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Intelligent Efficiency – Beyond the Components of Energy Efficiency

What is Intelligent Efficiency? Basically, IE connects the dots of all things energy using information and communication technology (ICT) to reduce energy consumption.  IE can be very localized—a single system or household—or expand to include a set of households in a neighborhood, a portfolio of buildings, a city, or even the whole utility grid.

IE was the subject of a recent American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) conference.  ACEEE defines IE as “a systems-based holistic approach to energy savings, enabled by ICT and user access to real-time information. Intelligent efficiency differs from component energy efficiency in that it is adaptive, anticipatory, and networked.”

Simply summarized by the ACEEE, IE is “the convergence of technology and behaviors that saves energy.”

The major components of IE are big data, data analytics, the Internet of Things, and “smart things,” or as Pacific Gas & Electric Company Senior Vice President for Corporate Affairs Helen Burt called it in her welcome speech at the conference, the “grid of things.”

The “grid of things” may just be synonymous with the utility of the future.

According to ACEEE, IE opportunities exist along a continuum of technology and human behavior, divided into three broad categories: (1) people-centered efficiency via real-time feedback (home energy reports, retro-commissioning programs); (2) technology-centered efficiency via automation and optimization (roof top unit controllers, energy management systems); and (3) service-oriented efficiency via dematerialization (video conferencing).

With many opportunities come many players. There are the software giants, hardware giants, control manufacturers, utilities, consultants, regulators, city government, and more. And of course there are risks. Data security is a concern, as well as how to interpret the plethora of data, and how much of it is really necessary. Traditional barriers still exist, and some decision makers—homeowners, tenants, CFOs, building operators, and others— do not see the components as integrated and holistic yet.

Our focus as energy efficiency program implementers is on what we can do to deliver services to the demand side.  With this new level of interconnectivity in the form of real or near real-time information and hyper-connectivity of components, we can and should expand our framework to distributed resources, including storage, distributed generation, and demand response. A systems, whole-building approach to energy efficiency services is the future, but how do we move beyond the component-based definition of energy efficiency? We are currently developing methods to provide ICT in a cost-effective manner that makes people want to act. It will be these innovations that will take IE from concept to reality.

2 Comments Add your comment
Avatar Mike C says:

For everyone to become more energy efficient is going to take every possible resource. The main reason why many of these possible things are stuck in the planning phase and not being done, is because they cost so much to put in place. Spending thousands of dollars to save a few hundred dollars does not make finical sense for anyone. One new (simple) technology possibility for homeowners is the products offered by the Larson Fan company. I gave them a try and they have paid for themselves in just under a year.

Thanks for the informative article Karen. I agree that sooner or later the power of the available technology will be used to create an integrated, semi-automated, central control system for buildings, and I would really like to see Building Energy Simulation tools being the heart of it.

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