While combustion engine vehicles have been getting the rap for emissions, buildings are also major culprits, responsible for a whopping third of all global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. There’s work to be done.
Digital disruption, brought about by the emergence of new technologies, brings with it the ability to approach processes on a granular level. And when you’re in this deep, a whole world of other possibilities which up to this point have remained hidden, start to make themselves known. What you do with this depends on how you cope with change.
This is the general experience of Steve Nguyen, VP of product and marketing at BuildingIQ, the company that came out of Australia but has its HQ in San Mateo in the US. It’s mission? To help building owners and operators worldwide lower energy use, increase buildings operational efficiency, and ensure the comfort of tenants.
BuildingIQ commercialised new technology that came out of Australia’s National Lab in 2011. This core technology, Predictive Energy Optimisation (PEO), enables the control of air-conditioning systems thanks to a mathematical algorithm that predicts how a building reacts under different weather conditions. The net result is optimised energy consumption, building operational efficiency and the comfort of the tenants therein.
The take-up of the technology was good in the Australian market, but the US market proved to be a difficult nut to crack. The reason says Nguyen is the older building stock, and the wide variety in general, in the US. With so much legacy infrastructure and variability, it’s harder to move toward a newer model because of the financial implications of abandoning an asset.
“Australian stock is newer, much more homogenous,” he says. “The Australian government also had the foresight to make all metered data available to everybody in a standard format. So you can actually get the current and historical meter data for a building.
“But you can’t actually do that very easily, if at all, in the US. We have a green button which helps, but it’s not widespread yet. It’s sometimes very difficult to get ’good’ historical meter data – complete, hourly intervals, consistent format – that would allow us to build a mathematical model of the building.”
Four years ago, BuildingIQ announced $9M in venture funding, to productise and accelerate the uptake of its technology. However, given that building owners/operators are at different stages in smart building optimisation, the company raised $16M on the Australian stock exchange to expand its offering and platform to meet the wide array of needs across a global market – from entry level visualisation and sub-metering to visualisation through predictive, continuous, optimised control.
“It turns out there’s quite a lot of market demand for people who just want metering and oversight. They don’t want you to touch their system just yet, but visualisation is often the starting point that builds trust,” says Nguyen.
Last year the company stretched and expanded its offering to deal with all points on a building owner’s journey toward granular-level efficiencies in resources and occupancy with the launch of its new, cloud-based, BuildingIQ 5i Platform.
Designed to offer a whole new range of services, the 5i platform is based on five key pillars: data capture and analysis, modelling, measure & verify, control, and human expertise.
The beauty of this platform is that it is a once-only deployment providing a common technological underpinning for services and solutions that address market opportunities as they arise. It is compatible with almost all building management systems on the market today, and the software services that sit on top of it have a modularity about them, in that they can be deployed selectively to meet the wants and needs of any building. These software services are subscription-based requiring little to no infrastructure changes.
In theory, says Nguyen, BuildingIQ wants to push customers toward high-end, cloud-based services but concedes that the climb to the top of this hill isn’t necessarily an easy one.
One of the barriers it faces he says is old school, or traditional, mindsets. “Some of the people who manage these buildings have been doing it for a long time,” says Nguyen. “It is their job and the last thing they want to people from Silicon Valley come in and take over their building. They’re not keen on that idea so we can take a fair amount of time to build trust and prove ourselves as partners and technology providers, especially if that person is the one who keeps the lights on, if you will.”
It’s a question of incremental steps that can take time. Large organisations, for example, who have used the visualisation dashboards to see what’s going on in their building, start to see that while they can visualise what’s happening within, they need to take next steps to do something about what they see.
“It’s a very different mentality to accept control from the cloud rather than accept control from a box that is blinking in a control closet. It’s a leap of faith that has to be done and we’ve got to prove ourselves,” says Nguyen.
Proving itself is something that BuildingIQ is used to doing and it has a number of success stories helping to fuel momentum. One recent client is a museum in Sydney, which in a 13-month period has experienced $41K in savings with 8.65 per cent of that attributable to HVAC electricity cost reductions. This is no mean feat because as building entities, museums have temperature and humidity parameters that limit the ability to save. This particular client has extensive overrides due to a number of seasonal events that occur outside of historical operating hours illustrating two things: a) predicting energy use is impacted by large, intermittent changes in occupancy and use patterns; b) a client’s immediate needs take precedent over energy savings targets, especially as they pertain to museum patrons and events.
St. Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney is also an impressive showcase of BuildingIQ’s PEO platform. The hospital experienced 20 per cent savings in overall electricity usage savings during the summer peak, and 10 per cent reduction in overall demand. This is a notable feat given that hospitals only allow energy-saving driven control for ‘public’ areas while critical areas such as ICUs, operating theatres, patient recovery rooms are driven by medical requirements.
Situated southwest of Capitol Hill, Washington D.C, and within an easy walk to the Jefferson Memorial, is a mixed-use urban centre called Waterfront Station. BuildingIQ was invited to join a collaborative process with the owners, USAA Real Estate company, Cushman & Wakefield property management, and the office tenant, the District of Columbia Government, to improve tenant comfort, space-conditioning operations, and energy efficiency management of two eight-story office buildings in the complex— Waterfront East (340,000 sq.ft/31,587 sq.m) and Waterfront West (295,000 sq.ft/27,406 sq.m)
Given the building design, little improvement was expected in terms of energy savings through HVAC control by BuildingIQ, but it was felt that tenant comfort issues could be addressed more fully by employing the 5i platform. Comfort remains the overriding factor in tenant satisfaction and retention. BuildingIQ took control of the air handling unit (AHU) system of Waterfront East and West last March and demonstrated energy savings far greater than expected with the East building achieving approximately 8.9 per cent per month energy savings over the first nine months, whilst the West building achieved roughly 4.2 per cent per month.
“When we first implement our solution for customers, they are often surprised by the insights we provide as well as how much money they are saving in a matter of months,” said Nguyen. “As we continue to grow our reach in the US and Australia, and look to new markets like Asia, we’re seeing a growing trend of customers wanting a solution like BuildingIQ to provide operational oversight or extending services to more buildings within a single portfolio.”
As far as the future is concerned Nguyen sees building management moving into the realm of the Internet of Things and smart cities. For BuildingIQ this evolution will mean many things including that it’ll expand its definition of demand response.
Today, it’s all about optimising usage in response to energy demand but in the future it should become part of a wider community, energy initiatives, and innovations.
“We want to combine all the local energy sources into a balanced energy approach within a building,” says Nguyen. “If the city demands it – if it has an initiative to save money, save energy, go green, and lower the carbon footprint over a period of time – we will have that building participate,” he says.
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