Are the usual energy efficiency solutions coming to their natural end?

Are the usual energy efficiency solutions coming to their natural end?

The past few years have seen an increase in the applications that use smart meter data to help consumers, residential and otherwise, manage and reduce their energy consumption in the interest of the environment, as well as that of the bottom line: lower energy consumption means lower bills, fewer peak demand incidents, less pollution, less waste. Building on, and complementing that newfound data, the retrofitting industry has offered solutions that can decrease energy bills. Still, with high initial investment (in terms of AMI, BAS and, frequently, building retrofits), often long ROIs and inaccurate retrofit savings estimations, the financial aspect of such an approach to efficiency can often cripple efficiency efforts, resulting in subpar or incomplete applications: having high installation and fixed AMI costs and difficult to reach ROIs, all these metering, monitoring and retrofit solutions can fail to meet the consumers’ expectations.There is no doubt that a good monitoring program can help buildings save thousands, but savings can amount up to a certain percentage; after that point, to scale up efficiently this approach one needs utility subsidies or grants from the government.

At the same time, consumer behavior remains an important – albeit usually overlooked – factor that determines the overall energy consumption of buildings, one that may be improved without big investments and difficult-to-achieve ROIs: Behind ever flip of a switch, every degree of a thermostat, every print job and every decision to throw away or recycle a plastic bottle there is a person choosing to behave in an efficient or a-not-so-efficient way. For example, reports indicate that energy efficiency behaviors account for 51% and 37% of the variance in heat and electricity consumption in buildings respectively.

Ever since the launch of its first monitoring and analytics solution, Intelen realized exactly that: that efficiency is a two part equation, one part being the identification of energy waste sources, the other being the behaviors that hide behind each energy consumption action. To overcome the metering and retrofitting limitations mentioned earlier, Intelen has been researching human behaviors in relation to efficiency, using data from its monitoring/analytics and efficiency solutions as well as research from leading behavioral scientists: In all human-building systems that Intelen currently researches, such as an organization or a company, the most important unstable variable turns out to be human behavior. Inefficient human behavior can be sometimes hard to detect but bears significant impact on the overall sustainability of a building.

In this regard, energy awareness, (the training of a consumer in understanding how much his actions and use of appliances contribute to total consumption, coupled with helping him plan specific actions that could lower consumption in a quantifiable way), can turn out to be of paramount importance in achieving substantial, and sustained, energy consumption reduction: an energy consumer that is able to know in real time the energy consumption that his /her behavior is causing and compare it to that of other similar users, is more likely to initiate efficiency inducing changes – and keep them up.

It is therefore essential for an organization not to underestimate the environmental impact its occupants have on it its buildings, as it is to understand its buildings as a Behavioral based Learning System (BLS). Behavioral-based learning stems from the idea that effective instruction revolves around individualization and by understanding each individual’s characteristics and personality, learning can be achieved effectively. In that respect, in order to break that efficiency ceiling, and to secure measurable results without prohibiting investment, organizations must design learning plans, aligned with their main efficiency strategy, plans that include all the necessary tools to accomplish constant motivation and engagement of their people, and which incorporate game mechanics, social media applications and training/learning content adapted to their specific occupants, to further enhance participation and effectiveness for a long sustainable change of behavior that will lead to knowledge, attitude and behavioral change and, ultimately, energy consumption and cost reductions.

Dr. Vassilis Nikolopoulos,
CEO and co-founder, 
Intelen Inc