How to push buildings to new levels of efficiency


A new wave of building efficiency that uses data collection and machine learning to make a building’s appliances use power more efficiently, is being led by San Francisco startups Carbon Lighthouse and Redaptive.

Unlike other efficiency providers — also known as energy service companies — that manufacture and sell appliances or sell electricity, the companies don’t sell anything except their ability to reduce a building’s energy use and power bills.

Both companies have been growing rapidly and recently raised venture capital investment to expand.

Redaptive said Monday that it raised $20 million from CBRE and other investors. Carbon Lighthouse announced in March that it raised $27 million from GRC SinoGreen and other investors, including Tesla co-founder and chief technical officer JB Straubel, whose company is also a customer.

Carbon Lighthouse is helping Tesla cut electricity use at the electric vehicle maker’s Palo Alto, California, headquarters, by using sensors, data collection, software algorithms and technical sleuthing.

Since work began in 2015, the improvements are bringing Tesla about $91,000 a year in savings and cutting energy usage to avoid more than 100 tons of carbon dioxide per year, according to Carbon Lighthouse.

The company does not generally replace windows, doors or big appliances. Instead, it uses engineering, physics, data analysis and sleuthing to figure out smaller fixes that will improve the operation of a building’s existing appliances. In some cases, the company will recommend and install solar panels or batteries to cut power bills even more.

Helping companies shrink their carbon footprint while also helping them save money on their power bills is a winning combination, said Brenden Millstein.

“For everyone we work with, we make it very profitable and easy for them to reduce emissions,” he said.

Technical sleuthing is the key, especially in a newer building such as Tesla’s headquarters. Carbon Lighthouse engineers got to know the building’s biggest appliances — two large cooling towers, two chillers and some pumps — and found a glitch in the way that two systems were communicating with each other. They figured out how to run the three systems in a way that uses less energy but produces the same amount of cooling.

Electricity sales to the U.S. commercial sector fell 1.3 percent in 2017, to about 1.3 billion megawatt-hours, compared to the previous year, thanks in large part to efficiency measures such as greater adoption of efficient lighting, according to the U.S. Energy Department.

With commercial properties accounting for slightly more than one-third of U.S. power consumption, reducing their usage could help slash the nation’s power usage and greenhouse-gas emissions. (…)

Cassandra Sweet

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