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Could big data be the key to solving the energy waste crisis?

24 June, 2015

big dataAccording to Business Insider advanced technologies and big data could be used to fix building inefficiencies, potentially eradicating a $200 billion energy loss each year.

Much of the wasted energy comes from air conditioner adjustments and lights that are left on in buildings.  However, using an algorithm developed by FirstFuel, The General Services Administration (GSA) managed to save $13 million a year on energy costs across 180 buildings. Using a basic electrical meter and address data provided by clients, Massachusetts’ FirstFuel used a variety of techniques including Geographic Information System (GIS), weather information and semantic web searches to identify area wastefulness.   

An examination of Washington DC’s Ronald Regan building found that it was wasting $800,000 a year by running two large exhaust fans at full power. By adjusting the levels of the fans to original design settings, the 4.1 million square foot area was able to make a significant yearly saving.

Speaking to Business Insider, FirstFuel CEO, Swap Shah said: "So we use things like Google maps and Bing maps to zoom in on the physical building.

“We've made the whole process of analysing the energy performance of buildings incredibly scalable and low cost so 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.”

According to Shah, GIS mapping allows FirstFuel to see data such as number of floors, a building’s purpose, its occupancy and sometimes the building’s HVAC system. Anything that can waste energy is taken into consideration and then a profile is created about the building without having to put devices on the areas.

The second business, Kohn Department Stores, identified an annual saving of between 8% - 18% across 1200 stores by installing energy saving software.

Each building fitted with the software is monitored by an automated system which looks at heating and lighting units highlighting if fans are running, the use of heating and cooling systems and whether lights are on or not. 

FirstFuel’s CEO Shah said that there is no reason to scale back on comfort to avoid wasting this amount of energy. “Nobody is advocating that we should live in the dark.”

In the USA both commercial and residential properties are the biggest single use of energy and produce 34% of greenhouse emissions whilst in New York, 75% of the city’s carbon footprint comes from such building emissions, adding to the nation’s energy waste total of $200 million.

This use of big data shows how technology can contribute to greener living.

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