By Laton McCartney
Richard Watson is frustrated. For several years Watson, a professor in the management information systems department at University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business, has been telling IT chiefs about the importance of energy informatics, but it has been a tough sell. “CIOs still don’t see this as a central role for IT,” says Watson.
That may change soon. “We expect that CIOs will increasingly be given responsibility for finding solutions to reduce corporate energy consumption as the idea of energy informatics gains acceptance,” Watson says.
Last year Watson and Marie-Claude Boudreau, an associate professor at Georgia, did a report on energy informatics for the Advanced Practices Council of the Society for Information Management (SIM). Watson has since been named the council’s research director and has been evangelizing the need for IT executives to take ownership of what is proving to be a major energy and money saving tool. Recently, Watson spoke with CIOZone about this emerging tool
What exactly is energy informatics?
It’s a specialist subfield. It focuses on creating information systems based solutions for energy supply/demand systems. It uses sensor networks to gather information about the use of current energy consumption and distribution systems. The efficiency of many current energy consumption and distribution systems can be improved by using sensor networks to gather information about their use and applying the gathered information to optimize these systems.
Can you give a specific example of how this works?
Well, on a really simple basis, sensors can see if employees are in the workplace. If they aren’t present, the air conditioning or heat is automatically shut off. Or in a college dorm, if no one is in a room, the cooling or heating system shuts down automatically.
Is this is use today or is it something that’s on the horizon?
Some companies are using it with great success. For instance, Telenor, a wireless provider from Norway, reduced its electricity usage from 300 kWh to 100 kWh per square meter. With its 1,100 workplaces that are individually controlled, only areas that are in use and active are heated or cooled. Rooms are regulated with 600 multifunctional office nodes with sensors, while 900 valves control ventilation.
You’ve written that while CIOs in the U.S. have gotten on board with green energy, they’ve been slow to move on informatics. Is there a reason for this?
Energy informatics is being used in this country on a limited basis. For example, UPS has a Telematics project where a large number of metrics were collected from the trucks, drivers and customer interactions. This led to valuable insights when the disparate data sets were aggregated and analyzed. Indeed, once UPS had a global view of its entire data asset, it could then understand that its delivery personnel were driving unnecessary miles and could recommend remedial practices.
Still, CIOs have been slow to adopt this approach. One of the problems is that to create an informatics energy system, IT has to work with the building people. And as a rule IT doesn’t talk to them. Another is that the software generally has to be custom built.
What does the CIO need to do to prepare for energy informatics?
We recommend that CIOs consider several steps for acquiring the necessary human skills. For instance, the IS unit might need to hire, or gain access to, an energy economist who understands the various energy options available to a firm and their financial implications.
IS will also need to incorporate building automation within its control or develop a strong relationship with those who currently run the building management systems. Corporate information systems and building automation need to share data such as room occupancy time and numbers) to ensure that air flows are delivered when needed and rooms are not unnecessarily cooled or heated.
Finally, management scientists will be needed to advise, develop, and implement algorithms for flow network optimization. Finally, sensor network skills will be required to design the networks necessary to capture the data for optimizing flow networks. Given that such skills should not be required on an ongoing basis, consulting services should probably be used.
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