Automating The Secret Life Of Buildings: Interview With PassiveLogic CEO, Part 2

This is part 2 of my interview with PassiveLogic CEO Troy Harvey on automating the secret life of buildings. In part 1, we talked about:

  • Other Use Cases For AI
  • Buildings Are Large Stationary Robots
  • Automating The Secret Life Of Buildings
  • Billions Of Dollars Worth Of Assets With Zero Insight Into What Buildings Are Doing

If you haven’t read part one, click here.

In Part 2 we talk about:

  • What Inspired Troy To Start PassiveLogic
  • The State Space Of Buildings
  • Helping Buildings Become Climate Friendly
  • Report: Buildings Could Achieve A 40% Energy Reduction Just Through Better Control And Commissioning
  • How Well Can We Control These Systems?
  • Brookfield’s Investment In PassiveLogic
  • Buildings Are Key To Solving Climate

What Inspired Troy To Start PassiveLogic

Troy told me his foray into buildings was a bit of an accident. He started as a product designer and was developing batteries for the US Department of Energy (DOE). His team was developing a type of new battery technology and part of this included developing a physics simulation software.

“As we were doing that physics simulation, what we found, I showed it initially to an architect. And that architect later came back to me and said, ‘hey, can you help me work on a project?’ and then that became two and then three and then five. And then told another architect.

“It was only about a year, then it just took over my previous company. We were helping these architects build better buildings and design better buildings.”

What Troy and his team found was a limiting factor. Buildings that were being installed were not living up to their engineering potential. After doing some analysis of the industry as a whole, Troy and his team received investment from the DOE to start looking at buildings.

“What we found was just a general pattern throughout the whole building market. We can design great buildings. We can engineer great buildings. We can install great buildings. But they won’t actually be as great as we think they will once they start operating. So, the big question was, why? The ‘why’ was that buildings are these complex robots.”

The State Space Of Buildings

The way Troy described the complexity of buildings is a term used often in computer science: a state space, which is the set of all possible states of a system. Troy expanded on the definition:

“If you think of a state as any combination of all your variables — like, I’ve got this thing on and that thing up and these other things at five and a half — and you add up all the possibilities at once, how many possible combinations of all those states can you have? That’s what we call your state space.

“It turned out that buildings have a bigger state space than anything else that people make. And this sort of surprised us at the time. It’s why I think of it as the secret life of buildings. Even those of us inside buildings didn’t really recognize the complexity.”

Troy then realized that there was a large mismatch between the complexity of buildings and the tools they were using to manage that complexity. These are the current building automation solutions by Honeywell, Johnson Control, Siemens, and Schneider — companies that have been around for a long time.

Helping Buildings Become Climate Friendly

With all of this knowledge, one can wonder how new buildings can be designed to be more climate friendly. The same goes for existing buildings. Troy explained that the first important thing to recognize is that there are lots of cool technologies that can be built to improve our carbon footprint.

“If I were to say, ‘built a next-generation super awesome heat pump,’ maybe only 5% of buildings are the recipient for that style of a heat pump. So, when we start with control, what’s important to understand is that every single building needs a control system. That’s a lot of surface area of ​​the opportunity of the marketplace.”

What Troy and his team have been seeing in their pilots is about a 30% efficiency gain on average across the portfolio from only having better control.

“We can talk about why that is and why you can get better efficiency just from controlling what you have better. You need control. It’s where you can access the greatest efficiency on average for the market. But also, it is the lowest-hanging fruit. I don’t have to go retrofit the building with a whole lot of expensive systems. All I have to do is change out my control system.”

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