How Intel Labs is using data to curb energy use

Intel Labs held an annual showcase in San Francisco on Tuesday and it showed off how it’s researching ways to use data to help curb energy consumption in residential homes, in offices, on factory floors and across smart cities. The overall take away: to make the world more energy efficient we need big data to understand human behaviors and create analytics to influence habits.
The idea of using data analytics to monitor and curb electricity use has attracted many entrepreneurs and investors in recent years with the rollouts of smart meters, solar panels and electric cars. But many business plans that have been built around energy data have failed or are struggling to win over enough customers.
Intel’s (s INTC) researchers are looking at what data needs to be collected, what problems they can solve and how to present the analytics so that they make sense to different sets of users.
1). The home front:  Intel, along with SAP (s SAP), is looking at how to motivate consumers and utilities to embrace energy-saving plans. For consumers, they get money back for charging their electric cars during times of low electric prices. For utilities, they can reduce the need to buy expensive power on the spot market during hours of peak demand. Achieving both goals – and making sure any change to reduce electricity use won’t compromise comfort – requires getting and crunching data from multiple sources to provide analytics on demand (and in real-time), said David Boundy, director of the Intel-SAP project in Ireland.
For electric car charging, the researchers use data from sensors built into the cars or driver assistance programs like OnStar to learn a car owner’s driving habits over time — how many miles are typically driven and how often the car needs charging. Combine that data with electric pricing, which can vary throughout the day, and the results determine when and how much energy should flow into a near-empty battery. Intel researchers also use data from weather services, home thermostats and sensors to track the energy use of various appliances and determine whether people are home in order to figure out when to heat or cool their houses.
Intel started a pilot project on electric car charging with Ireland’s grid operator and utility, ESB, two months ago. Residents in the pilot get money back for charging their cars when electric prices are lower (ESB doesn’t have time-of-use rates for its regular customers but created those rates just for this project). Intel plans to expand the project to include more electric car owners in Ireland in fall this year. In the first quarter of 2013, Intel wants to run the project through the Pecan Street project, a smart grid research project in Austin, Boundy said.
2). Office space: More companies are undertaking efficiency retrofits to hit energy reduction goals. But those efforts are usually top down – building managers shut down equipment or adjust temperatures and lights manually or through pre-programmed settings. Do those efforts negatively affect workers and their productivity in the process?
Intel wants to know whether employees can help improve their company’s energy management plan. Researchers install energy and temperature monitoring sensors on computers, fax machines, printers, phones and other IT equipment. They then take the data from those sensors to show the amount of energy use by each device and whether the energy use exceeds each worker’s energy use target (a wilted flower would pop up on screen to indicate energy overuse).
The data also shows energy use by day, week, department, building floor to enable workers to compare their energy use to others. The employees can provide their own feedback about the comfort levels of their work space, information that could prompt building managers to adjust energy settings. Intel just completed a pilot project in Japan and is conducting another one in France.
3). Factory floor: What is a good energy management system for a factory? Intel believes it should tell factory floor managers how their decisions to run or idle certain assembly lines or deal with sick leaves will affect the factory’s energy use. The idea is to incorporate energy savings data and projections into a computer program in which the managers already are familiar with for scheduling equipment use and work shifts, said Connor Upton, a cognitive systems engineer at Intel labs.
The program could suggest and show, say, whether to turn on the power saver mode for certain equipment when it became idle because the worker operating that line called in sick. Being able to respond to changing conditions on a factory floor is important for managers to embrace energy management efforts, Upton said, and many existing systems don’t make it easy for them to do so.
4). Smart city: A few months ago, we highlighted Intel’s outlook for cities of the future and how sensors will play a big role in monitoring and managing resources as well as traffic, pollution and conditions. At the Intel event on Tuesday, the project’s researcher, Terry O’Shea, showed off a newly finished app that will take the data from weather and pollution sensors and show residents where pollution levels are particularly high on a map. The information could, for example, help people chart a different jogging route.
Intel plans to launch a pilot project in Dublin, Ireland in two weeks, O’Shea said. The company will install the pollution and weather sensors – which will take stock of wind directions and speed to show the movement of the pollution – on lamp posts, traffic lights and buildings. The city will get detailed data about the levels of harmful gases such as carbon monoxide and fumes from cars’ exhaust pipes. Residents would get an aggregated pollution level reading to help them avoid hot spots in the city. The pilot project is set to run for five years and will include London as a testing ground.