Let’s face it -- almost all the “smart building” technology being installed today is going into big buildings.
In part, that’s due to the complicated mix of different technologies -- wired and wireless, standards-based and proprietary, HVAC and lighting -- that makes them a hard sell for all but the most dedicated and deep-pocketed building owners.
That’s left small and mid-size commercial buildings as an untapped market. But startup SCL Elements is promising its CAN2GO system can meet that market’s needs, and on Tuesday, the company landed $2.15 million from The Westly Group and Navitas Capital to speed up its assault.
SCL says its CAN2GO product line can control both lighting and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) from a single platform, using a combination of wired (BACnet, Modbus, CANbus) wireless (EnOcean, ZigBee) and web-based (IP/Ethernet) communications. According to its Tuesday announcement, the company's systems are installed in retail and office spaces, schools and laboratories and government buildings on four continents.
Montreal, Canada-based SCL is taking an interesting angle on the challenge by offering a license-free web building management system to go along with its wired and wireless controllers -- in essence, offering a free management platform for buyers of its hardware. However, from the company’s website, it would appear that its core business comes via system integrator partners, so I’m curious to learn how many customers might be using the free web platform instead of relying on the controls that come from those integrators.
There’s certainly a market for the right small commercial energy management technologies. About 65 percent of U.S. commercial floor space is in buildings of 100,000 square feet or less, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. In that size range, only 5 percent of buildings are outfitted with building automation systems, compared to nearly half of the buildings of more than 100,000 square feet.
But there’s good reason why small commercial building owners have shied away from investing in the latest energy management technology. Most building automation systems are expensive and hard to install, and require constant fine-tuning, or “commissioning,” to keep running at optimum capacity. With typical energy reductions of 10 percent to 20 percent, a building has to be facing a pretty hefty energy bill to justify the upfront investment -- unless companies can find ways to cut the costs.
CAN2GO’s “multi-modal” approach appears to be aimed at reducing the complexity of typical small building installations, which means the company will be hard-pressed to prove all its devices work together smoothly with a variety of different partners and technologies. Ease of use is going to be critical for the small commercial sector -- anything that requires constant maintenance to deliver its promised energy savings probably won’t last long in the marketplace.
Other companies are looking at ways to make inroads into the smaller commercial market. Austin, Texas-based Incenergy targets small commercial buildings in the 35,000-to-75,000-square-foot range, offering to link multiple buildings into one master control system for corporate owners and property management firms. San Diego, Calif.-based Advanced Telemetry provides HVAC controls for fast food chains and other franchise-based building portfolios, where replicating similar control templates across hundreds of similar building layouts makes sense.
At the same time, we’re seeing plenty of startups emerging with software aimed at analyzing and identifying ways to save energy in buildings without sensors and controls -- FirstFuel and Retroficiency come to mind. Of course, those companies are aimed at reducing the costs of large-scale energy retrofits, but it’s possible that predictive analysis could be applied to smaller buildings, as well.