In the final part of our series, technology consultant Steve Miller looks at how organisations can keep pace with a rapidly evolving energy economy.

Back to the (smart) future

What does smart energy management look like? In parts one and two of this series, we looked at how the grid is getting smarter. In this final part, we shall look at what this means for energy-intensive organisations.

First and foremost, we must be able to keep pace. This relies on a combination of robust change management and business agility. Those who don’t do this will fall behind, dragged down by the attrition of avoidable risks and missed opportunities.

For those who do, it means less risk and quicker return on investment. You minimise the losses associated to sunk costs when things inevitably change. It streamlines decision-making and helps budgets go further. Benefits can be delivered organisation-wide, allowing you to better target your efforts where they’ll have the biggest impact.

But where to start?

Asking the right questions…

Just as we saw previously with the grid itself, we must begin with data collection. What that looks like is different between organisations. However, there are two key design considerations: decentralisation and interoperability.

The first simply means you should aim to eventually collect as much relevant data as possible. The more you know about your business, the better you can make it. The long-term goal is measuring lots of things and then looking for relationships between them.

Which brings us to the second consideration: interoperability. This is about easing management and getting the most out of your investment. In short: lots of systems that play nicely together are far more valuable to you than lots of systems that don’t. They’re also less work to maintain.

If you keep these in mind, you should strike a balance between short-term success and long-term flexibility. It’s otherwise easy to find your short-term decisions paralysing your long-term needs or vice versa!

Similarly, it’s important to start promptly but resist any urge to do everything all at once. Decentralisation notwithstanding, in the short-term it is very much focus. Pick one or two clear metrics. Learn what that data looks like. Experiment, to find out how to get the most out of whatever tool you’re testing. Are you collecting the right data? Are there any quick wins to be had?

Over time you’ll be able to handle more data and to wring more information from it. As a result of this, analytics will become more complex. To avoid that becoming a bottleneck, you may want to look to machine learning. This can then assist you in identifying relationships and trends across complex data sets.

This is what keeping pace will look like. It might sound a lot, but these technologies are already here and in use. And for the most part, getting started with them is less daunting than it sounds. And there’s much further to go, for those whose aim is best in class.

… and getting the right answers.

Market leaders will be those who truly embrace change. They will do things like implement predictive AI, which can automate routine – but increasingly detailed – estate management tasks. This frees energy and facilities managers from the day-to-day admin, to focus on strategic planning and driving business growth.

This planning will mean developing the above steps. Aim high but start with focus – identify the lowest-hanging fruit with the highest value to your business. Focus on goals you can achieve within a short timeframe. Certainly, months rather than years; preferably weeks rather than months.

Don’t be afraid of Proof of Concept projects. The learning from one will almost certainly be transferrable to the next. Smart metering, environmental control systems, and battery storage are obvious starts. One successful project will get the board’s buy-in for the next.

Again – and this can’t be stressed enough – make sure you pick single variables that are easily measured. Pick tools that can grow with you and integrate easily with others that come along later.

Don’t be too proscriptive. Go prospecting – you never know what you might find. This means making sure your data is somewhere appropriate and you’ve the necessary to monetise it. These days, that means the cloud. Speak to other teams about what they’re doing on this – it’s almost certain you’ll quickly find allies with similar needs.

Think of all this as an organism – nerves everywhere, pumping data back to the brain for processing into future actions. The more adaptive it is to changing environments, the better able it is to thrive in them.

Most importantly, remember you’re not on this journey alone. Speak to your peers, seek out technology partners, enrol on learning programs. The grid is changing for everyone, so you’re not the only one who is looking for ways to keep up.