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 digitial solution.
When it comes to reducing energy consumption, we can all do our little part to save electricity by being proactive in our homes - whether its as simple as turning off lights, or only purchasing energy-efficient appliances. For commercial buildings, however, reducing power consumption is a trickier task that requires an in-depth look at how an entire building functions. But with the energy used to cool, heat and light buildings thought to be responsible for 28% of all carbon emissions in the world, it's crucial that the issue is tackled, as quickly and effectively as possible. Now one company is looking to provide that service and almost entirely within a digital space.
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.
That’s where the company Bractlet comes in. Operating out of Austin, Texas, Bractlet works for companies and building owners who want to reduce their energy consumption by carrying out a full survey and diagnosis of their buildings. They then create an accurate ‘digital twin’ which can be used to carry out real-time simulations in order to locate areas of potential improvement. This allows their clients to experiment with different pieces of technology or methods without having to go through the expense and rigmarole of having them actually installed. In some cases, products designed to reduce power usage can be ineffective if installed incorrectly, or not within an optimal position within a building's infrastructure. In a worst case scenario, they could even end up actually increasing the building's power use. By providing a digital experimentation space, Bractlet hopes to remove these issues from the equation, giving building owners more options and more peace of mind.
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.
Creating a Digital Test Subject
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. To first assess the building, 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).
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. To tackle this ambitious task, AI is used to automate the analytics and processes as much as possible.
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.
Unlike other companies which run similar services, Bractlet also claims not to take a percentage of the equipment sold, meaning it should provide the best objective advice for clients, and all within one platform. Currently, Bractlet is limiting its operations to the Austin and Texas area, however it is looking to expand further across the United States.
Bractlet is confident that their technology helps saves building owners save money and energy costs (apparently payback can come in under a year). This confidence - that investing in energy efficiency can pay off both in terms of energy and money saved - will hopefully break down one of the main barriers currently stopping building owners from taking that step. And this kind of service is set to only become more pertinent as the climate crisis continues. Several American cities have already introduced legislation requiring commercial buildings to reduce their electrical footprint. For example, New York has demanded large buildings reduce emissions by 40 percent by 2030, while similar regulations have also passed in Los Angeles and Washington D.C..