Consumption Down & Prices Up: What the Energy Data Tells Us

Kathy Montgomery

The data crunched in the Ecova Big Data Warehouse provides good news for champions of corporate energy efficiency. Our rigorous and granular analysis of the energy consumed by U.S. commercial enterprises shows a decrease of nearly 9 percent in total electric consumption intensity (as measured by kWh per square foot) between Q4 2008 and Q4 2012.


The Ecova Big Data Warehouse, which currently contains 2.5 billion points of data, is constantly fed detailed insight into the energy consumed by more than 700,000 distinct facilities, operated by more than 700 of the country’s largest organizations. For perspective, the consumption we monitor equates to over 25,000 MW of U.S. electricity demand, representing a statistically solid sample that equates to just over 8 percent of the total U.S. industrial and commercial electric load. Put simply, we have big energy data, and we’ve developed some very sophisticated tools to analyze it.

The Ecova Big Data Warehouse gives us a unique and valuable vantage point from which to identify the greatest opportunities for continued nationwide, sector-specific, and even company/site-specific energy efficiency improvement. Here, we’ll share some insight from our analysis, which is covered in further detail in our recently released white paper: Big Data Look At Energy Trends: 2008-2012. We’ll also pose some food for thought on what you can do to affect further improvement based on what we’ve learned.


Our data tells us medium box retail, small box retail, and mercantile (malls) are clearly leading in consumption reduction across vertical markets. These segments have slashed more than 12 percent of consumption from their portfolios since 2008, with big box retail reflecting a healthy reduction of more than 8 percent for the same period. These verticals have been bolstered by incentive programs, which have netted many retailers a two-year or less payback for energy efficiency programs.

On the other end of the spectrum, energy consumption in the outpatient healthcare sector has been relatively flat, and consumption at inpatient facilities is increasing. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that U.S. hospitals use more than twice as much energy per square foot as office buildings. As consumption builds in this segment, those cost increases can’t be offset as they would in other industries; healthcare facilities have set reimbursement rates. They’re also facing significant revenue gaps due to shrinking budgets, declining tax bases, aging facilities, and growing energy costs due to new technologies and increasing automation.

While these complexities contribute to a slower journey to payback (the average simple payback period for energy efficiency programs in healthcare is 3.8 years), those willing to commit reap significant rewards. By improving energy efficiency, hospitals can meet the constant challenge to reduce costs, elevate the quality of care, and compete in the marketplace. For some, potential energy savings could even equate to a new source of capital for investment in facilities, expansion, or bottom-line improvement.


Time to payback involves many facility and vertical-specific variables, but across the 17 verticals we monitor, the Ecova customers who show significant uptake of energy efficiency projects—such as proper commissioning/re-commissioning and startup of their HVAC systems—have reduced energy consumption and increased inhabitant comfort without exception. Re-commissioning HVAC systems, installing and optimizing building control systems to automatically tune HVAC systems to weather conditions, and new technologies—such as condensing boilers—have provided immediate improvements to their bottom lines.

Still, there’s plenty of room for further improvement. The EPA reports that, on average, 30 percent of the energy used in commercial buildings is wasted. Improving energy performance through better asset utilization and behavioral change remains a multi-billion dollar savings opportunity—an opportunity that will become ever more relevant as energy prices continue their steady ascent from the depths of recession.

In the face of climbing energy prices, Ecova hopes the view into energy use intensity provided by its Big Data Warehouse will prompt conversations about how to identify and prioritize new savings opportunities. The data should raise questions including:

  • Is kWh per square foot the optimum intensity metric for a client’s specific industry?
  • How did productivity changes or other factors specifically affect intensity in a client’s portfolio?
  • To what degree did energy efficiency projects decrease energy intensity?

This last question is a particularly relevant one. Utilities worked diligently to provide energy savings incentives throughout the recession to assist their clients in cost cutting initiatives. That trend continues, with utilities launching a host of energy efficiency programs across the nation as our economy continues to recover. Which of these will bear the most fruit in your organization? The answer is in the big data.

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