Intelligent efficiency is the term used to describe the capability next-generation automated equipment and networks used in buildings, transportation, and manufacturing that have become adaptive to environmental inputs and self-optimizing in performance. This makes possible levels of performance that could not be achieved as recently as ten years ago. The energy savings that result from these investments is enormous.

A key feature of intelligent efficiency is that it achieves energy savings through the ability of all of the components of a system to communicate to each other and collectively optimize the whole system. This has the potential to solve one of the more vexing challenges in the energy efficiency sector—ensuring that savings resulting from an efficiency measure persists over time. Intelligent efficiency has the ability to not only prevent the degradation of energy savings over time, but to actually improve system efficiency over time.

This combination of analytical capabilities presents an opportunity to determine energy savings on a real-time basis and that capability in turn opens up the opportunity for energy efficiency programs to pay for performance rather than for implementation. If this proves to be the case, efficiency programs will not only have new opportunities to secure energy savings, the savings will be more persistent and all will be cost-effective.

All around us, embedded in every property, is a vast, untapped energy resource: efficiency. In the past, that resource was hidden, ignored or misunderstood by the portfolios sitting on the potential, and recognized only by a small group of energy professionals.

But with dramatic advances in web-based monitoring and real-time data analytics, that hidden resource is now becoming something tangible — an asset that properties can measure, manage, procure and sell.

This isn’t the stale, conservation-based energy efficiency Americans often think about.

In the past, energy efficiency was seen as a discrete improvement in devices, but information technology is taking it to the next level, where we are thinking dynamically, holistically, and system-wide.

This emerging approach to energy efficiency is information-driven. It is granular. And it is empowering owners and investors to turn energy from a cost into an asset.

That term, which was originally used by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy in a 2012 report, accurately conveys the information technology shift underway in the efficiency sector.

The IT revolution has already dramatically improved the quality of information that is available about how services are delivered and consumed. Remarkably, these web-based information management tools are only now coming to the built environment in a big way. But with integration increasing and new tools evolving, they are starting to change the game for energy efficiency.

Although adoption has been slow compared to other sectors, many of these same technologies and applications are driving informational awareness about energy in the built environment. Cheaper sensors are enabling granular monitoring of every piece of equipment in a facility; web-based monitoring platforms are making energy consumption engaging and actionable looking for outliers; and analytic capabilities are allowing portfolios to find and predict hidden trends amidst the reams of data in their facilities and in the energy markets.

This intelligence is turning energy efficiency from a static, reactive process into a dynamic, proactive strategy.

What are some examples?

Nest Labs’ first product has made it the darling of both the cleantech industry and design crowd. It’s a cool-looking, some would even say sexy, thermostat that remembers the temperatures you like and comes with a mobile app for your smartphone.

The Nest Learning Thermostat retails for $249 . In November, Nest introduced Nest Protect, a $129 smoke and carbon monoxide detector.

 

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