Intelligent Efficiency: It’s Smart, It Fixes Failures, and It Saves What Otherwise Was Lost

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This post originally appeared on the ACEEE Blog

Intelligent efficiency refers to a systematic approach to saving energy that marries traditional energy efficiency with wireless and cloud-based computer technologies. These technologies enhance our ability to gather, interpret, and act upon energy information in order to improve performance and achieve new levels of energy savings. For example, building management systems can now determine immediately when a boiler or chiller has begun to operate outside of normal parameters and dispatch a service technician to address the problem. Or, production management systems can slow down or turn off equipment in response to the demands of the day, or even the hour.

The energy savings potential from intelligent efficiency is huge—our new report on the topic, Intelligent Efficiency: Opportunities, Barriers, and Solutions, estimates the economic potential of intelligent efficiency and projects that annual energy cost savings for the commercial and manufacturing sectors could exceed $50 billion (our previous report found that intelligent efficiency could reduce the nation’s energy use by 12 to 24 %). In the next two to three decades, these new intelligent capabilities will affect every sector of the economy and bring about energy savings that we are only beginning to understand.

Some of the most vexing problems when it comes to energy efficiency have to do with measuring and verifying (M&V) savings. Maintaining savings after the implementation stage is often challenging as well. However, thanks to advances in information and communication technologies, some of these problems may soon be things of the past. This is because intelligent efficiency measures are smart: they can fix failures and save energy that would otherwise have been lost.

Intelligent efficiency is smart because it achieves new savings through its ability to analyze data and develop new ways to refine our ability to save energy. These “smart” energy measures will be networked and able to harness large volumes of historical data, run parallel simulation modeling, and identify newer, more efficient methods of operating that increase the efficiency of the building or process over time.

Intelligent efficiency also fixes system failures that often otherwise go undetected. For example, building automation and industrial production management systems can identify devices not operating according to specification, or those that are working harder than needed to achieve desired results. Intelligent efficiency has the power to save what otherwise was lost by ensuring that the energy savings resulting from the implementation of an efficiency measure persist over time. Operating conditions are seldom static. What we wanted our systems to do yesterday isn’t what we want them to do today. Additionally, devices can fail and control settings can be changed or bypassed so that, in the months and years following the implementation, the level of energy savings declines. The comparative and anticipatory analytical capabilities of smart devices reduce the amount of time a building or production process spends outside its optimal operating parameters.

Long-term savings of intelligent-efficiency equipped measures (blue) vs. standard commissioned measure (red)

With the ability of automated systems to optimize performance and provide savings performance data in real time, efficiency programs can start including automation projects in their portfolio of eligible projects, realizing lower M&V costs. This could revolutionize energy efficiency programs by enabling them to focus on providing financial assistance for saving energy rather than on purchasing energy efficient equipment. Utility sector efficiency programs, building operators, manufacturers, and equipment vendors have an opportunity to accelerate this transformation through education and demonstration projects, and by working together to overcome technical barriers. Our report identifies examples of where this is already happening, as well as the next steps necessary to increase market acceptance of these technologies.

In the next two to three decades, we will see intelligent efficiency capabilities emerge in every sector of the economy, enabling new levels of energy efficiency. Stay tuned for further research from ACEEE as we continue to qualify and quantify the potential of intelligent efficiency to improve the efficiency of our economy.

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