March 2013

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Reducing Energy and Environmental Footprint

Two major components: the first is Customer Engagement; the second is Facility Management.

Philip Playfair, CEO,
Andrew Roehr, CTO,
Lowfoot, Inc.

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According to the US DOE’s Building Energy Data Book, the United States buildings sector accounted for about 41% of primary energy consumption in 2010. That was more than transportation and industry, 44% and 36%, respectively. The four largest end uses in that year were space heating, space cooling, water heating, and lighting. They represented about 70% of site energy consumption.

With the economy recovering, building of commercial space, in terms of mid- and large-scale office towers to malls and multi-unit housing developments, is expected to accelerate significantly. Going along with development is higher energy consumption. Growth in building sector energy consumption is expected to increase as much as 31% by 2035. In many instances, buildings will meter space differently, and move away from tower consumption billing toward individual unit billing.

As a result, the drive today is to create smart buildings as part of a strategy to reduce energy usage from the outset and going forward.  This is perhaps best seen in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design or LEED program, a voluntary set of guidelines to be used in building energy efficient structures.  A more activist approach is shown in the California “Net Zero Energy” objectives for commercial and residential buildings that “no net purchases from the electricity or gas grid” with a path to 100% new construction compliance by 2030.  However, for the existing commercial inventory, it is often focused on adding new technology (e.g., system controls), building modifications, new materials or improved systems management, in order to achieve premise energy reduction.  While these efforts are making a significant impact on reducing per-capita (or per sq ft) consumption, it still does not solve the problem of the “Peak”. (For more information about California’s Net Zero Energy Plan, visit:

Electric system “Peaks” occur when demand is high, and are a normal, everyday occurrence, often in response to weather.  Utilities plan for the peak and many regulators require electric generation and infrastructure to be built with spare capacity to accommodate consumption events beyond the design peak, in some cases keeping 10% – 15% of their capital deployed idle, waiting for the peak moment.   When those peaks arrive, utilities and grid operators declare a “scarcity event”, and “demand response” programs kick in where commercial building owners may find themselves asked to shut down half their elevators or turn off banks of lights or otherwise curtail consumption.  In some cases, power is interrupted, or localized rolling “brownouts” can occur, often damaging expensive equipment and decreasing worker productivity.  For large commercial and industrial complexes, which often have sophisticated premise Energy Management Systems, these events can be not only survivable, but also profitable by selling their measured demand reduction back to the grid.

With the broad installation of Smart Meters, small/mid-sized commercial and industrial customers as well as residential customers can begin to participate in the energy eco-system not merely as a ratepayer, but as a conscious consumer with choice.  These customers represent a significant and controllable load for utilities, and the introduction of Smart Meter technology enables them to participate in the same kind of load shifting or load reduction efforts as industry.   Lowfoot’s technology platform gives the owners and managers of small business centers, shopping malls and corporate office towers that have smart metering in each leased unit, the ability to reward reductions in energy consumption both at the unit level and facility-wide.  Tenants can choose to reduce consumption as they see what their activities cost.

Usage Graph

Figure 1: Detailed graphs of usage at specific meters.

This “choice” model, which does not require initial capital investment by the property owner or utility customer, relies on commercial incentives to quickly make a difference.  It is a new kind of “Demand Response”, available broadly, executed inexpensively.   Lowfoot technology has huge implications for managers who want to optimize their energy pricing and reinforce tenant relations with a value-added program.

According to Pike Research, the majority of commercial customers engaging in demand response programs have been large businesses and institutions. However, utilities, grid operators, and curtailment service provides are now looking at small and medium-sized businesses and institutional customers. These groups account for a significant number of facilities and sites that can contribute a considerable amount of load curtailment during a peak event. In addition, Pike Research forecasts that the number of commercial facilities participating in demand reduction programs will rise more than double, to approximately 1.5 million sites by 2018.

Our technology has two major components. The first is Customer Engagement. We provide daily or weekly “Action Alerts” to customers that allow them to set a baseline for managing their energy, and then showing day-by-day how they are doing against that baseline.  Leveraging Email, SMS Text and Social Media to reach end users, the system is highly flexible and allows customers, or tenants, to be notified when there is a need for them to reduce their consumption. 

In short, Lowfoot’s technology allows a wide-range of malls, mid-sized and smaller automated buildings to participate in demand response programs. When a demand response “incident” occurs, participating members are notified to reduce their usage during a specific period of time on a specific day for a set price. After the incident the usage reduction is measured and verified for each participant using our proprietary bench-marking algorithms.

Weekly Summary

Figure 2: Weekly summary email comparing usage across weeks

The second component is Facility Management. Lowfoot can provide a way for property managers to aggregate the demand of the units within their buildings, and even compare building performance across their portfolio.  As facility owners invest in retrofits, this gives them an historical record of consumption that also allows them to see the real benefits of, for example, new windows, lighting, or other infrastructure energy improvements quickly. This feedback can help them make more informed decisions around the real cost benefits of energy retrofits and innovation.

Energy Dashboard

Figure 3: Energy Dashboard for managing electricity usage across multiple properties.

[an error occurred while processing this directive] The comparison tools built into this product allow property owners to monitor either daily or weekly usage at all of their facilities. For owners with multiple, similar type facilities, the application can help identify anomalies between these properties. Lowfoot works with any kind of smart meter data and can help multinational firms track their electricity, gas and water usage around the world.

For organizations that are developing or have a corporate sustainability mission, the technology can be used as a tool to organize a reduction scheme amongst employees and customers. For utilities and retail energy providers, it can be used to help build relationships with customers by providing an easy to use tool that helps customers leverage value from their smart meter data.

Building development has numerous impacts on the environment, from the obvious of carbon dioxide emissions to the less obvious but potentially more critical issue of potable water consumption for generation cooling.  Today, approximately 40% of carbon dioxide emissions come from energy use in buildings. This will only grow over time. In addition, it is estimated by the DOE that cutting energy use in U.S. buildings by as little as 20% can save $80 billion a year.  In 2005, the US Geological Survey report on water consumption tells us that thermoelectric-power withdrawals accounted for 49 percent of total water use, 41 percent of total freshwater withdrawals for all categories, and 53 percent of fresh surface-water withdrawals.  Perhaps most alarming is that the increase in electric/water consumption, which tracks economic growth, is greatest in the South and Southwest United States, areas in which water is already scarce. 

Usage Profile

For building owners and managers, Lowfoot can track energy costs, water use and carbon impact, improve understanding of usage patterns and help motivate reductions.  Our product can also help tap the general rising awareness of these issues and concerns of tenants and their customers, making buildings more attractive to renters and buyers.  Finally, in an energy-constrained world that is driven by demand and price, it makes sense to look not only at technology and techniques but also changing energy behavior as a tool to better manage consumption. For more information about Lowfoot and what it offers multi-tenant property owners with automated buildings, visit

About the Authors

Philip PlayfairPhilip Playfair, CEO, Lowfoot, Inc.
Philip Playfair, Founder and CEO, is a proven champion and developer of utility software solutions. He spent nine years building, developing and selling Advanced Utility Systems, a utility billing software company.  Prior to Advanced, Playfair oversaw the design, development and rollout of the first electoral data management system in Canada that overlaid electronic voter registration, complex demographics data, polling data and automated data collection.

Andrew RoehrAndrew Roehr, CTO. Lowfoot, Inc.
Andrew Roehr is CTO for Lowfoot, Inc. He has more than 25 years of experience with technology and the Power and Utilities industry. Most recently, he was a Managing Director with Pricewaterhouse Coopers, LLP where he oversaw their “Smart Energy” practice in the US and their Global Center of Excellence.  Prior to this, he was VP of Smart Energy – North America for Capgemini.


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