Like every person, every building is unique. So how can you easily, affordably and reliably reduce the energy consumption of something so complex? An American start up delivers a digital solution.
Building and construction are responsible for 39 percent of CO2 emissions globally, with 28% of those coming from the energy used to heat, cool and light buildings. The other 11% come from the materials and construction processes. Cement, for example, has a massive carbon footprint - equivalent to around 8% of the world's carbon dioxide emissions. If the cement industry were a country, it would be the third largest emitter in the world!
If we're to achieve our climate targets, our existing buildings have to be made significantly more energy-efficient and climate-friendly. It's a huge and complex task. But you could see it in a positive way too - buildings have huge energy-saving potentials! Just looking at Germany, as example, according to dena (the German Energy Agency), buildings account for around 35 percent of total energy consumption: heating rooms, hot water, lighting and air conditioning. And while most of this consumption takes place in residential buildings, non-residential buildings account for a large 39 percent of building energy consumption in Germany.
That’s where the company Bractlet, operating out of Austin, Texas, comes in. Bractlet offers a technology based on Internet of Things data, artificial intelligence and simulation technology, which can be used to analyse the functioning of commercial buildings in detail in order to reduce their power consumption. Commercial and public buildings, such as offices, hospitals and universities, often come with unique challenges when it comes to reducing energy use. Frequently, these buildings have higher energy demands due to high-density occupancy, air conditioning, heating and power hungry appliances such as computer servers. These issues are further compounded by the fact these buildings tend to be larger and are potentially split into different sections and between different organisations.
No One-Size-Fits-All Solution for Energy Efficiency
Central to the approach is understanding that each building - like each person - is a unique ecosystem that will have its own particular quirks and irregularities. In this sense, there is no one-fits-all solution to reducing a large building's energy consumption.
In an article in Scientific American, the company’s CEO, Alec Manfre, compared the role of Bractlet to that of a surgeon - a professional who works through a data-backed diagnosis system before identifying problems and offering solutions.
To carry out this diagnosis, Bractlet uses a variety of tools to gain large amounts of information about a particular building. This can include interviews with building owners, studying architectural documents and looking over occupancy rates, although there is also a strong technological element. Through the use of its own Internet of Things enabled sensors and power meters, Bractlet is able to read the vital signs of a building with their advanced "Intelligence Engine". This energy-modelling technology brings together all kinds of different sources of both historical and real-time data together - including utility bills, architectural documents, weather and live electrical consumption data.
With the help of machine learning algorithms, this information is then used to create a "digital twin", a physics-based simulation model, of the building that is, in power-use terms, identical to the real building. Using this twin, various simulations can be conducted which can experiment with equipment and software in an entirely virtual space. Once the most efficient match has been found, the simulation can be brought to life in the actual building.
Trying Out Energy-Saving Ideas on a Digital Twin
For Bractlet's customers, this has the advantage that they can first experiment with different technologies or methods without having to bear the costs and effort that would be involved in the actual installation. By providing a space for digital experimentation, the company also aims to minimise the risk that products designed to reduce power consumption will ultimately be ineffective if they are installed incorrectly or not in the optimal location in a building's infrastructure. In the worst case, inappropriate or incorrectly installed energy-saving technology could even lead to an increase in the building's electricity consumption. Bractlet's simulation model aims to eliminate potential problems like this and give building owners more options and more peace of mind. And unlike other companies which run similar services, Bractlet also states that it doesn't take a percentage of the equipment or energy-saving technologies sold, thus claiming to be able to provide the best objective advice for clients, and all within one platform.
As soon as the most efficient option is discovered in the simulation model, it can then be implemented in the real building. This a major departure from previous manual survey and analysis methods, with the developers claiming that their technology can develop models much faster than other available solutions. According to Manfre, Bractlet is able to simulate a building’s functions with a 98-99 percent accuracy, and the suggested energy-saving measures they come up with (whether it's equipment replacements, onsite generation, or energy storage) usually resulting in a 30 percent cost reduction for clients.
Bractlet is confident that their technology helps saves building owners save both money and energy costs, with payback sometimes coming in under a year. Hopefully services like Bractlet's will make it clear to more people that investments in buildings' energy efficiency really pays off, and that more building owners will take this step.
You don't have to own a whole building to be able to make small but proactive contributions to reducing energy consumption in your own home - whether it's simply switching off lights or using green electricity and energy-efficient appliances. RESET has compiled some tips for you right here.