Selling software as a service through the web has helped make software more affordable and distribution more efficient. Now a startup called Scientific Conservation, which officially launched today after several years in relative stealth mode, wants to bring the software-as-a-service model to the commercial building automation market. The company’s web-based software platform, called SCIwatch, can link into a building’s existing automation system — which monitors heating, air conditioning and other energy-consuming systems — and applies sophisticated analytics to continuously predict, detect and diagnose system faults and anomalies.
CEO David Wolins told us that for a long time building managers have been on the defensive, because they are forced to react to a degradation of performance, for example, a room is too hot or too cold, and then adjust the system accordingly. But Wolins says SCIwatch helps building managers go on the offensive, providing a tool for them to be able to react prior to a system turning too hot or cold.
The cost of SCIwatch depends on the size of a building, but a 100,000-square-foot office would cost about $15,000 for the first year and about $750 per month afterward. Wolins said based on initial customers’ experiences — retailer Neiman Marcus is an early adopter — the system pays for itself in under a year from reduced energy bills and other savings, like avoiding damage to chillers or other machines.
Most large commercial buildings in the U.S. rely on some type of automation system for operators to monitor their buildings. SCIwatch pulls in data from existing sensors installed in a building, combines that with weather data and power pricing from utilities, runs simulations, and identifies faults. The software can predict imminent failures by comparing data with past performance. It also prioritizes the maintenance needed and estimates the cost of inaction. Sensors or other devices that are malfunctioning — even intermittently — are identified and, once replaced, make air conditioning and other energy hogs in a building run as they were intended.
While long-established companies like Johnson Controls have been developing automation systems for decades, the new entrants like Marietta, Ga.-based Scientific Conservation are leveraging advances in information technology and the Internet to make buildings run more efficiently. But if these startups are to be successful, they’ll need to prove to customers that their technologies can save money and bring value, such as by making building operations more efficient.
“If you can’t show an ROI [return on investment], then even the most advanced technologies fall by the wayside,” said Jorge Moreno, an analyst with Frost & Sullivan. Moreno said the best opportunities for these new startups will be in existing buildings, which often have poor energy-efficiency standards.
Since Scientific Conservation’s technology latches onto an existing building automation system — and doesn’t require expensive new sensors or other hardware and the labor needed to install them — that all-important ROI will likely come quicker, something building owners should enjoy.