AT&T announced, in its recent sustainability update, that it realized more than $191 million in energy savings from 2010 to 2013 by implementing more than 18,000 energy efficiency projects.

2011 2012 2013
Cooling & Heating 353,309,786 212,222,672 230,221,890
Lighting 43,483,314 169,525,150 95,821,284
Building & Envelope & Management Systems 12,822,475 55,636,336 9,416,948
TOTAL 409,615,575 437,384,158

335,460,123

According to an AT&T Energy Management brief, the annualized savings includes 335 million kWh in 2013 alone. Last year about 69% of the savings came from cooling and heating projects, 29% from lighting and 3% from building and envelope management systems.

Environment Energy Pro spoke with John Schinter, AT&T’s Assistant Vice President of Energy and Smart Buildings, for more details of how the savings were achieved.

Last year about 69% of the savings came from cooling and heating projects, 29% from lighting and 3% from building and envelope management systems.

How has your energy management strategy changed over the 2010-2013 period?

I think when we first started we were formally establishing the system and creating a model that gave us visibility over performance. This system allowed us to centralize utility bill invoicing for a very large count of facilities. Over the last five years we’ve seen an evolution from the most obvious investments in energy efficiency. As we’re five years in and ROI has become a little more challenging to find directly, we have to look a little deeper and harder and become more engaged with investments in the network, not only with the facilities we have but in general optimizing the energy used in the network itself. That’s demonstrated by improvements in energy intensity, which has dropped by about 64%. So you’re seeing a pretty good improvement in how much energy we use per petabyte of data.

So you’ve essentially moved on from the low-hanging fruit to some harder-to-implement projects. What are some of these higher-hanging fruit?

We have a very technical portfolio – it’s not a traditional administrative office or retail environment. We’ve got heavy telecoms infrastructure. One area where we use a lot of electricity is central office switches – those are the components that actually allow one person to talk to another person, either on landlines or cell phones, by switching that signal to another location. We can make a lot of improvements by consolidating switches and improving how they work. This also substantially reduces cooling requirements. Right now, there is an evolution happening, and a lot of switches are going to be IP-based. But this work applies to future technology as well as the conventional technology.

Cell sites are another big deal on the network side. This includes obvious things like converting bulbs to LEDs. We’ve installed LEDs at about 3,600 sites and have a lot more to go. There’s also huts at the base of towers that have to be air conditioned, to serve the needs of the equipment, and we’re now aggressively pursuing economizers and free cooling for those. That has a dramatic impact on the efficiency of sites, and we’ve changed our standards so that’s part of the design.

We’ve installed about 80,000 motion sensors on lighting systems in central office spaces, making sure that when network technicians are not near equipment, those lights will go off.

Tell me about your energy scorecards – how do you gather the information for them?

This is a big data problem. Data comes from many sources, and we integrate them into a common scorecard to indicate energy performance for different properties, infrastructures or people. We take a little bit of a different approach from conventional energy management, in which benchmarking plays a role. That’s good if you’re trying to get started, but the reality is, in order to have impacts as we have had, we’ve had to launch a huge number of projects at all times. We have to track information for thousands of projects.

The biggest component of the scorecard is evaluating the actions being taken at the property. If you, for example, enjoy a reduction at a site, is it because of things not in your control – maybe weather, or equipment that left or came in? One would argue you shouldn’t benefit from random change. We’re looking for very specific actions at the property, and we really hold people accountable for that. Then at the end we look at the year-over-year trends – and we think that’s more important than building-against-building. We found a huge correlation between where we’ve identified actions undertaken, and where we see improvements.

Tell me about your Internet-of-Things project. Is it providing info to the energy scorecard now?

It is providing that information already. We’re essentially using the same technology we offer out to industry. We are in the process right now of connecting intelligent sensors and intelligent infrastructure, so we are creating intelligence, and we using that for the purposes of optimizing energy and reliability. The Internet of Things, or machine-to-machine technology, allows us to look at infrastructure and look at the integration of building management systems. It’s the integration of all these things together that creates this intelligence.

I see that your Internet-of-Things project is a long process, with the building operations center expected to be ready in 2019. What are some milestones in this process? What are the challenges?

Obviously there many steps required to get there. It’s not a single effort. The count of properties will continue to increase as we evolve. In the beginning we’re going through some evolutionary and testing phases to connect sensors together and create big data. We’re making sure we have a handle on these technologies, so that we start to connect equipment together and sensors together. Once we have this intelligent command center, we’ll be looking not just at sensors or alarms but intelligent data.

Who are your major vendors and partners on these projects?

Vendors and partners play a role because a lot of the infrastructure is already there and a lot of the sensor technologies and building management tools exist already. We don’t design those – we buy components. I’m not allowed to mention all our vendors but we do recognize certain sustainability partners each year. This year Hitachi and Bloom Energy played a role. [Previous AT&T Supplier Sustainability Award winners include Cisco and Schneider Electric.]

I notice you did not quite make your alternative energy goal for 2013 (the goal was to install 10 MW over the year, you added 8.75 MW and are hoping to complete several of the projects in 2014). What challenges did you encounter?

We’ve had a rapid deployment and we’re just slightly under 20 MW of alternative and renewable power deployed today, versus 1 MW or so four to five years back, so we’re on a serious growth path. There were permitting delays, but the commitments are still being maintained – they’re just occurring slightly later than we had targeted.

Tell me about the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Portfolio RetroFit Challenge – how did it help you? What were some of the results of this work?

I think working with an organization like RMI is very effective – they bring a fresh perspective on the bigger properties we look at. They’re able to come in and do incredible deep dives and find all the investment opportunities and do an ROI analysis to say what is the best combination of deployments.

They’ll do this complete deep dive on a particular facility and its potential within a large portfolio of properties. They did all the modeling and iterations for us to come up with an excellent combined list of opportunities. They also find properties of a similar nature to do a larger scale roll-out, to get maximum impact.

As for what worked, I don’t know if I’d point to a particular technology – but there was an a-ha moment that came with seeing which technologies go together to get the highest ROI.

Originally posted on Environmental Leader, July 16, 2014

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