Over the past few years, demand response aggregator EnerNOC (ENOC) has been building up a business in helping its commercial and industrial clients control their energy use, not just to power down to help balance the grid, but to save energy in the times in between.
EnerNOC’s efficiency business, known as EfficiencySMART, now serves about 250 customers with more than 2,000 individual buildings, adding up to about 200 million square feet under management. That business comes from big utility or government contracts, like EnerNOC’s deals with Southern California Edison or the state of Massachusetts.
But it also comes from some of its existing demand response customers, which now add up to 8,300 megawatts of load at some 13,000 sites across the U.S. and in the U.K., Australia and elsewhere. EnerNOC hasn’t broken out how many of those customers are using its efficiency product as well, but it does say the EfficiencySMART business has been growing at double-digit rates.
As for the technology behind EfficiencySMART, some recent announcements underscore how the Boston-based company is putting it to work. The first comes from EnerNOC’s home state, where it’s been working on a $10 million, Department of Energy-funded project to network about 1,300 electric and gas meters in 474 buildings across 43 state-owned sites for the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER).
Last week, EnerNOC turned on its cloud-based platform, which now streams about 340 million data points per week to the company’s network operations center (the "NOC" in EnerNOC). From there, two things happen, Gregg Dixon, senior vice president of marketing at EnerNOC, told GTM in an interview.
First, all that metering data gets run through the EfficiencySMART Insight platform, where it’s filtered out and analyzed to find patterns that indicate energy is being misspent. That could range from failing equipment that needs to be tuned up or replaced, to human errors like the office temp who always leaves the lights on at night or sets the thermostat too low.
From there, EnerNOC’s efficiency experts work with the data and with their customers to “deliver a prioritized list of actionable energy efficiency measures” that the customer can take. That could range from tweaking the building management system setpoints to a deep-dive retrofit project, though 80 percent of customers found ways to save that offered payback of a year or less, Dixon said.
One thing EfficiencySMART’s platform isn’t doing yet is controlling loads -- there is no closed loop there, Dixon said. Indeed, managing building data can be a bigger IT challenge than demand response, he added. Two building management systems running close to real-time sensor networks could deliver more data than EnerNOC’s entire DR network, which runs on five-minute signals for the most part, he said (that excludes fast, automated projects like the one EnerNOC is doing in Canada’s Alberta province). Whether or not EnerNOC’s demand response customers might choose to use their controllable loads for efficiency remains to be seen, of course.
We’ve seen a host of startups with software to analyze building energy data and find inefficiencies: SCIenergy, Viridity Energy, BuildingIQ, FirstFuel, Retroficiency and others are a few names that come to mind. Some are landing projects and delivering actionable intelligence that results in lower energy bills. Others, like Serious Energy, have failed to find traction for their software.
All of these companies are looking to leverage the exponential growth in data about the built environment to make efficiency easier, cheaper and more popular. Fewer are asking building owners and operators to hand over direct control of energy loads for day-to-day efficiency, however. After all, in the commercial real estate world, keeping tenants comfortable and happy outweighs saving on your energy bill in terms of priorities.
Technology that can fix comfort problems at the same time it’s pinpointing savings could be useful on that front. On Monday, EnerNOC launched the latest update to its EfficiencySMART platform, adding new features including an automated fault detection (AFD) engine that seeks to pinpoint places where the technology chain of control has broken down. Lots of building energy is wasted by cooling and heating simultaneously, for example, while at the same time, some faults that appear on the system could be caused by a malfunctioning sensor, not a broken piece of equipment.
Using a fault detection engine can help pinpoint those errors, particularly those that may be missed by the typical combination of unwieldy BMS data and harried building facilities managers. Outside-air cooling systems are a particular point of waste, Dixon said -- simply put, they’re often preset so that they either suck in outside air when it’s too warm and wet, thus annoying tenants, or never turn on at all for fear of triggering just such an event.
Solving problems like these requires a pretty complex overlying system to keep the humans involved -- tenants, engineers, accountants, etc., all working on the same page. Of course, showing the math is one thing, and scaling up a real-world energy management platform is another. EnerNOC’s service staff can really help bridge that gap for customers on that front, compared to a software-only solution, Dixon said.
In that sense, EnerNOC could be seen as a competitor to energy services giants like Honeywell, Johnson Controls, Siemens, Emerson, Panasonic, which are all launching software and service offerings to back up their massive installed base of building equipment. EnerNOC doesn’t make its own chillers or building control panels, of course, meaning that it’s as often a partner with BMS and networked equipment vendors.
At stake is a potential gold mine of energy savings -- up to $1 trillion in the United States over the next ten years, based on a $279 billion investment into efficiency over that time, according to a March study from Deutsche Bank and the Rockefeller Institute. That’s a big market to play in, bigger than demand response, in fact, Dixon said.