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Green sense: AI-driven PropTech can help control rising energy costs while making sustainability goals a reality

By Richard Smith, senior director energy management solutions, MRI Software

Often energy management gets lost in the shuffle when large organisations with extensive, sprawling property portfolios look at how they manage costs. The trouble is the huge surge in UK energy prices, and government cutbacks on financial support to businesses in this area have meant that understating and controlling gas and electricity consumption has leapt to the top of many companies’ agendas.

Research reveals that an increasing number of UK organisations see managing their energy consumption as a major concern. Nearly two-thirds of British businesses (64%) say energy is now their top business risk, with 91% saying their board is concerned about how they are dealing with this issue, according to the npower Business Energy Tracker 2023.

What’s more, many management boards are becoming increasingly aware that, in addition to grappling with rising energy prices, reducing their carbon footprint is emerging as a critical priority – especially with investors, other stakeholders, and government regulators eying a future in which companies need to demonstrate sustainable practices across their property portfolios.

Meeting the challenge

Most businesses aiming to better understand their energy spending discover that gathering the information they need across multiple properties is rarely straightforward. More than half of the companies we deal with simply don’t have easy access to all the figures and data they require to get a clear picture of their energy use and spending.

The scale and complexity involved can be the biggest challenge. For instance, a company operating 100 buildings with, on average, 10 energy metres per site could create over 17.5 million records per year that it would have to process to get a complete and accurate picture of its energy consumption. A larger, global enterprise might have, say, 55,000 properties that it manages worldwide, making the magnitude and complexity of processing the data massive.

It’s not all bad news, however. Today, there are software tools that capture, measure, and analyse massive amounts of energy usage data – often leveraging Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning capabilities to do so. These tech tools make it much more manageable for organisations to turn data into usable insights and real actions on energy efficiency and environmental sustainability.

Harnessing the data

To fully understand the energy data any business generates across its property portfolio, an organisation needs to identify where and how that information can be captured. When you look at a retail store, an office block, a hotel, a shopping centre, a medical facility, or any other commercial property, you will find that sensors are used to track and manage footfall, air quality, desk occupancy, meeting room use, and other everyday aspects of building use – or can easily be deployed.

They can then bring this data all together via technologies that automate energy data collection, compiling it into a user-friendly application for analysis and reporting – employing AI-driven analytics to make sense of the massive amounts of complex information being processed. This tech-enabled approach allows organisations to identify and combat common and often unnoticed energy wasters across their property portfolios, giving them complete visibility of energy consumption and ways to eliminate wastage.

Seeing the results

Working with organisations to tackle energy inefficiency in this way, we have seen some of the challenges that have surfaced once they start tracking energy use – including some that go beyond that. For instance, one retailer taking a closer look at its electricity consumption discovered it had been leaving on escalators connecting four floors _ and had been running them 24/7 for five years. In another instance, sensors installed to track energy usage in an office meeting room discovered very high CO2 levels, explaining why staff got headaches when they met there.

Overall, employing energy management technology yields positive results. For example, deploying energy management technology enabled Carlsberg UK to reduce power use in its brewing process by 10% – while cutting its water consumption by 10% and its effluent costs by 16%. In another case, Apleona, a leading European real estate and facilities management company, deployed a centralised system to report on carbon emissions while identifying energy conservation measures – reducing, in a typical project, energy consumption by 25%.

The management of energy consumption is emerging as a clear strategy among a growing number of businesses, and many are looking to tech tools with AI capabilities to measure, monitor, analyse and manage their energy use. The result is they gain a clear picture of what they are using and how empowering them to make smarter decisions – resulting in many seeing energy efficiency boosted by 30%.