5 Questions with Emily Soontornsaratool, State of Maryland

By Better Buildings Beat Team on May 28, 2015

Emily Soontornsaratool, energy data program manager with the State of Maryland, was next to answer our 5 questions. 

What’s the most interesting project you’ve heard of at the conference so far?

I went to a great session yesterday on energy data and I’m a data geek--that’s what I do for the state of Maryland. I’m a data program manager, so I work with the state government on their energy data. The session was great, there was someone from Massachusetts and it sounds like they have very similar challenges as the state of Maryland. The session was really geared to how to cleanse data, and what to do with such a massive amount of data. So I actually really want to follow up with them afterwards and get into the nitty gritty. I was also really interested in the CBEI New Jersey publication on benchmarking; we’re really interested in seeing what those guidelines look like, and how to implement them.

What’s the biggest challenge in your work?

I’m in the department of general services energy office, and our department is tasked with tracking energy cost and consumption for all state government. We do it through a comprehensive utility bill database that we launched in 2008, which I’m speaking on in best practices in energy data management. The challenge is that we’re tasked with tracking this massive amount of data, but we don’t actually pay the utility bills. Maryland is pretty decentralized and there are 120 different accounts payable offices across the state so it’s a huge task to pull data from all of these different places, run all of the audits, make sure it makes sense and it’s complete.

What’s one piece of advice you’d like to give to a new partner?

Look around at your peers, if you’re a state government, look around at other state governments and see what they’re doing. We’ve been trying to do that, we learned so much through this process, learning from scratch is not the most efficient way to do it.

What will the energy landscape look like in 2020?

Hopefully we’ll have more varied, more renewable energy options. I think we’re going to see more interest in people being able to track their own energy usage, being interested in our own data. In the past, utility companies would’ve held that info and we just knew what we spent. We’ll see people interested in their energy use at home—what time of day they’re using more, or when their demand is high. Also interval data, which is already being used a lot in the private sector. For us in state government, we’re going to have a lot more use for it, putting interval data to use to know when it’s appropriate to do certain things, and adjust our system.

What do you know now versus 3 years ago?

I know now how complicated state government can be, and how unique state agencies are. Coming in, I naively thought a lot of this was going to be easier, one solution fits all. We have 58 agencies that Dept. of General Services tracks, and each of these agencies have their own unique mission—jails, hospitals, stadiums, parks, street lighting, each of these agencies is working to fulfill their own mission to the state, it can at times seem like it’s a conflicting mission. So there are a lot of different entities, their mission is to first and foremost serve the citizens of the state. Understanding that has been an important part of what I’ve learned.