Energy wastage in buildings creates incalculable damage to the environment and also an enormous financial burden. The Carbon Trust estimates that poor heating, ventilation and air conditioning building controls lead the UK to squander £500 million on energy costs every year.
Demand Logic might have found a solution. The London-based startup has developed a data analytics platform that assesses the performance of a building's mechanical systems and then prescribes actions that can cut bills, reduce carbon footprints, and create more comfortable working environments.
The company's use of data tracking to improve the health of properties has led it to be described as a "Fitbit for buildings", but Demand Logic chairman Sonny Masero says there's more to it than that.
"If you want to extend that analogy it's more like a Fitbit that comes with a personal trainer that identifies how to improve the health of the property asset," Masero tells Techworld.
"The thing to understand in the property industry is that even in new buildings they start off in quite poor shape."
Research backs up his claim. In 2016, the UK government completed a study of 50 new commercial buildings that found that found on average they consumed four times more energy in operation than they were designed to do. Ineffective controls of the internal environment can also harm the health and well-being of the people inside.
Demand Logic can quickly work out how to improve the performance. The system can be connected in a single site visit of no more than three hours before the remaining setup is completed remotely within 48 hours.
The result is a virtual model of all of the equipment and every single data point on the Building Management System (BMS) network, which provides real-time performance analysis.
Every 15 minutes, the system can monitor up to 200,000 data points from Demand Logic's biggest properties, which include 20 Fenchurch Street - designed by Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly and known colloquially in London as the Walkie Talkie.
"You have to be careful when you're collecting that amount of data on an existing system that you don't impact on the network operation. That wouldn't be good for our business," says Masero.
"So we've built in data traffic management that enables us to not overload that system but collect the data in an appropriate way. Then that data is acquired into the cloud and at that point, we applied machine learning in a way that enables us to learn what the equipment is in that building, so we don't need lots of information up front.
"Essentially once we've connected our device we can figure out that these data points relate to a boiler, these data points relate to a fan, this is a meter, this is a temperature sensor. We create that virtual model very quickly."
Finding energy savings
Property managers use the Demand Logic app to review the insights. These include issues of supply of heating and cooling caused by plant-like boilers and chillers and demand from sensors in the fans that supply hot and cold air.
They can use these for quick wins from finding a boiler of chiller has been running through the night because someone manually extended the operating hours, and to resolve more complex issues such as identifying which of the thousands of fans aren't working correctly.
They also measure running costs. He says that the energy savings tend to pay off the cost of the service within the first nine months.
To measure its effects on the tenants, Demand Logic monitors the "hot and cold calls" to the helpdesk complaining about the temperature. Masero says the system reduces these calls by 50-100 percent.
The system also reduces the cost of managing the building. Most buildings don't use any data intelligence to run their building controls, instead relying on scheduled maintenance and personal complaints. Demand Logic's analytics supports predictive maintenance that can resolve any issues before they're noticed.
"It's all very well reflecting back and saying the air quality is poor or it's too hot, but we can actually say what's the cause of that situation and how you can change the operations to make it better," says Masero.
Building the company
The idea for Demand Logic sprung from the experience of CEO and co-founder Mike Darby, who had a career in the building controls industry that began when he was an apprentice at BT. He noticed that new buildings never worked the way that they should and that the building management systems didn't give them the data that he needed to improve them.
Darby teamed up with Demand Logic CIO Dan Mauger and CTO Joe Short to add their IT expertise to his building controls experience, and together they built a new big data platform from the ground up.
Masero had gone to university with Short, who got in touch after the team had proven the tech worked in a pilot for King's College, but wasn't sure how to commercialise it. Masero brought his knowledge of the property world and software services to the company and helped them develop the product strategy and business plan.
They built up the company through self-funding and some support from Innovate UK grants, growing through word-of-mouth testimonials from customers including Transport for London, One New Change, and the University of London.
"We've always taken a policy of the customer needs to pay for the service even for the pilots, which I think has been a useful rule because for startups cash flow is always a challenge," says Masero.
Demand Logic has now been installed in more than 80 commercial properties. Most of these are in the UK, but the company has also run pilots in the US, Malaysia and Luxembourg, and plans to eventually expand further internationally.
They're also looking into providing a demand response service to the National Grid, which would treat the building like a battery and using the system to assess insurance risk by analysing water leakage and temperature.
Masero expects to get a lot of new business from the growing demand for flexible office leases. In 2017, the serviced office and co-working property sector contributed 18 percent of overall take-up in central London, up from an eight percent share in 2016, according to the 2018 European Occupier Survey conducted by real estate firm CBRE.
Demand Logic estimates that the proportion of companies whose use of flexible space is moderate to substantial will rise from 30 percent today to 45 percent in three years' time.
"At the moment, that's very relevant to the property industry, because what's happening with the likes of WeWork and other coworking spaces is there's much more of a trends towards better customers service in that office space, but also more flexible terms, so short term leases and the ability to break if people aren't happy," says Masero.
"And with that trend happening in parallel, we're seeing much more focus on how well a building is being run on a day-to-day basis."