5 companies using big data to help the planet

At GigaOM we closely cover the next generation of technology that will be able to manage, analyze and make use of the massive amounts of data that have emerged across industries thanks to the Internet. We even have an annual conference — Big Data — that digs into the issue. But to me, big data tools are also an incredibly important way to help better manage the world’s resources, like energy consumption, food production and fuel use.

In contrast to green technologies like solar power and biofuels, which take decades of research and massive funds to scale, big data tools offer a relatively capital-efficient way to use proven technology to better manage resources, fight climate change and get ready for the 9 billion people on the planet by 2050. If there’s no Moore’s Law delivering rapid and exponential progress for things like batteries, and solar panels, why not try to leverage Moore’s Law in a more indirect way for greentech via big data? Here are 5 companies that are leveraging big data to help the planet:

1). OPower: Last week energy data startup OPower said its software and big data tools will be able to help save one terawatt hour worth of energy — which is the equivalent to the energy consumed by 100,000 American homes per year — collectively from U.S. homes by the end of 2012. That’s worth a whopping $100 million in consumer’s utility savings. Opower’s algorithms collect and crunch utility energy consumption data, combine it with other large data sets, analyze it for behavior-changing tidbits, and package the results into a detailed utility bill that can help consumers save around 2 percent on their energy bills. Per person that might be small, but as a whole, the company, is making a real difference.

2). EcoFactor: EcoFactor is another startup that is using big data sets and algorithms to save home energy consumption, but EcoFactor works by automatically turning down connected thermostats. Earlier this month, EcoFactor released data from 10 trials that it’s done, and found that its software can save customers 17 percent on their energy bills compared to customers that have programmable but non-optimized thermostats. EcoFactor is still in an early phase of deployment, so we’re hoping the company can recreate these kind of figures on a larger scale.

3). Geostellar: Year-old startup Geostellar is using big data tools to help solar installer customers deliver more solar panels to more rooftops in places where it actually makes economic sense. The company pulls together at least 25 different types of data into its software, including information about weather, shadows, roof slope, closest transmission lines, property values, land use, electricity rates, solar subsidies, and solar hazards, and delivers software that can help solar installers optimize where to best sell their panels and services. Solar is a far easier sell in locations that have (not surprisingly) a lot of sun, aggressive solar subsidies, and state clean power mandates, among other things, and Geostellar’s big data tools can cut through the confusion.

4). SAP: SAP built out a next-gen version of its carbon software management tool that is a cloud-based platform and which we were told last year runs on Amazon (s AMZN). SAP’s SVP and General Manager of it Carbon Impact business unit, Anirban Chakrabarti, told me that “Carbon Impact 5.0?, is leveraging Amazon’s cloud computing service to give SAP access to a ton of cloud-based, on-demand computing power, storage, memory and hosting. Carbon Impact 5.0 also leverages “in-memory database” management systems, which use main memory instead of disk storage memory, and which are commonly used in services that need quick response times, like 9-11 operators.

5). Hara: Carbon and energy software provider Hara, which competes with SAP’s carbon tool, is working with cloud provider OpSource for its database, which houses resource information for Hara’s customers, like energy and fuel consuming objects (a truck or a machine) and on average an accompanying 26,000 lines of data for each customer. Hara CEO Amit Chatterjee told me the company plans to work with a yet-to-be-determined “data integration provider and a data analytics solution,” and Chatterjee told me he thinks one day the carbon software industry will be managing 12 MB per second — the equivalent to 1 million SMS messages.