Big data has the potential to change almost every industry in America. Energy presents just one opportunity, but millions of dollars and kilowatt-hours stand to be saved if big data is used effectively. At last week’s SXSW conference in Austin, Texas, big data was a topic that surfaced in many panels. Unfortunately, most data about energy consumption goes untracked, but an initiative in Texas may change that. The Pecan Street Project has been collecting data from nearly 900 homes in Texas as well as some electric vehicles.
Time magazine reporter Bryan Walsh attended Pecan Street CEO Brewster McCracken’s presentation at SXSW and posted this summary on Time’s Science & Space blog:
- Power use more than doubles during the brutally hot Texas [summer], compared to the relatively cooler months. No surprise there—though the sheer amount of electricity needed to keep Texas’s air conditioners going might be—but nearly all of that increase comes from the residential sector. During the winter, residences use up just 27.4% of the study group’s electricity, with large-scale commercial and industrial facilities taking up the largest share. But in the summer, residences consume more than half of the total power load, putting so much pressure on the grid that brownouts are a real possibility.
- Cooling already consumes around 50% of electricity use as air conditioners become more common and summers get hotter. (Texas just suffered through a brutally hot drought last summer, and things aren’t likely to get better any time soon.) Well guess what—summers are predicted to became even hotter in the future as the climate continues to warm, which means more electricity use for cooling and therefore, more stress on a pushed to the limit electrical grid. Something will have to give.
- Or something will have to change. The Pecan Street study found that new green built homes used 45% less electricity for cooling per square foot than a conventional home. Retrofitted green homes—meaning buildings that were conventional but which had later been upgraded—used 25.4% less electricity per square foot for cooling. Imagine how much a difference it might make for the Texas grid if green buildings were the norm, instead of the exception? That’s the difference between lights on and lights off.
Big data continues to be important in government, especially in an era of tight budgets. It’s possible that, because of technology, we are on the precipice of fundamental change in the way government operates.
How will your local government leverage big data? Let us know in the Comments section.