There are things humans can’t do. Effectively capturing and analyzing second-by-second energy-use data from multiple buildings is one of them. The new smarter buildings partnership between IBM and Carnegie Mellon University, announced yesterday, will provide an integrated monitoring system that finds ways to reduce energy use in the built environment.

By 2025 the National Science and Technology Council estimates that buildings will be the largest consumers of energy. The implied costs of such an estimate are both monetary and environmental and IBM’s Building Management Center will address both, says Wayne Balta, vice president of IBM Corporate, Environmental Affairs and Product Safety.

“There’s a huge opportunity to reduce day-by-day expenses by managing buildings smarter. And the environmental side, of course, is that consuming less electricity is a great way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. CMU continues to reinforce the stature of the area as a place for big ideas, innovation, and literally changing how the world works.”

CMU officials estimate that the university will annually save $2 million, or 10 percent in utility costs, when the system is fully implemented across 36 campus buildings. The rollout will take three years. It will begin monitoring HVAC systems in nine buildings, and eventually extend to lighting, water and other utilities. Those systems report thousands of data points, says Balta.

“The easy thing is to collect data. The challenge is to make sense of it. The world is awash in data and the value comes into play when you’re able to apply analytics to all these data so you can uncover patterns and trends that aren’t detectable by human beings.”

CMU is its own small city, said associate vice president for CMU’s Facilities Management Services Don Coffelt in a video release.

“Six and a half million square feet of infrastructure, miles of underground utility that are owned by the campus: water lines, electrical distribution systems, steam systems, miles of sidewalk, thousands of parking spaces, health facilities, restaurants, its own police force.”

To be able to constantly sort through the data each system reports in each building makes it possible to determine how to more effectively heat, cool and light the campus. Doing so not only saves electricity, but improves people’s experience of being in a building.

CMU is a member of the Green Building Alliance’s expansion of the Pittsburgh 2030 District into Oakland. The group, which includes academic, commercial and nonprofit members, voluntarily committed to reducing energy and water use and transit emissions by 50 percent by 2030. The Smarter Buildings Initiative will help reach that goal.

“If we think collectively about our world at large, we always have to ask ourselves: ‘Is the way the world works smart enough to be sustainable?’” says Balta. “And if it isn’t, what can we do about it?”

Balta says the Building Management Center system is inherently scalable and applicable to a range of demands.

As Pittsburgh city government implements data-driven strategies for efficiency, the partnership between CMU and IBM provides a private model for comparison and speaks to the value of collaboration.

Margaret J. Krauss is a writer, radio producer, and researcher. If not biking Pittsburgh's streets or swimming its rivers, she is likely geeking out about a really good story.