Making Energy Efficient Buildings Smarter, Greener, And Cheaper Than Ever Before

As originally seen in the Medium post by Kia Nejatian

When considering how to improve a building, more and more property and facilities managers are focusing on the benefits of energy efficiency. It’s not hard to see why this trend is so popular, as improving energy efficiency can significantly reduce an organization’s operating costs over time. However, the boom in utility-bill-focused approaches to efficiency is exactly why other, possibly more impactful approaches have been falling by the wayside.

Efficient space management, equipment redundancy and recycling, safety systems, and occupancy-based systems are all potentially massive drivers of savings for large operations, but they often require a delicate dance of system integrations to generate any real value. For example, the “consumption” of redundant equipment alone constitutes 70% of our planet’s toxic waste, and only 12% of that waste ends up being recycled. Ideally, the hyper-efficient buildings of tomorrow take a more holistic approach to sustainability to address the idea of consumption in a broader sense — not just consumption of electrical power.

What’s stopping facilities from approaching efficiency holistically?

The barrier to entry for generating value from a more multifaceted approach to sustainability is simply too high. Consider the widespread use of LED lighting that took the commercial real estate sector by force in the early 2010’s. Drop in a few hundred LED lights and cut the utility bill by 10%. Or, consider the booming sales for modern HVAC controllers as a drop-in solution to reducing the utility bill by another 11%. Unfortunately, that’s the last of the low-hanging fruit — or so we thought.

Sapient Industries: Using big-data techniques to make energy management more powerful

Sam Parks, a co-founder and former applied physicist at the heart of Sapient Industries (now part of Plug and Play portfolio), noticed this trend away from holistic sustainability and decided that things needed to change.

Enter, Sapient

Sapient is, at face value, a plug load management system. However, they’ve discovered that plug data is a treasure trove of information that can tell you everything from how you use your floor space, to when your mission-critical equipment will fail, how much of your equipment is actually needed, or even whether your building’s occupants are comfortable.

How? It starts with a deployment of smart outlets and smart power strips that collect live power consumption data on each and every one the plugged-in devices in an entire building. Next, Sapient uses machine learning algorithms to detect what each and every one of those devices are. With the knowledge of what each device is, its location, and how it’s used, Sapient can generate never-before-seen insights into the way a building lives and breaths.

Insightful data is one thing, automating efficient human behaviors is another. With the wealth of insight that this system can gleam from plug load data, it takes that insight a step further by cutting power to devices it has learned aren’t in need of power — completely solving the problem of vampire loads.

Parks says “the system pays for itself with these automated behaviors alone. If you identify $50,000 worth of equipment you no longer need, that’s just the cherry on top.” In all, the system can be used for plug load reduction, demand peak shaving, preventative maintenance, anomaly detection, machine diagnostics, sub-metering, occupancy tracking, space optimization, and many other applications. The end result is reduced costs and energy consumption, improved safety, and enhanced overall building operational efficiency.

How effective can it be?

Sapient is capable of reducing plug load by nearly 45% and impacting overall utility bills by over 25%. Not only that, they drive other kinds of value. The average 100k sqft commercial office building could see the following savings:

Annual Savings

After-hours plug load reduction: $60,000

Peak Shaving/Demand Response: $28,000

Redundant Equipment: 3–5% of total. 1,000 lbs+

Improved Safety: Reduced Insurance Premiums

Identified Unknown Waste Space: 4–6% — $150,000+

In conclusion

We believe that Sapient Industries represents the final frontier of building efficiency, which is why we are proud to say that we are on the same team. As the impacts of widespread energy waste and overconsumption continue to manifest themselves through climate change, now is the time to tackle the problem.

We anticipate that the technology behind Sapient will continue to prove itself invaluable, and we look forward to seeing their continued growth as they work to make ubiquitous smart plug load management systems a reality.