In the past, energy was seen simply as an input that was hard to measure in detail and always ended in a high cost. That perception has changed, and energy is now an entity that is deeply understood and can be managed in a methodical way.

Much of what led to this shift in thinking is the big data movement. Data is more available, granular and affordable to store in large quantities. This opens all kinds of doors when it comes to analysis. Technology can be used to sift through reams of data to pull precise, customized findings far beyond what anyone has been able to do in the past.

The energy efficiency marketplace has seen this shift to data-driven insights reach an inflection point over the last few months, especially in the residential space. From Google's $3.2 billion purchase of Nest Labs and the recent IPO filing of residential energy efficiency powerhouse Opower, to Box's recent shift toward data-crunching and Oracle’s big buy of data management leader BlueKai, there is clear validation that this market is ripe for huge growth in data-driven solutions.

These companies have cracked the code on the value of data, understanding that the real value drivers lie beyond the data itself. It is now time to apply that same deep-data thinking to compel utilities, building owners and individual property managers to change their behavior and realize the huge energy savings potential in the commercial sector.

Make data tangible: Providing actionable insights

In order to propel change, utilities and building operators must be able to see beyond basic consumption data or analysis. When asked why they have not yet addressed energy efficiency, many people respond that they simply don't know where to start.

There are "best practices" published daily, but those long laundry lists can be daunting and seem unrealistic when it comes to execution in a single building, much less across a whole city or portfolio of buildings. In order to make energy efficiency a priority, turning complex data analysis into simple, actionable insights is a necessary step.

Providing a building operator or energy manager with information not only about spikes in their data consumption, but also about the ways in which they can reduce those spikes and realize savings, is a first step toward mass energy efficiency adoption. 

Make data personal: Customization at scale

While providing actionable insights is important, making sure those insights are customized for each and every building also helps drive energy efficiency. Telling energy managers that they are in need of new light fixtures as opposed to telling them they need five new lights on floor 14 can be the difference between them just nodding and actually acting. The more specific and customized a report can be, the better chance there is that report recipients will fix problems and lower energy consumption.

While data provides the raw foundational information, it is the unique algorithms and remote technology that allows for customized analysis at scale. At FirstFuel, we analyze all sorts of data, including weather information, insights from Google Earth, and, of course, data from the buildings' meters. However interested and intrigued our customers have been by the data and analysis, the real reason they’ve valued our solution is because we can use it to execute mass customization and one-to-one relationships with their customers and buildings.

Make data normal: Creating standards

Most utilities and building operators rely on the expertise of individual auditors to analyze their buildings’ energy use. While this can provide a snapshot into the building's energy efficiency, it can be limiting. Think of it as a photo as opposed to a video: you can only gather the details that exist at that one moment in time.

With today's advanced computing technology, it's now possible to offer that rolling "video" view of energy consumption by remotely analyzing building data in near-real time. Not only does this help eliminate the one-day-only view that often comes with in-person audits, but it also aids in standardizing energy use measurement and ensuring that all buildings are evaluated fairly in a way that's comparable. It also helps provide those utilities and their commercial customers with the information they need to make adjustments that will realistically help reduce energy consumption and realize savings.

"Big data" continues to be a buzz phrase today, and every industry is talking about how data can help improve operations and reduce costs. In energy, that data has existed for a while now. The real game-changer is implementing deep data analysis that takes those massive amounts of data and uses it as the basis for actionable, customized insights.

We have seen the momentum in the residential energy space, and the commercial energy sector is poised to experience a potentially larger impact. The more we can gather from data to inform future activity, the better positioned we will be to cut energy costs and reduce our carbon footprints. This has been an exciting start to the year for the energy efficiency market, and here at FirstFuel, we can't wait to see what the future holds. 

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Swapnil Shah is CEO of FirstFuel, a demand-side data analytics company.

Tags: big data, building efficiency, building energy management, data analytics, first fuel