Elegant towers boasting six green stars seem to be on every street corner, if you look at property ads and editorials in the business press, but down on the street it’s a different story. Most of the buildings we work in and live in are as energy efficient as a Sherman tank.
Owners of old stock often don’t care, however, because it’s the tenants who pay the energy bills. Even in buildings that look pretty spruce from the outside a quick poll of occupants will tell you which rooms are always stifling hot and which are always freezing. Really, the smart building movement is in its infancy.
To change that, Melbourne-based company Blue IoT is knocking on doors with its Encompass Blue virtual IoT solution, which combines a building management system (BMS) and energy management system (EMS). So far, says Blue IoT founder and chief innovation officer Bob Sharon, it has delivered deep savings for early adopters.
Energy use in a building can be managed far more efficiently when all its facets are viewed as a single ecosystem, with no wobbly gear granted an exemption for its sins. This is where the analytics platform within Encompass Blue proves its worth by grinding the data in search of anomalies and managing settings. Problems or suggestions for improvement are flagged at the Blue IoT base, which can result in a call to the client. It can be a far reach from the old method, where a building manager is left to interpret output from a proprietary BMS without any access to the levers of control. “They’re bombarded with data but they don’t know what to do with it,” Sharon says. “And if you want to make changes, it’s cumbersome, slow and you have to pay bigtime.”
It was this static status quo that inspired Sharon and his team to develop “the world’s first virtual, IoT-based BMS”, which operates in the cloud. The solution relies on machine learning to optimise settings and will soon be adapted, he says, to encompass artificial intelligence.
Software relies on hardware, of course, and the system comes with radio-controlled sensors and controllers that use the LoRaWAN standard. The first site fitted with the system could be controlled from 500 metres away. “It’s a non-IP network, so the risk of a hack into a building is greatly reduced,” he says, where every sensor and controller is encrypted.
Remote monitoring of harmonics and power factor readings for devices and the vibrations of motors allows for predictive maintenance and forecasts for when some kit will need attention. “We can have planned maintenance instead of unplanned maintenance.” One example of the system’s detective powers saw it identify a personal heater in an office. “The data said that was the case, and upon further investigation it was confirmed.”
The Encompass Blue platform has slashed consumption at a 4,000-square-metre government property in Dandenong, Melbourne, with a 70% energy saving on HVAC, a 46% cut in billed electricity, a claimed 20% extension to asset lifetimes and a payback of just over two years.
If anyone’s looking to reinforce energy efficiency’s credentials as a primary tool in the energy transition, there you have it, Sharon says. “It’s great to talk about renewables and storage but if we can reduce the energy of the built environment by 50%, imagine how much easier it would be to go to carbon net zero?”
Still, he admits it is not easy selling a revolutionary, and proven, new system. The incumbent building engineering companies won’t try anything that hasn’t been installed “a thousand times” and 95% of people for whatever reason aren’t ready to test their allegiance to the big BMS brands.
But that’s OK, because Blue IoT has case studies to show around and its calendar lists meetings with some big names in property and infrastructure, here and overseas. As the projects tally up, and the clients bank savings, the loyalties among building managers may shift.
The company is in the middle of a $20 million private capital raising and is looking for good channel partners to help it grow in Australia and overseas, Sharon says.
Sharon started out in IT (his first job was operating an IBM 360 computer which used cards) before shifting to cyber security, data centres and energy technology solutions. He started Blue IoT in 2016, choosing Blue to represent the “blue economy”, where any project – or in his case any building – must satisfy criteria for cost, maintenance and its effects on users, the community and the planet.
“It’s a 360-degree approach,” he says. “It’s about leveraging the internet of things as an enabler.” If you’re starting to wonder whether “internet of things” actually means anything, he says it can be simply clarified. “It’s just a bunch of stuff connected to each other, over the air, usually – it’s as simple as that.”