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Is it the CIO's job to reduce energy consumption?

CIOs will be given the responsibility to develop products to reduce energy consumption, a recent report says, and they should start now to build expertise in energy informatics.

CIOs increasingly will be asked to reduce energy consumption at their corporations. They should start today to hire the expertise and forge the relationships required to build information-based solutions that can manage energy supply and demand intelligently.

That is the view of a recent report from the research arm of the Society for Information Management (SIM). The association of senior information management professionals urged CIOs this week to take on energy informatics, a new subspecialty that applies information systems to optimize energy supply and demand.

The report, "Energy Informatics," by Richard T. Watson and Marie-Claude Boudreau, professors at the University of Georgia, lays out a framework for addressing the role of the CIO and the IT department in reducing energy consumption. It outlines energy system technologies (flow networks, sensor networks, sensitized objects); the key components of the integrated information systems that broker the data; key stakeholders; "eco-goals"; and political strategy.

The report's core argument is that "the efficiency of many current energy-consumption and distribution systems can be improved by using sensor networks to gather information that can be used to optimize these systems." Or, as Watson and Boudreau put it: energy + information = < energy.

To meet this challenge, CIOs must begin adding expertise and developing new partnerships, including:

  • Hiring an energy economist who understands the energy options available to the company and their financial implications.
  • Tapping management scientists to advise, develop and implement algorithms for optimizing flow networks, the connecting components that support the movement of continuous matter (electricity, oil and air, for example) or objects (cars, packages and people, for example).
  • Developing a strong relationship with building management systems people. Building an information-based energy solution requires that information systems and building automation systems share data to ensure, for example, that air flows are delivered when needed and rooms are not unnecessarily cooled or heated.

UPS reduces energy consumption with energy informatics

Some businesses and governments already are doing just this, the report notes. The city of San Francisco, for example, is building a large mesh network to reduce the time drivers spend hunting for spaces -- an estimated 30% of all traffic in its central business district. Metered parking spaces are being equipped with wireless sensors to monitor available parking, as well as the volume and speed of passing traffic. Information on parking availability will be broadcast on the Web, on street signs and to smart phones.

Some insurance companies are offering "pay as you drive" insurance to drivers willing to install a back-box device in their cars to monitor how much they drive. The device, linked to a national network of satellites and data recorders, gives insurance companies the ability to calculate a driver's insurance premium dynamically and reward customers who drive less, the report explains.

Industries that rely heavily on fuel, of course, are investing heavily in these systems.

United Parcel Service Inc. (UPS), the world's largest package delivery system, is reaping energy savings from a three-year effort to build an information-based energy system, said Chuck Holland, vice president of industrial engineering at UPS, in a phone interview this week.

UPS used energy informatics to reduce drivers' idling time by an average 15 minutes a day; multiplied by 55,000 drivers, the reduction will save
1.4 million gallons of fuel a year.

Chuck Holland, vice president of industrial engineering, UPS Inc

The UPS' telematics project, as it's called, marries the voluminous delivery data from a driver's Delivery Information Acquisition Device with data captured by truck sensors. The sensors measure everything from speed and seatbelt use to the number of times the truck is placed in reverse, and the amount of time spent idling.

Using advanced algorithms and proprietary firmware to correlate and analyze data, UPS discovered its drivers could reduce idling by an average 15 minutes a day by adhering to established UPS procedures and new guidelines prompted by the data analysis. The 15 minutes' reduction in idling saved 25 gallons per driver, per year; multiplied by 55,000 drivers, that savings will amount to 1.4 million gallons of fuel saved per year.

The telematics project was driven by three veteran engineers. Even so, engineering a system that could capture, analyze and sort through the thousands of data bits per driver daily, and deliver them in actionable form to a supervisor was a huge undertaking, Holland said.

A data point that bodes well for companies willing to invest in energy informatics? One of the most interesting aspects of the UPS telematics project was the speed with which employees changed behavior when presented with the data, Holland said. Far from getting a lot of pushback, "in most cases, the behavior changed the very next day," he said. "People understand the importance of reducing our fuel consumption and carbon emissions."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer.

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