Zero touch energy audit: Will it change the game?

0
- By:

Courtesy of Energy Efficiency Markets LLC

What new energy efficiency technologies will change the game? I’d like to use this space on occasion to explore that question and get your feedback on companies that I profile.

This week’s company is FirstFuel Software, which it appears could make the conventional energy building audit go the way of the buggy whip.

FirstFuel ‘audits’commercial buildings from afar. No human ever needs to set foot in the building and no monitoring or measurement devices are installed on the premises, hence the audit is “zero touch.”

The Massachusetts-based company relies on a Geographic Information Systems (GIS), the Internet, and a proprietary algorithm to remotely analyze a building’s energy use. The program requires some data from the utility, but not a lot: the address of the building and one year of hourly interval electric and gas billing information. It combines this information with building characteristics mapped through GIS and high frequency weather and climate data.

After running all of the information through its algorithm, FirstFuel comes up with a series of specific recommendations to improve the buildings efficiency, the cost and the expected savings.

FirstFuel, which has financial backing from Battery Ventures and Nth Power, describes its work not so much as auditing, but as mining useful data to make sense of a building’s energy profile.

“We sell information. We provide the intelligence about the performance of buildings,” said Swapnil Shah, co-founder and CEO, in an interview. Shah is the veteran of three software startups that have gone to IPO or acquisition: Open Environment, WebSpective Software and mValent.

FirstFuel’s work doesn’t end with the audit; the platform continues monitoring and measuring the building to see if the energy efficiency upgrades are working and how the building stacks up against other like structures. The information flows via a portal that serves as home to a relationship the platform attempts to cultivate between the utility and customer. The goal is to get the customer engaged and motivated about energy efficiency.

What’s interesting is the scale FirstFuel appears to offer. Many states have energy efficiency targets, some with financial penalties if utilities fail to make the grade. Meanwhile, the Obama administration has set a goal to reduce energy use in commercial buildings by 20 percent over the next decade. Given that commercial buildings consume 20% of our energy, and there about five million commercial buildings in the US, how does a utility get to all of them in its territory with an on-site energy audit? How does it even decide which buildings should get priority because they offer the most bang for the buck?

Shah thinks FirstFuel’s platform offers the solution: “We can do hundreds of buildings in the time it takes to do one energy audit” Shah said.

The software is being tested in about 50 buildings.  A Department of Energy-funded project earlier this year evaluated the accuracy of the system against data from 50 submeters at a 312,000 square-foot LEED Platinum National Grid building in Waltham, Massachusetts. FirstFuel took about 19 hours to complete its zero touch analysis of the building and came up with results close to that of the submeters, according to the study, conducted by Fraunhofer CSE.

In another case study, FirstFuel analyzed the energy usage of five municipal buildings in Lexington, Massachusetts, and found ways to save 7.3% of the buildings $1.6 million budget with no investment required by the building owner. FirstFuel identified operational problems that if fixed could save energy without installation of any new equipment in the building. For example, lights were on in the building when no one was there and thermometers were not set at best temperatures.

So is FirstFuel a game changer? How will this technology affect the conventional energy auditing business? Please post your thoughts here. Thanks!

Elisa Wood is a long-time energy writer whose work is available at www.RealEnergyWriters.com

 

Customer comments

  1. By Dan Martens on

    As with most things today in this world of quick and easy information, they may show that they are successful overall in reducing energy use. But, for the individual home owner, how will this process help them find: holes to the outside that need to be sealed, help them figure out why little Johnny's room on the third floor is too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter, why they are getting condensation on their windows in the winter, or how they can fix their specific problem. They are just picking the low hanging fruit of energy saving and not really solving people's problems in which solutions would be recommended in an energy audit. Anything that sounds too good to be true........

  2. By Albert Thermal on

    I suspect that this is a lot about spin, and very thin on substance. It is arrogent to promote that they can generate savings without having actually looked at the property. Greenwashing lives.......

  3. By Rj Romeo on

    @Albert Thermal Pretty vapid comment. On what basis do you make it? I wonder what is more arrogant; to build a company and commit your career to a potentially game-changing product, or to make a vague assertion about greenwashing that is utterly devoid of substance itself.I guess we'll let the reader's decide. I just checked out their site; pretty impressive team and technology, and some independent validation.

  4. By Dave Krinkel on

    Elisa, Thank you for the informative article. There is significant untapped value in the vast quantity of energy data collected every day by smart meters and other energy management systems. And mining this data for actionable information (the “zero touch” approach) is the most cost-effective first step a facility manager should take. But I suggest that there is an even lighter first touch (gee, what’s less than zero?). The FirstFuel approach is certainly more cost-effective than on-site audits, but it still requires GIS data, a substantial software platform, and multiple hours per analysis (like the 19 hour example in your article). So this service will likely only be available to commercial customers whose utilities decide to offer it. I recently introduced a service which analyzes a year of interval energy data for commercial, industrial, and institutional facilities to identify opportunities for savings. The only input is the interval energy data. No information about the facility is needed. The analysis reveals how the facility operates from the perspective of the meter. And the results often surprise building owners/managers. One of my main goals of the service (called “EnergyAi”, www.energyai.com) is to make it available and affordable to anybody who has access to historic interval data for their facilities. There is no software or hardware to buy, no web portal to maintain, no real time connection to establish. My clients send me data files and I send them a report. The price is $20 per report. Again, thank you for highlighting the hidden value in energy data which is already being collected and stored in huge databases at utilities and elsewhere. Regards, Dave Krinkel