Big data, an extremely large complex of data sets is ‘the’ inevitable tool for smart cities to measure the feasibility of a smart city initiative. Smart cities have become the role players, setting benchmarks for every urban sector including, transportation, health, education, etc. And big data is that instrument which is intensifying the possibilities of setting the right benchmark.
In a similar manner, use of big data is crucial to combat energy challenges in smart cities while enhancing energy efficiency in every sector. According to European Union, which envisions increasing energy efficiency by 2030, buildings release 36% of carbon dioxide emissions and consume 40% of the energy consumption. Similar kind of statistics holds good for US buildings too, which are responsible for 40% of energy consumption.
With buildings responsible for the highest amount of energy consumption, we will look at how smart cities are tackling the problem.
The Maiden Energy Initiative Gone Successful
Envision America, a nonprofit organisation encourages the nationwide cities to become smarter by deploying the innovative technologies to leverage economic, social and environmental benefits. A few years ago, the nonprofit rolled out its first energy initiative along with the city of Charlotte, UNC Charlotte, Duke Energy and local businesses. The aim was to help Charlotte’s biggest buildings in the city centre curb energy consumption by 20%.
Though it was an ambitious goal, 61 out of 64 high-rises in the city signed on. Moving ahead, shadow meters and public kiosks were made available which illustrated all the buildings data related to energy costs and consumption levels. The building operators, occupants, tenants all with the help of data illustrated, worked together and made sure the lights were turned off, monitors were unplugged, thermostats were adjusted and buildings maintenance practice was improved.
The simple changes made by the people contributed to the ultimate result. 17.2% of the energy consumption was reduced which turned out in $18 million savings.
Looking at the success of the initiative, White House was impressed and asked Envision America to be a part of its Smart Cities Initiative. Currently the nonprofit is working with many US cities to facilitate their smart city projects.
The Largest City-owned Utility In The US Has Big Data Analytics At The Core Of Their Operations
CPS Energy based in San Antonio is the largest city-owned utility in the US. Its services benefit more than 1.1 million customers over a 1,515 square mile service area. The company has its own solar generation capacity for which it is ranked No.1 in Texas. The ranking was also due to its customers’ energy bills that are lowest in the US.
The CPS Energy was able to achieve such a reputation with the help of a flexible architecture comprising Hadoop for storage and SAS for big data analytics. With the help of this architecture, the company is able to grab value out of the data and it is able to provide the customers with the services and products they desire.
Can A Mobile App Help Improve Energy Efficiency?
That is just what the innovative start-up ‘Octo’ is doing. It is a brainchild of a 29-year old Dutch energy consultant, Dirk Huibers who along with his former colleagues Marieke Dijksma and Tara Sonneveld formed the start-up. The start-up aims at changing the way people think about energy consumption.
Octo is redefining consumer relationship with energy. It is a digital application tailor-made for landlords, building managers, tenants and heating installation companies. The app provides the necessary data that motivates people to change the way they use energy. The ultimate resolution is not just low-cost bills, but opportunity to make smarter business decisions and maintain healthier lifestyles.
For example, building managers have access to data that shows the least energy efficient rooms in a network of offices across the world. Schools and hospitals can keep a track on areas with poor air quality, while residents can determine the amount of energy consumed by different household appliances.
Octo does not work like a smart meter. Instead, it works like a secondary data accumulator that analyses the valuable data and make sense of the existing numbers. It gathers data form pre-installed sensors like on thermostats or industrial heating systems thereby crunching the numbers in real-time. With the help of this, users are able to gain greater insights into their daily energy consumption patterns.
“Our aim instead is to turn every consumer into a hyper-intelligent energy user by giving them access to existing data specific to their needs”, explains Huibers. He hopes that Octo will be able to motivate his customers to think differently about energy consumption in a similar manner like smartwatches are changing people’s approach towards exercise.
After the initial strife, Octo won the big data and IT in energy category at the Energy Fest – a start-up delivering a competition in Amsterdam co-sponsored by Shell. The company’s vision convinced the judges at the event.
Today the start-up is a self-funded company securing clients across a range of schools, hospitals, social housing in the Netherlands. Going further, the company aims at expanding its digital app service internationally.
Is Having Access To Data Enough?
US cities have adopted benchmarking to understand the energy performance of the buildings and find out ways to curb energy consumption. Benchmarking evaluates a building’s energy usage in accordance with a performance baseline. As per US EPA, the energy benchmarking of buildings contributes to 7% savings annually, nearly $10 billion in reduced energy costs.
However, municipalities are unable to make appropriate implementations by translating data into actionable insights. With that it becomes difficult for them to identify which buildings are the best choice for driving energy efficiency. These aspects indicated that mere benchmarking laws are insufficient to generate energy savings.
Take for instance the Local Law 84 (LL84) that was passed in New York City in the year 2011. Under the law, all owners of the buildings over 50,000 ft2 had to report their energy consumption data to the city for performance benchmarking. The aim was to enable policymakers with data to develop local energy efficiency programs
Director of the UIL at Stanford University and a data analytics research consultant for the LL84 program saw that analysing, visualising, and translating the data form more than 15,000 buildings into policy recommendations was a difficult task for city officials. There was an enormous amount of data being gathered. He, being a researcher felt it was important for them to help decision makers think about how data can be used efficiently.
To meet the existing needs, UIL researchers developed an innovative integrated data-driven method. The method is able to analyse benchmarking data gathered by the US cities successfully. UIL diverted the comparison of a target building with the local peers instead of using the nationwide buildings as a reference. This helps in finding its potential maximum level of efficiency. The efforts made by the UIL researchers now helps policymakers and city planners to identify the building energy efficiency rankings and ways to maximise energy efficiency.
From the different initiatives discussed above, one thing is clear that data helps smart city managers to make decisions before they can implement big changes. In reality, big data can actually enable smart city leaders to measure the success of an initiative much before it is translated into effective actions. Nevertheless, valuable nuggets of data need to be picked up from the massive amounts of raw big data. For that researchers, utilities or even like-minded entrepreneurs need to come forward to make this data more sensible not just for city planners but also for citizens. Just as mentioned in these inspiring energy efficiency initiatives.