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Published on January 21st, 2019 | by Tina Casey

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Sexy Or Not, Here Comes Energy Efficiency In Buildings (#CleanTechnica Interview Part 2)

January 21st, 2019 by  


Competition in the communications biz is getting hotter and heavier by the minute, so it’s always interesting to see how legacy companies like AT&T deal with the constant upgrading needed to stay ahead of the curve. In the latest development, AT&T has teamed up with the energy efficiency startup Redaptive to cut costs while also leveraging connectivity as a platform for growing its business.

Energy Efficiency And Human Resources

Redaptive’s specialty is efficiency-as-a-service. The concept is like a power purchase agreement: you contract for an energy efficiency upgrade with no money up front, and you pay it off through savings on your energy bills.

CleanTechnica had an interesting conversation with Redaptive earlier this month, and one theme that jumped out was the idea that Fortune 500 companies like AT&T have enough capital to ramp up energy efficiency, but they don’t have the staff to scale up and accelerate their upgrades. Last week AT&T’s AVP for sustainability operations, John Schulz, sat down on the phone with CleanTechnica to explain how the partnership with Redaptive helps blow out the bottleneck (following comments edited for clarity and flow):

CleanTechnica: AT&T has been involved with energy efficiency for a long time. What is new about the Redaptive collaboration?

Schulz: We’ve been thinking about energy efficiency for decades, but the way we approach energy has changed. Over the last several years we recognized the need to transition a low carbon economy. We want to be part of the solution.

Technology is an enabler for us and for our customers. There’s a lot of excitement about renewable energy and we are now part of that. Last year we announced 820 megawatts of wind power, we totally get it. But, we also recognize that efficiency — while not as eye-catching — is absolutely critical. As the saying goes, “the cleanest kilowatt is the one we don’t use.”

CleanTechnica: What are some of the typical aspects of your energy efficiency initiatives?

Schulz: One area is the one that’s the most common is large buildings with people working in them, including retail stores. That offers opportunities for efficiency in lighting and cooling.

There are other opportunities in other types of facilities, for example a building that contains network equipment, like central offices and data centers. There are large points in our network where there is more equipment than people. These create an even greater opportunity as we transition to more software and less hardware. In one piece of energy efficient hardware we can use software to do different things.

Cooling is also a tremendous energy use, so we focus on optimizing cooling.

The Invisible Energy Efficiency Makeover

CleanTechnica: How about areas that people may be unaware of?

Schulz: What’s less obvious is the communications network. In addition to large buildings you have huts and vaults, the small structures you see from the street. There are thousands of them in the US. They dot the horizon. We are now realizing those also provide tremendous opportunity for efficiency.

We are now using sensors to determine what’s happening in those huts. By using connectivity to monitor those, you can see what’s going wrong, you know what’s going wrong, so you take the right equipment with you the first time to go out and fix them.

When we look at the business case for this kind of new monitoring technology, there’s the electricity savings, the fuel piece, and time — time is money.

Efficiency-As-A-Service

CleanTechnica: Tell us more about your relationship with Redaptive.

Schulz: A few years ago we hit a point in time when we had plucked a lot of the low hanging fruit. The energy efficiency projects with a high return on investment were drying up. The funding for energy efficiency projects was redirected to other corporate priorities because the return wasn’t as attractive. We needed a new way to fund and implement these projects.

So we developed the model with Redaptive. From our perspective it was a game changer because it leveraged our connectivity to pull out the data — lighting, for example — so we could see immediately what the energy savings would be.

Redaptive then used that data to build an accurate model for future savings. They analyzed the building and installed the new lighting with AT& T connectivity, which enabled a comparison to the previous baseline.

The nice part efficiency-as-a-service is that some of it goes to reduce the electricity bill, and the rest goes to fund the model over a period of time. You use connectivity so you’re not guessing. You’re using actual, real data; it’s not really predictive, it’s real data.

Sharing The Energy Efficiency Love

CleanTechnica: Why is AT&T interested in sharing the model?

Schulz: Without a doubt we are a success story. Years ago we had this idea that we might be an important part of the energy solution for ourselves and for our customers, too.

In 2015 we set a public goal that said we are going to help our customers reduce their carbon footprint equal to ten times the amount of our own footprint, by 2025.

We are always looking for new technology to support that, and this is a perfect technology to do that.

We are finding applications all over the place, like farming, shipping pallets, and food waste. We also know, based on our business, that buildings have a huge environmental impact, and so we’ve been working closely with Redaptive to take lessons learned, package it up, and promote it.

The Redaptive case study is an effort to raise the visibility of the model. We have been working together for about three years but 2018 was the first year we scaled up. We did 600 buildings, so we’re seeing a nice uptick in this use case.

Wait, What Case Study?

So, there you have it. If you’re interested in more details about efficiency-as-a-service, check out AT&T’s press release for the case study under the title, “AT&T and Redaptive Helping Companies Save Electricity, Reduce Carbon Emissions.”

Here’s a snippet that sums up the business case:

By integrating its platform with AT&T Internet of Things connectivity, Redaptive uses detailed energy savings data to help customers implement energy-efficient building equipment. What does that mean for customers? A reduction in energy costs and GHG emissions with no upfront capital investment and immediate financial returns – while helping them meet their sustainability goals.

As described by AT&T, the case study makes a great case for energy efficiency:

In 2018, Redaptive customers installed LED lighting at more than 600 buildings, reducing annual electricity use by almost 160 million kilowatt hours. If 50 buildings in 100 of the largest U.S. cities were to adopt the service, they could reduce emissions up to 770,000 metric tons of CO2e per year. That’s equivalent to taking almost 165 thousand cars off the road a year.

What’s Next For AT&T?

The Redaptive partnership is just one piece of AT&T’s decarbonization puzzle. The company has also been installing IoT sensors in older structures with older energy management systems where the inefficiencies are more difficult to weed out. The idea is to get a heads-up on maintenance and repair issues.

Another project of interest involves a data carrier partnership with GE, which involves installing thousands of sensors around San Diego. The monitors will track air pollution and weather patterns among other things.

AT&T has also begun to focus on promoting electric vehicles, another area in which connectivity and data delivery are expected to grow exponentially.

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Image (screenshot): AT&T via YouTube. 
 





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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.



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