08/26/16 : Stephanie Byrd

How data tracking will help save Boston’s transportation sector $25 million

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), which operates bus, subway, railway and ferry routes in and around the Boston metro area, knew it wanted to cut back on energy costs. (The MBTA spends $42.5 million a year on electricity and is Massachusetts’ largest electricity consumer.) There was just one problem: lacking a system-wide view of operations, they weren’t sure where to begin.  

The challenge: pinpointing energy cost

In the past, decision makers often had to “go with their gut”. Today, however, with the increased availability of data, it is possible to effectively aggregate, filter and qualify the vast amount of information at our fingertips – possible, but not easy. That’s why organizations need time- and energy-saving tools such as enterprise-level management systems.

These systems make it possible to compile and monitor efficiency and sustainability initiatives, pulling data from sources as diverse as electricity meters and carbon management software. This is especially beneficial to organizations that have multiple locations and hundreds – if not thousands or millions – of data points to capture and analyze.

Utilizing enterprise-level management systems

To better understand how, when and where it was using energy, MBTA began utilizing Schneider Electric’s Resource Advisor – an enterprise-level management system – to visualize, measure and manage efficiency and sustainability initiatives across its entire footprint. The management system currently collects MBTA’s energy data from 218 energy meters across 45 sites and analyzes the information. By benchmarking site performance across the portfolio, identifying non-optimized stations and prioritizing energy-efficiency projects, it allows MBTA to broadly monitor and control its energy consumption.

The Authority’s goals are noteworthy: by implementing this technology as part of a comprehensive energy-management plan, MBTA plans to reduce energy costs 12 percent next year and save $25 million over the next five years.

Why should other U.S. cities follow suit?

Public transportation is already successful in reducing energy consumption and harmful greenhouse gas emissions as it uses less energy and produces less pollution than comparable travel in private vehicles. Plus, in the past decade, there has been an undeniable shift toward the electrification of transportation which presents the opportunity to better monitor and manage energy use. Nevertheless, mass transit systems are energy intensive and trimming electricity demand for the top five largest transit agencies in the U.S. would significantly reduce the energy required from carbon-fueled power plants, thereby delivering energy savings to taxpayers.

Cost savings open the door to new opportunities

Visibility plus analytics leads to good decisions. In this case, powerful software and services provide new insight into energy data and uncover opportunities for efficiency. One benefit of reduced energy use for MBTA will be much leaner utility bills.

And then MBTA faces a new and welcome challenge — where to reinvest the savings to better serve Boston’s commuters?