly assist in providing the insight needed to make changes.

This is crucial, as the publication observed buildings are one of the biggest – and most wasteful – consumers of energy. Business and residential properties may waste as much as 50 per cent of the energy they use, which in the US alone equates to $200 billion a year.

However, with the right tools, this can be greatly reduced. The US General Services Administration (GSA), for instance, adopted a highly-sophisticated big data solution from FirstFuel, which uses information such as weather data, the building's address and public web searches to spot areas for improvement.

The tool uses services such as Google Maps and Bing to gather details on a building, such as how many floors it has and how many workers there are. It can even determine details such as the type of air conditioning system used based on the equipment visible on the roof.

FirstFuel chief executive Swap Shah said: "We've made the whole process of analysing the energy performance of buildings incredibly scalable and low cost, so in the time you would normally take to physically walk through and generate a report for one building, we can do for thousands of buildings now." 

The results of this analysis can be significant. For instance, the system spotted that in one of the GSA's premises, there were energy spikes at 10am and 3.30pm. This was traced to two large fans in the building that were unnecessarily operating at full power. Adjusting the settings on these helped contribute to the location saving $800,000 a year in energy expenses.

Overall, the GSA is now saving $13 million a year on its energy usage, with 90 per cent of this coming from reducing evaluation costs across its 180 sites as a result of the big data solution.