In their first year in the energy efficiency business, Carbon Lighthouse founders Brenden Millstein and Raphael Rosen encountered a client who almost stole their thunder. When Millstein and Rosen first visited the building, an office building owned by Dostart Development, they saw that the owner had already changed out incandescent lightbulbs for LEDs and upgraded their HVAC system. If they were going to land this client for their startup, the founders were going to need to offer deeper energy savings. “We said, ‘Let’s figure out what’s going on behind the scenes and in the guts,'” Rosen recalls.
Even with a state-of-the-art heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system and a modern building management system, they figured, there had to be energy inefficiencies. That was a fundamental lesson of physics, which both had studied at Harvard. But to find the inefficiencies, they would need data.
They especially needed temperature data, so they doubled down on temperature loggers and distributed them throughout the HVAC system. “We put some in the air going out to heating pumps, some in the air coming back, and we calculated how much energy the fans were using,” Rosen says.
If they could turn down a fan or a pump and still keep the working spaces in the building comfortable, they could save their client money–and cut carbon emissions–without replacing any hardware. So the pair began logging the flood of new information into a spreadsheet and they used that to model different management changes.
But as they collected data, their spreadsheets kept growing and growing. They couldn’t email them to each other. They couldn’t even run their simulations. “The spreadsheet was literally so large it couldn’t run,” Rosen says. “We knew there were more savings to be had, but we couldn’t model them correctly.”
That’s when the founders hired their first software developer, to help them crunch all their data in new software they called Carbon Lighthouse Unified Engineering System (CLUES). It took time to write, but the new system allows Carbon Lighthouse engineers to build a custom simulator for each client, unlike more general industry standard software. Using spreadsheets, it took engineers about 80 person-days to build a model for a client, Rosen says. But thanks to the far more efficient, dedicated code in CLUES, engineers can now do the same job in two or three days.
This lets Carbon Lighthouse test lots of different ideas for a particular building before recommending the best solution to their clients. It’s also an on-going thing. Since energy use is always changing, engineers need a way to keep tabs on existing client’s energy and update their management recommendations from time to time.
CLUES can handle that on-going flow of information from existing clients, and even alert Carbon Lighthouse to any unexpected changes. That automation, Rosen says, “opens up a world of much deeper energy savings.”