As we’ve noted in our ongoing energy efficiency coverage here at Greentech Media, squeezing energy and operational efficiency out of buildings is a lot more complicated than putting together data and dashboards for facilities managers and property portfolio budget directors to stare at.
First, a truly useful building energy management tool has to take all that data and perform tasks -- fault detection and diagnostics, continuous commissioning, cost trending and comparisons, portfolio-wide project planning and analysis, and the like -- to make it worth installing. Second, it has to get to scale, so that its benefits can achieve their potential and help capture the massive amounts of energy wasted in buildings across the world.
KGS Buildings, a startup founded in 2007 by three Massachusetts Institute of Technology Ph.D.s, says its software can handle the first part of that equation. On Wednesday, the Cambridge-based startup landed a key step in solving the second half of that equation, announcing that French power equipment and building management giant Schneider Electric is using its technology as part of its global building energy management solution.
KGS’ cloud-based software platform, known as Clockworks, is built to integrate data flowing from modern building management systems (BMS) and building metering and submetering systems, Nick Gayeski, KGS co-founder and partner, said in an interview this week. It also merges that data with all manner of algorithms and parameters on HVAC equipment specifications, building system control sequences, utility rate and program information, and the like, which allows it to get to the root causes of many of today’s trickiest building energy management problems, he said.
From there, KGS hands off the responsibility of fixing those problems to the facilities managers of its customers, or the professional services staff of partners like Schneider, he said. “Software alone does not fix buildings. […] You really need the people to buy in, even when it’s an automated solution,” he said.
Clockworks has a pedigree that stretches much further into the past than its 2007 founding, he noted. Some of the research into building energy analysis that it’s tapping stretches back 30 years, he said. But it’s taken a shift to the broad use of open protocols like Modbus, LonWorks and BACnet to make more and more building data available, as well as the recent leaps in big data management technology, to allow the industry to make use of it at commercial scale, he said.
KGS has helped play a role in that commercialization process, launching a project with the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in 2010 to commercialize some of PNNL’s cutting-edge work on building systems, including such tricks of the trade as automated retuning algorithms, economizer diagnostics and whole-building energy diagnostics. That project was completed last year, and its results are part of Clockworks today, Gayeski said.
As for the underlying structure, “We are built on Microsoft Windows Azure, and we use a lot of their technology,” including relational and non-relational data tools and computing capacity for on-demand analysis and the like, he said. “We spent a lot of time focused on the architecture, so it could scale,” Gayeski added. The system can also handle up-to-date data, and now returns complete analyses of customers’ properties in daily or twice-daily increments, with actionable intelligence in the form of automated text and graphical outputs, he said.
Like many other big data analysis efforts, Clockworks also has a metadata taxonomy to map equipment, points and objects, Gayeski said. But it also uses a “mass customization” approach to allow each user to input their power equipment, sensors, control sequence components and other such unique data points into KGS’ model to achieve more accurate results, he said -- “We use conventional engineering calculations, but the trick is how you replicate that from site to site, and from equipment to equipment.”
We’ve seen a host of startups and energy services giants alike promising different combinations and variations of high-tech energy data analysis and insight and boots-on-the-ground systems and services expertise. Some, such as SCIenergy, are trying to take on the software, services and financing portions of the building energy equation in-house. Others are focusing on playing a partnership role with energy services providers or utilities, as companies such as SkyFoundry, First Fuel, and Cimetrics are doing.
KGS puts itself firmly into the latter camp, Gayeski said. While it does have some big university, hospital and laboratory clients, including about 60 buildings it’s managing for MIT, they’re big and sophisticated enough to manage their own facility upkeep and maintenance on their own, he said. As for its energy services' paths to market, “with the announcement of Schneider, you know our major global partner,” he said, though he wouldn’t give any specifics about where the two were deployed together. KGS, which has twelve employees and is entirely internally funded, certainly doesn’t plan to get into the services business itself, he added.
Schneider Electric has multiple partners for its building energy management portfolio, which includes traditional energy services contracts with big government and institutional building owners, as well as commercial and industrial customers using its EcoStruxure technology platform. Like Johnson Controls’ new Panoptix platform, or Honeywell’s Attune services, EcoStruxure combines a host of technology offerings, services and features.
The broader goal of all of this is to provide the faster paybacks, multiple value propositions and risk-sharing guarantees that could help overcome the many barriers commercial property owners face in investing in efficiency and energy management. Energy isn’t the only metric involved in that equation, Gayeski noted -- tenant comfort and maintenance and operational savings are also critical factors, which KGS’ software takes into account.
Schneider’s ongoing list of startup partners includes such names as HVAC optimization startup BuildingIQ and automated demand response technology provider IPKeys. It has also bought its fair share of demand-side energy management outfits, from technology providers like French software startups Vizelia and D5X, to energy procurement and planning specialists like Summit Energy in the U.S. and M&C in Europe.
Indeed, big ESCOs have buying up startups with solutions to bits and pieces of the technology puzzle for years now. IBM, which has building energy controls partnerships with giants like Johnson Controls and Schneider, bought property management software startup Tririga in 2011 to expand its building-side expertise, for example.