“We understand what happens in buildings,” said Sean Giblin, co-founder and Managing Director of Cylon Active Energy, explaining why his company can cut buildings’ energy use by 20 percent to 40 percent. “A lot of people think they understand because they haven’t worn the t-shirt,” he said, and come to understand "from the ground up how buildings can be controlled.”
“We’ll actually reduce the energy consumption for you in an automated way,” added Nicola Dunne, the company’s general manager. “It’s a mixture of behavioral change and automation that guarantees energy savings. As opposed to, ‘Here’s what you’re consuming, now you produce behavioral change.’”
Behavioral change is the hard part, Dunne stressed. “Once you stop watching,” she said, “people revert.”
Giblin has been building energy management systems for a quarter of a century. From the beginning, Giblin said, he was “doing what smart grid is doing today. Being able to dial up the energy consumption of a building and make it react.”
Giblin laughed about how the company came to be named after the bad guys on the show Battlestar Galactica. “We picked a name, which the company’s office rejected, and we had to come up with a new name sufficiently high up in the alphabet that was technology-sounding.”
That was 1985, at the end of the reaction to the 1970s oil crisis. “The road from there to here has been,” Giblin laughed, “interesting.” Giblin found funding and support from multinational energy giants Siemens and ABB through the mid-1990s.
“The world lost interest in energy management when oil dropped to ten dollars a barrel,” Giblin said of the '90s. He gave many companies “a system capable of delivering energy savings,” he said, “but it wasn’t a priority.” Most saw energy management as nothing more than temperature control. “'Just keep people comfortable,’” Giblin said that he was often told. “‘If the chillers run 24 hours a day, so what?’”
Giblin used the ABB and Siemens backing to expand into the eastern U.S., Germany, Spain, the Middle East and China. He also went back to school and got a master’s degree with an emphasis on energy and the environment. “I got an extremely clear view of what was going to happen over the next 20 to 30 years in terms of energy,” he said. “And the enormous part that energy efficiency was going to play.” It will deliver, he said, “twice what every other energy technology will deliver.”
The building sector, Giblin realized, constitutes “40 percent of energy consumption in the developed world. If you’re building a renewable infrastructure, you have to build less of it” if buildings are to use energy efficiently.
Dunne pointed out that EU policy has recently moved toward an emphasis on efficiency and Giblin added that he had found the same thing on recent visits to U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) labs.
“The logic is very compelling,” Giblin said. “If you take twenty buildings and you reduce the energy consumption by five percent in each building, you’ve just built one zero-carbon building, and more cost effectively.”
With a renewed commitment to energy management, Giblin re-evaluated the effectiveness of his and his competitors’ systems. “Siemens, Honeywell, Johnson” were among those he studied, he said, naming the biggest players in the energy management industry.
“They’re all pretty much the same,” Dunne said.
“Ninety percent of our types of system have not been optimized,” he said, adding that studies by DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) confirmed his conclusion. “Systems are put into buildings, they provide comfort, but they aren’t operated to deliver the level of energy efficiency they are capable of.”
The Cylon system was not “dissimilar,” Giblin said. “There is no focus on getting the maximum value out of systems.”
Giblin decided to shift the focus of his company. “What is the value the system delivers?” he now asks. “How does our system reduce the energy consumption of the building? That’s the measure.” To provide that service, Giblin launched Cylon Active Energy.
Through a VPN connection to a GPRS modem (essentially using the techniques of cloud computing), Cylon Active Energy collects data on a building’s energy consumption (e.g., heat, hot water, electricity, gas, water). Through the cloud, the company has control of consumption (e.g., HVAC, boiler, lighting, ventilation and air handling).
At the Cylon Active Energy Data Center, a complete “bureau” of services (charting, reporting, billing, alerts, alarms, etc.) is available. And building occupants get an attractive and informative “Green Screen” display, as well as complete data on cost and targeted objectives along with independent online control.
“We understand the boxes on the wall,” Dunne said, “and we know how to optimize those” because “we’ve done it for 25 years.”
“Could we have done this 25 years ago?” Giblin asked. “No. Because there was no internet, there was no cloud computing, there was no way of aggregating all of this information and running algorithms to spot where the energy drivers were and to analyze how you were going to deliver savings.” There was also no way, Giblin said, of presenting the data to customers, allowing them to understand the value of the service and motivating them to change behaviors.
In Ireland and the U.K., Cylon has shown customers that “by connecting our service and managing their systems actively,” Giblin said, “we can deliver 20 percent to 25 percent savings. Through partners in the U.S. using our system,” he added, “the minimum they tell us our systems are saving is 40 percent.”