What do money and energy have in common? More than you think

by ‐ Tags: alternative energy, building science

By now, we have all heard about the rising cost of energy and the financial advantages of increasing energy efficiency - predictable budgeting, reduced operating expenses (one estimate is $400 billion savings per year), limited deferred maintenance expenditures. But there is another link between the dollars in your bank account and the kilowatt-hours used at your facility. They are both measured in numbers, and that means data and analytics can be harnessed to save. 

For decades, personal finance was done in ledgers and notebooks through tedious record-keeping, addition and subtraction. Because of the legwork required, many people simply chose not to track finances at all. With the advent of the personal computer in the 1980's and 1990's, software programs reduced the burden of tracking finances, but the process of recording transactions was still a major barrier. 

Mint Logo

In 2006, a small company in California changed all this with an internet application that not only tracked transactions and performed calculations, but did it all automatically. Mint.com became a huge success, today monitoring personal finances for over 10 million users. The secret? By plugging directly into financial institutions, Mint.com removed the barrier of manually entering and categorizing transactions. No more piles of receipts. No more scouring credit card statements. All the data are automatically pulled in from the financial institutions, then packaged in an intuitive, helpful way to allow for painless personal finance.

But what does this have to do with energy? Having worked with hundreds of building owners and operators tasked with how to reduce energy usage, I have seen the same problem as the finance sector. Keeping track of energy use is no small task. Utility bills are not designed with humans in mind. Even when you can find the right information on the bills, tracking spreadsheets quickly become unwieldy. This is a problem for even the most sophisticated energy managers.

As in the case of personal finance, the answer is simple on the surface, but requires some magic behind the scenes. Utilities already have your energy data, and in almost all cases they make it available to you through an internet portal. But just like the banks and credit cards, who has the time to regularly log into each site, collect the right data and store it in a central location? (If you are like me, you don't remember your password anyway!)

Fortunately, new technologies are solving this energy tracking problem. For example, imagine a tool that automatically collects, aggregates and displays your energy data, making it very easy to see important trends, compare one building to another, identify ways to improve and track progress over time. All without looking at a utility bill! It's a pretty exciting time for energy efficiency and sustainable buildings.