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Hacking Our Way to a Better Planet, One Data Set at a Time

What happens when a global network of mega-cities commits to urgent climate action and data gurus with the knowledge and tools to help tackle challenges come together? We take one step closer to becoming a better planet.

Schneider Electric Energy & Sustainability Services (ESS) team members took on the challenge at this year’s Qonnections Qlik Hack Challenge to “unite and save the world” by tackling climate change with C40 Cities, using building data from the City of Boston.

Why Boston? Well, buildings account for about 75% of Boston’s greenhouse gas emissions and half of the total greenhouse gas emissions from C40 member cities. That’s a large chunk, which means there’s opportunity to make a huge positive impact on emissions. And Schneider Electric gurus were ready to capitalize on this opportunity.

To drive change in buildings across Boston, the city-wide Building Energy Reporting and Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO) was introduced in 2013, requiring building owners to start reporting data – and about 700 facilities did. Each year since then, more facilities have provided reporting and the data has accumulated. This was the starting point for the Hack Challenge: take this data and make it useful.

Using Data to Drive Decisions

Using the data set from the City of Boston (a C40Steering Committee member) and the Greenovate Boston movement, Schneider Electric experts combined market intelligence, domain expertise and public data sources to develop a multi-purpose tool.  The purposes being to give access to data at the building level, energy and water usage, reporting and compliance with BERDO itself, and to enable city decision-makers to look at trends and develop actions that drive down emissions.

The Schneider Electric team took a simple approach to this challenge: be pragmatic. Make sure the City of Boston has an easy way to review building data, and enhance it with experiences and expertise using Resource Advisor Advanced Visualization.

During design of the solution, the team came across common themes around the data and functionality of the tool they wanted to build. Given that the goal was to help drive building-level action and manage GHG reductions, they wanted to provide feedback at every level – not just the buildings or the aggregate of the city, but even changes over the years. Not only did they create visualizations to review and analyze the data, they also included market analysis on energy costs and compliance and targets for BERDO. They also didn’t forget about the reality of any data set – anomalies and outliers.

These outliers were key. Because the data set provided from BERDO was sourced from individual building owners, there was a huge range of experience and capability with data collection and entry. Building owners could have entered data wrong or misunderstood what information to enter for certain inputs. Needless to say, of the 2200 buildings included in the data set, it was clear the data set wasn’t perfect in some cases.

But, outliers aren’t to be ignored; they can be key indicators of performance, compliance and areas of program improvement. While some could be data entry issues that would speak to a need for program improvement, others could be signs of high energy users, where there’s an area for performance improvement. Regardless, keeping these in were key to provide City of Boston with a full picture into building operations.

The team also included a simple baseline analysis that identified annual targets in relationship to each compliance paths that BERDO allows. Within the Building Benchmark dashboard, building owners could see how they’re tracking against compliance paths. Using the same data of identifying targets on an annual basis against compliance paths, allows building owners to do aggregate analysis to understand how many facilities are complaint in a given year and paves the way for future analysis for all cohorts.

The last feature the team focused on was finding ways to drive change. The building owners themselves are the ones that have to make the improvements, so providing financial information behind cost savings gives them an incentive to implement energy reduction at their facilities. It also allowed city-wide analysis to see which building types have the most opportunity for cost savings.

The solution provided to the City of Boston was geared toward three goals:

  • Allowing city decision-makers to understand current trends in overall building compliance and sustainability targets
  • Allowing city analysts to understand key indicators of performance and make connections between segments and program opportunities
  • Allowing building owners to review their compliance path and data to drive local action

“Our goal was to provide a tool to help the team at the City of Boston meet their goals and not only use, but improve the data they have as well,” said Hannah Miller, Business Intelligence Program Manager at Schneider Electric. “We built an application that enabled them to look at the data through a few different lenses to understand where opportunities lie. And while the software enabled us to build these dashboards and visualizations, our expertise was key in providing actionable insight – we understand energy markets, we know how buildings work, and we understand what it’s like to run an energy management program. This helped us provide a useful and pragmatic tool to the City of Boston.”

The Schneider Electric team took home first place in the Challenge and provided the City of Boston a tool that showed outliers to quickly identify buildings that have performance or program issues, and a data table for a quick view of all property data. It also included property benchmarking that can be used for information sharing, comparisons and potential cost savings from energy reductions.

Want to see our Hack team live and in person? The team has taken on a new challenge with a Fortune 500 consumer goods corporation to show greater insight into managed data quality and water risk and opportunities that will be presented at our annual Innovation Conference in Nashville, TN, August 23-24.

Check back soon to hear more on their findings!