Seven ways to unleash the power of energy data - Marcus Alexander

Comment by Marcus Alexander, Advisor – Sites at Energy Systems Catapult

In the mission to cut costs and carbon across public sector buildings and estates, an invaluable asset is often overlooked: data. In theory, it offers everything we need to monitor, predict and reduce energy use and emissions. In practice, real-world complexity and resource constraints often see data filed in the ‘too frustrating’ bin. But it’s not just numbers; it can be a north star, pointing the way to better projects, better energy procurement, and budget-friendly buildings that help direct more funds to vital public services.

Doesn’t your data deserve a chance to make a difference? Here are seven ways to help you unlock its potential.

  1. Admitting you need data is the first step…

Imagine running a large business without a Financial Director, or embarking on a project with no budget in mind. Understanding your energy consumption is just as critical. Utilising data can offer certainty on energy, costs and emissions while showcasing your progress. Moreover, it provides operational benefits by improving understanding of your estate, helping you spot inefficiencies.

  1. Start assessing and collecting data

The journey begins by defining your boundaries – and avoiding the pitfall of data collection for its own sake. Identify the data that is critical and the data that is easy to collect. Think about your goals and the main data insights you need to help achieve them. As a minimum, aim to get a good understanding of how much energy you use and where (or how) it is used. Start small, and as you progress, expand your data collection efforts in line with intended outcomes and the benefits you want to deliver.

  1. Improve as you go

Energy data comes in various forms; from half-hourly data, to estimates based on best practice benchmarks. The key here is to strive for the best quality data needed to deliver your goals. Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) meters, which provide automatic, detailed consumption patterns, are top tier in terms of accuracy. At the other end of the scale, estimated data based on similar types of buildings, or on activity per m2, can still support better planning.

  1. The reality of metering on sites

Onsite metering can be challenging. Often, sites lack sub-metering, especially when it comes to heating demand or fossil fuel consumption. Additionally, it may be that fiscal meters are not automatically read, and there’s a lack of ownership and skills for data monitoring. Solutions include upgrading meters including getting smart meters, more resource allocated for regular data monitoring, a unified dashboard for all meters, and better granularity of metering to provide valuable insights on fossil fuel and heat use.

  1. Steps to baseline your energy use

Free tools like our Business-as-Usual (BAU) Estimator can help. It’s an interactive tool that helps you use energy data from your buildings and sites to provide baselines and forecasts of energy, carbon, and costs. It produces helpful graphs that can be lifted into strategy documents and business cases.

  1. Translating your data into a decarbonisation plan

Once you have a comprehensive baseline, you can start planning for decarbonisation. This forms the basis of your plan – and a measure against which you can assess the impact of your proposed interventions. By including aspects such as asset lifetimes and any future plans or anticipated changes to your estate, you will be able to estimate the size of low-carbon heating solutions, as well as outline costs based on sizing and necessary alterations.

  1. What does the future hold?

The true potential of energy data is yet to be unlocked. With machine learning and AI, we can manage our buildings more efficiently. Big data sets will help us create accurate benchmarks, better understand decarbonisation pathways and the performance of different technologies in the real world, paving the way for more sustainable practices. …And there is help, ‘InSite’!

Backed by Innovate UK, InSite is a new project to develop a national energy database that holds and synthesises data from 1000s of sites, projects and technologies like never before. The aim is to help set benchmarks, unlock finance by demonstrating returns, and help cut costs and carbon across UK sites, among other benefits. A pilot is currently underway with NHS England – you can find out more here.

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