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The Future Of Energy Efficiency Is Intelligent Systems


It sounds crazy, but that’s essentially how many HVAC systems work.

For the past century, inefficient and unintelligent systems have been dictating energy consumption within most buildings in the world.

Most rooftop HVAC units, for instance, have generally only operated at one speed—full blast. If the building needs to change the temperature of the air, the motor in the unit can’t be dialed back. Instead, the system simply wastes a percentage of the air it just cooled by pushing it outside. 

To understand how inefficient this is, imagine if the only way you could drive your car was by flooring the gas pedal to the max, and then using the brakes to moderate your speed. It sounds crazy, but that’s essentially how many HVAC systems work.

In fact, if you’ve ever been in an office that only seemed to have one thermostat setting—deep freeze—then you may actually have experienced one of the drawbacks of an inefficient cooling system. Not only is that type of setup uncomfortable for people in the office, but it’s also an incredibly expensive way to manage the building’s temperature. A typical HVAC system will account for over 40% of the energy consumption in an office building consisting of electric motors circulating air and pumping heat. 

Fortunately, the days of wasteful energy systems are numbered because intelligent, efficient HVAC systems are finally on the market. 

Here’s why there’s no going back:

Intelligent systems can match energy supply and demand. 

Energy production and consumption used to represent a much more static equation than it is now. 

Today, we live in a world where all sorts of factors drive both the supply of electricity and the demand for it. Clean sources like solar and wind are increasing in supply in an intermittent time-of-day manner. And an ever-innovating world is growing demand thanks to electric vehicles. The equation has become much more dynamic as the two sides are constantly in flux. 

In order to match supply to demand and eliminate waste, you need information about each side of the equation. If you’re trying to control the temperature in a room, then you need to know exactly what temperature it should be. You need to know if there are people in the room or computers running day and night. That requires intelligent control. It requires a system using effective communication to understand the variables within the equation—and then balance supply and demand efficiently.

It all comes down to the left hand knowing what the right hand is doing. 

Our team at Software Motor Company (SMC) often comes across buildings with two adjacent rooftop HVAC units—one for heating and the other for cooling. The units’ set points aren’t synchronized, and they have no way of communicating with each other.

But in an intelligent system, those units would be linked so they could use information from the entire system to balance supply and demand without resorting to inefficient methods.

For example, SMC has developed a unique motor system for HVAC units that can be run at near full 90%+ efficiency at exactly the precise speed needed to achieve a temperature without wasting energy. Instead of hypothetically keeping the gas pedal on the floor and moderating speed with the brake pedal, our motors offer something more akin to a real driving experience. The “driver” uses a light touch (the gas) to achieve the desired temperature (the speed) without wasting energy. 

Or in this case, the motor runs at the speed necessary to achieve the desired temperature inside a building without waste.

Effective communication and judicious use of energy—that’s how intelligent systems efficiently manage the supply and demand for electricity within a building.

Intelligent systems reduce costs in the long run. 

Whether it’s lighting, refrigeration, or HVAC, some property managers tend to focus on getting an energy system that works for the lowest initial cost. 

But that mentality can actually lead to a much higher cost down the road. In fact, the vast majority of the overall cost will come from operating expenses over the life of a system.  

Operating costs will often surpass the initial capital cost in the first year of operation for many HVAC systems. So even if you save 10% on the initial purchase, it’s quite possible an inefficient system will end up tripling your cost of ownership in the long-run.

And while it’s better to prioritize long-term savings when making your initial purchase, that doesn’t mean you’re stuck with what you have. We actually work with a lot of property managers who’ve realized how costly their systems are and want to upgrade. Since the purchase of unintelligent energy-consuming equipment is a sunk cost, they realize there’s no reason to avoid saving money in the long term

Although there isn’t one solution for creating a more energy efficient world, we can start by looking for areas—like HVAC—where new, intelligent systems have the potential to make a real impact on our energy consumption. 

Retooling one building to become more energy efficient may not seem like it will make a huge impact. But change has to start somewhere, and each building that consumes less electricity brings us closer to our goal of a more energy efficient, sustainable society. 

Ryan Morris is an entrepreneur and investor and has served as Executive Chairman of Software Motor Company (SMC) since October 2017. Ryan founded Meson Capital Partners LLC, an investment firm in Feb 2009. Meson Capital applies AI/ML, Industrial IoT, and sustainable energy technologies to established businesses to transform them into leaders in their domains. Ryan has served as Chairman of 3 publicly traded companies including most recently Sevcon, Inc. which was a world leader in power electronics for high performance electric vehicles. Sevcon was sold to BorgWarner in September 2017.

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