A2 Radio: How to Use Analytics to Reduce Your Power Bill

(Image: Pixabay)

(Image: Pixabay)

It's invisible and we take it for granted, but the moment that it's unavailable all the things we rely on to keep us connected, informed, and comfortable disappear. It's power and electricity, and we need it for light, heat, Internet access, and more.

Like everything else, it comes with its costs, monetary and otherwise. Can analytics help?

Is it possible to use analytics to identify ways to cut power use and costs?

Recently my household's power company has been sending me emails and letters showing me how I compare to my neighbors in terms of energy consumption, and the news is not good. In spite of the many LED lightbulbs we've installed in our home to replace incandescent bulbs, our home still consumes more power than our energy-efficient neighbors and most of our other neighbors, too.

In spite of their offer to conduct an energy audit to help me discover why my energy use is higher than that of my neighbors, I confess that I have not followed up with the power company to investigate. Part of me wishes that I could just have the answers right there in the email itself, because a power audit would take up time, and I'm busy and impatient.

But I have my own theories about why our power use is higher. Perhaps it is because I am a telecommuter who uses a computer at home during the day. Perhaps it is because I have two sons who play video games. Maybe it's because I'm one of those people who sometimes leaves the computer on rather than shut it down at night.

Chances are I'll spend time thinking about these things, apply slap-dash fixes to them, see no results, and end up wasting more money and energy than I would have if I'd just had the power company come in to do their audit in the first place.

That's what happens when you rely on your gut without the analytics to back it up. By applying analytics to the problem, you are more likely to identify the efficiencies and apply solutions in a timelier fashion. Analytics can truly save time and money.

Now multiply the energy savings in my home by hundreds or thousands of homes. That could really make a difference. Now consider how much businesses could save through greater energy efficiency. Energy savings means less money burned and going up the chimney and more money going to the bottom line.

To help you learn how to apply analytics to power usage and improve your company's bottom line, we welcome Robert K. Kaufmann to All Analytics radio on Feb. 14 at 1 pm ET/10 am PT. Kaufmann is a professor of Geography and the Environment at Boston University, and separately has founded a company to help businesses use analytics to find energy cost savings. Join us (register here) to find out how to make energy analytics work for you and your organization or company and bring more of that revenue down to the bottom line.

Jessica Davis, Senior Editor, Enterprise Apps, Informationweek

Jessica Davis has spent a career covering the intersection of business and technology at titles including IDG's Infoworld, Ziff Davis Enterprise's eWeek and Channel Insider, and Penton Technology's MSPmentor. She's passionate about the practical use of business intelligence, predictive analytics, and big data for smarter business and a better world. In her spare time she enjoys playing Minecraft and other video games with her sons. She's also a student and performer of improvisational comedy. Follow her on Twitter: @jessicadavis.

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Re: Saving On Energy ? Will the Real Tesla please stand up ......
  • 2/20/2017 5:35:36 AM

"almost negligible reductions in the brightness of lights and heating/cooling levels"

Keyword "almost".  If they're really that low and unnoticeable, then why not implement them all the time?

And, moreover, if we're talking analytics, shouldn't we also be talking about the blow to morale and what the dollars-and-cents cost of that is?

"Well, I just had to strip to my shirt sleeves and the lights are dimmer.  Must be 2 o'clock."

Re: Or you could...
  • 2/19/2017 7:52:50 PM

@ Tomsg, I search off and on for a solar device I could use in my own apartment.  I figure I could use it to keep smaller devices charged.  I live in a fairly new building and I'm kind of surprised my city San Francisco hasn't mandated that newer buildings install solar panel.

  • 2/15/2017 4:32:32 PM

Today, the last piece of electrical capacity to be added to the grid is typically the most inefficient large generator available. And it's often archaic. (There's a reason why it's idle 95% of the time.)

With better information, we can likely peak-shave the demand so that piece of junk never gets spun-up again. It's happening today with large corporate users, as you describe. Because one enterprise can implement a small reduction across their large demand, it works.

In the future, with better information, we can expect similar reductions to occur across many smaller users too.

Re: Saving On Energy ? Will the Real Tesla please stand up ......
  • 2/15/2017 11:47:49 AM

@PC. True, the combination of lots of computers being turned on or lots of lights being turned off could lead to another turbine spinning up.

One interesting trend when it comes to business use during peak periods is that there are services now that help a business reduce their energy demand during those times by implementing almost negligible reductions in the brightness of lights and heating/cooling levels. In exchange the business gets rebates. Employees shouldn't notice the change, which might be as little as 1-2% and lasting less than an hour, but that reduced energy use spread across an office campus and multiple large companies in a city can be huge in the aggregate when it comes to the utility managing the supply.

Re: Saving On Energy ? Will the Real Tesla please stand up ......
  • 2/15/2017 10:49:14 AM

@Louis Interesting analogy, especially in light of actual history. Edison actually did come up with electric cars, but that design did not win out for mass production, and it is only nearly a century later that they've made a comeback. As for autonomous cars, though, I think we still have quite a ways to go before we'll see them out of testing. 

Re: Saving On Energy ? Will the Real Tesla please stand up ......
  • 2/15/2017 10:41:15 AM

Although I'm not sure I had the impression the power companies were getting some sort of grant or subsidies to do educational programs to promote conservation. I have taken my company up on an energy survey and have done lots of energy saving remodeling projects to save power. The analyitics should help folks save if they understand which appliances, etc are actually using the most power, i.e. anything that heats up; water heeater, irons, home heating system, etc.

Re: Saving On Energy ? Will the Real Tesla please stand up ......
  • 2/14/2017 9:46:20 PM

@PC    Thanks for the insight into how power companies despense and balance power consumption. I always thought, quite naively that there was enough power in a grid to go around, but after reading your explanation of peak rates...etc. It makes complete sense that by "economic inducement" so to speak, power is balanced out among the user base.

A very interesting and apparently effective approach being used by the Utility Companies.

Re: Saving On Energy ? Will the Real Tesla please stand up ......
  • 2/14/2017 9:29:30 PM

@Ariella  You are so right. When I first learned of Edison and Telsa it was from a Scientific/Engineering angle, it wasn't until much later that I even recognized their contributions were heavily influenced by Capitalism.

Edision and Telsa were at the forefront of an emerging Market worth un-told trillons and history will show that Edision was much more intune with the realities of a burgeoning market that would change Society forever.

To that end, I quess AI and electrical vechicles are the new AC/DC of our era.

Re: Saving On Energy ? Will the Real Tesla please stand up ......
  • 2/14/2017 9:19:26 PM

"...but part of me sees giant arches of electricity hopping from city to power plant in a very sci-fi sceneries."


@SaneIT    I have envisioned the same scenario, but who knows had this process become refined maybe, just maybe later generations would have figured that piece of the equation out.

Could we figure it out today ? Doesn't look like anyone is interested.  Though if it were the"hot tech undertaking of the day" I am not so sure it couldn't be achieved to some degree.

I like your point regarding the waste in the dispensing of power, why is it not stored like runoff ?    Seems practicial and possible to me.  

It is analogous to the rain run off in California - not all of this great rain we have been getting is completely saved. This is mind boggling to me.  

Some forethought and a little efficiency would go along way whether it be in the transmission of power or the collection of rain water.

Re: Saving On Energy ? Will the Real Tesla please stand up ......
  • 2/14/2017 6:21:12 PM

Power generation has to be sized for the peak demand. 

It's quite an art to figure out when to turn-up or turn down additional capacity to meet the fluctuating needs during the daily and weekly and monthly cycles.

In effect, turning on one light or one computer is basically free if the generating capacity is already up and running. But if not, that one new demand will mean spinning up another turbine - which only comes at an enormous cost.

That's why some commercial customers will have power contracts that have far higher charges for power usage during peak summer afternoons. In effect, the large customer will idle their plant so that all the households can run their air conditioners for a few hours.

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