July 28, 2021

INTERVIEW | Smart building management systems and climate solutions with Bob Sharon

INTERVIEW | Smart building management systems and climate solutions with Bob Sharon

Smart building management systems offer powerful climate solutions, more comfortable commercial buildings and better work quality for building managers. We explore the space with Bob Sharon of BlueIoT.com.au


ReGenOmics Down Under is a podcast by Leigh Baker of Balance3.com.au . It explores the wealth of climate solutions happening on the ground in Australia and New Zealand, as well as around the world.

In this episode, Leigh talks with Bob Sharon, founder of BlueIoT about Smart Building Management systems and how they are delivering significant Climate Solutions (along with new career opportunities for engineers and developers).

Big buildings consume a lot of energy, creating a lot of emissions. Smart Building Management is a fast-growing field of opportunity to:

  • substantially reduce greenhouse emissions
  • increase building comfort for occupants
  • reduce building running costs

Climate solutions are exciting opportunities

We live in a world where most of the mainstream media coverage on climate action is focused on either:

  1. high-level action where big government and big business do big things; OR
  2. low-level actions asking ordinary consumers to use less or spend more on expensive alternatives.

That’s barely beginning of the story. Those two over-worked themes are like the pastry layers on a vanilla slice – necessary, but not the main event. There’s actually a wealth of accessible action when you get out and start looking for problems that need solving and the opportunities they create.

Solving the challenges we face has created a quiet design revolution – and one piece of the action is smarter building management.

Smart building management for a brighter future

BlueIot is in the business of developing and delivering platforms and integrations for smart buildings & cities environmental management. Through their platform, they enable substantial reductions in risk, carbon footprint, energy, maintenance and operational costs while improving safety, OHS, cyber security, health & wellness, human comfort and productivity.

They have developed and leverage a range of leading edge technologies, platforms, sensors of all descriptions combined with data analytics and interpretation, machine learning and AI.

In this interview, founder Bob Sharon tells stories of their adventure so far.

LINKS

Blue IoT is a Melbourne based property technology business: blueiot.com.au

The Citizen’s Climate Lobby is an international nonprofit, nonpartisan, grassroots advocacy climate change organization focused on policies to address climate change. citizensclimatelobby.org

Project Drawdown is an independent body modelling and ranking existing, commercial climate soultions. Drawdown.org/solutions

The built environment solutions Drawdown has ranked include:

 

CREDITS

Original music and audio editing by Ian Hopkinson, Human Hacker and serial digital entrepreneur.

Transcript

Bob Sharon  
The statistics that I've seen are that buildings typically take around 30% of the carbon footprint of the globe, we ourselves are delivering at around 35 to 40%. And then when we link up to smart grids and we put more renewables, then we can drive that much further to the point of not having to go to grid at all in the next five to 10 years. 

Leigh Baker  
Welcome to Regenomics Down Under.

 We're, we're exploring how today's happening climate solutions are being scaled across Australia and around the world. I'm your host, Leigh Baker, a supply chain analyst turned sustainability blogger and podcaster. Today, we're talking with Bob Sharon from Blue IoT, about how building operations are developing as a high impact climate solution. 

Smart buildings and smart building management are a highly significant and existing climate solution, and one that scaling around the world. However, many of the opportunities aren't much more visible than it's huge, but hidden world of pipes, pumps, valves, actuators and plant rooms. So let's go exploring.

And today, I'm talking to Bob Sharon from Blue IoT, which is in the facilities management business. But I'll get Bob to explain properly, what blue IoT is about. Welcome, Bob.

Bob Sharon  
Thanks, Leigh  very much for that kind introduction. Basically, we're in the prop tech space. If I can allude to that property technology. Blue IoT, I think IoT most people will understand as the Internet of Things. And the blue is the blue economy, which I know that you Leigh relate very well to and in fact, have written a lot on this very subject for us. The blue economy in our context is around, what does it take to build a building or a hotel or a shopping center or a park for that matter? What does it take to maintain it? And what effect does it have on the people using it on the community and on the planet. So it's a 360 degree circular approach around all of this. 

And so for us, it's about leveraging the Internet of Things to support the blue economy. And for us, it's smart buildings, smart cities, smart places. And that's the meaning of our business. And we do our very best to actually focus on delivering real outcomes. Rather than focusing on good marketing fluff . Infact, our marketing fluff is pretty poor, actually. 

We're very much focused around a smart cities platform suite, which we have developed from the cloud, which delivers a range of services, including building automation, energy management, COVID-19, risk mitigation, services, demand, response management, fault detection and diagnostics, smart grid management, micro grid management, all sorts of great interesting things, but with the outcome in mind, in supporting the blue economy, carbon footprint reduction, carbon net zero health and wellness, productivity, fault detection and diagnostics, increasing asset life, again, which further reduces the demand on carbon, and so forth. So it's a very holistic approach. It's very outcomes driven. 

We don't sell technology. We don't sell widgets. We don't even sell IoT. A lot of people have to sell it. But I think one of the problems today is people are busy flogging technology. But why do I want this IoT widget? What's it going to do for me? And if it doesn't do something for them? Why bother? a shiny widgets good to look at but what will it do? You know, for me? And what will it do for the greater good, and that's what we're focused on.

Leigh Baker  
The thing that interests me about your work is just how much it deals with the invisible side of the buildings that so many people live in and work in without actually understanding. So you'll have a whole language for it. And it's a whole speciality that most people almost don't see that it exists - much more than they notice the cleaners who clean the bathroom. 

There's the building management people who actually make the building work, and they have a big role to play in what this podcast is about, which is the solutions to global warming that we are already have and that are already working. And that actually save people money as they make their buildings more comfortable.

Bob Sharon  
Absolutely, you're spot on. I think one of the problems with traditional systems is that they're very cumbersome. And they're designed to be proprietary. They're designed to be expensive to operate and expensive to change. Why? supporting those poor large multinationals in their poverty to help them, you know, pay their bills, I guess, excuse my cynicism. But I tend to get that way, I maybe need to slap myself on the wrist for being cynical.

Leigh Baker  
So these are the systems that buildings management people would have to tell them what's happening in the building and what needs fixing?

Bob Sharon  
Yes, well, we do a limit. So the traditional systems, typically, you've got two kinds really, you got the old legacy systems that are quite old. And the majority of systems out there are legacy. When I say legacy seven years plus, and those systems provide very little information. Theyt will provide some, some are better than others, some of them will have a full PC, at the location at the office, they'll be able to access detail on what's happening. And if there's an alarm, it will show up that something's not working, there'll be an alarm that will come off and the facility manager knows that something's broken or not working properly, and they need to fix it. And that's the tradition, very reactive, it's a traditional way.

If it's a newer building management system, they will have access by the web. And they will get web access to their head end to their system in the in the building. And at least they will remotely be able to see if there's an alarm or see what's going on. So that gives them a little bit more visibility from it. But having said that, if for example, they want to understand what is happening, why did this go wrong? Why is something going wrong? Well, they don't get that information, currently, right? 

Who is interpreting data, nobody.They might have all this data coming in, especially on the newer ones. On the old ones, there's not that much data, there'll be a little bit, but the older you get, the less there is, but whatever they get, it's limited. And so if it's a complicated problem, they're not going to be able to sort it out. And they left in the lurch, they're busy trying to fix bushfires, and people ringing up, you know, the door handle is broken, and the temperature is 25 degrees, when it should be 22 degrees, and they're getting all these complaints, how are they going to fix the problem, right, these poor people, it's trying to stay alive and keep their heads above water. And they're having trouble.

Leigh Baker  
I suppose even the newer systems are just pouring out whole heaps of data, say from a temperature sensor, or from a humidity sensor, or from a lighting sensor or something. And they're just drowning the people who are responsible for the building and data.

Bob Sharon  
Well, that's right and facilities managers are not qualified data, people. Some of them have a background in some area of mechanical, some electrical, some, not even in any form of engineering, but are very good at maybe fixing things, for example, you know, very handy. 

But when it comes to interpreting HVAC data, or electrical data, or whatever it's like, "really, you know, like, really?" and they get lost, and they've got to call for help, you know, and they haven't got that available. And traditional systems don't allow for that. Unless you pay really big money, millions, typically. And most organizations don't have that kind of budget.

Leigh Baker  
If you think about the big buildings that make up offices and commercial premises and things like that, they're not really new, are they?

Bob Sharon  
No. And in fact, believe it or not, the average age in America of buildings - I was shocked -was 50 years, right? 50 years old, it was crazy. Now here, we won't have that average age. But nevertheless, there are 1000s of aged buildings with aged infrastructure, some with no BMS. But most with legacy BMS isn't even the ones with new BMS is typically will not have an energy management system, right. Some will, but the majority will not why that's again, another big separate cost to gain maybe another five or 10, and maybe 50% of the additional energy savings,

Leigh Baker  
and BMS is building management system.

Bob Sharon  
That is correct. It's an automation system so that basically, your BMS will manage and automate the building's controls and pick up alarms from your fire or your elevators or something like that. And they'll run all the HVAC, sometimes run the lighting systems, sometimes not, and send the alerts and the alarms. And basically, there's a lot of just making sure everything's working when it should, when the system should start on time that the temperatures are being kept to where they're supposed to be the exhaust fans are working, and we're getting rid of all the excess stuff inside. And that's what an auto BMS, basically does.

Leigh Baker  
Okay. And in COVID, you would be wqnting your building management system to clear the air pretty regularly.

Bob Sharon  
Yes. In fact, I know in New South Wales, for example, they have legislated that the dampers are set to 80% of outside air - under the New South Wales regulations. And so I don't know how many people are adhering to this. But it is certainly very important to be able to manage it and manage it remotely. Becausewhen you've got full lock downs, it's very hard to get access sometimes and you might not be allowed, and you want to be able to have remote access. And legacy systems tend not to do that - the newer ones do.

Leigh Baker  
 Managing buildings wealth is a climate solution. So I wondered if you had any insights or new numbers or had some good stories that you could tell?

Bob Sharon  
Okay, yes, that's a good one, that the statistics that I've seen are that buildings, office buildings, in particular, and such, typically take around 30% of the carbon footprint of the globe, you know, which is quite substantial. It's a massive number. So can you imagine if we took 30% out of that, what that would do?

I mean mamamia, you know, like, talking about making some massive impression on the carbon footprint. Now, typically, we ourselves are delivering up to - some buildings old buildings - up to 50%. But certainly, on average, it would sit at around 35 to 40%. In total reductions.  In fact, on I think its scope 2 for the gas component, up to 60% reductions. 

And then when you extend the asset life, it means you can say, five or 10 years of buying a new system, a new infrastructure, and the amount of metal, the amount of equipment used to manufacture that, the carbon involved, again, is another massive saving. 

So if we were able to manage hundreds of buildings and 1000s of buildings from common platforms, and then if we were able to then link in to smart grids, and micro grids, and then demand response management, and do all of these things, boy, what we could do! And then again, dramatically improve the carbon footprint. 

So when there's a big demand, we have rules in place to reduce the energy even further. So as we don't take the demand, but we're getting paid for this privilege, because there's a huge demand. The power provider says if you don't use, you know, this energy for this two hour period, you will get five or 10 times the normal amount, you know, that happens. But we need to respond in a few seconds in order to deliver that. 

So between that, and then between managing buildings much better, without spending millions and millions of dollars on new infrastructure, which is like an easy way to do it. But even then you might save 20%. But when you can keep the old stuff and save 30-40-50%? I mean, why wouldn't you 

So can you imagine the world went down this path, what difference it would make. And then when we link up to smart grids, and we put more renewables, like, you know, waste to recycling, waste to energy, and the newer solar panels as the price goes down for Windows and, and all sorts of things, then we can drive that much further - to the point of not having to go to grid at all, in the next five to 10 years.

Leigh Baker  
An exciting field that you're working in.

Bob Sharon  
Yeah, it is fun. I love it. When I see outcomes being delivered, you know, and to see, when we see the figures, you know, coming through for really massive improvement, it is it's quite satisfying.

Leigh Baker  
So when people have the new tools, using not just the Internet of Things, but taking the data that the Internet of Things produces, and then using smart information processing, to make that data into actual meaningful information that people can then use - that can make a really big difference to how well a building works and how long equipment lasts. How often you have to upgrade, say your air conditioning or your HVAC system.

Bob Sharon  
Yeah, that's absolutely right Leigh. so part of the reason that we're able to do so well is that we're able to pick up all of this data. We're able to correlate all the data in our analytics platform. And we can pick up anomalies we can, you know, look for problems. 

And in these early days of cloud based smart systems, there are a lot of people talking about artificial Intelligence and things like that. But just to put it back in perspective, these are early days, so the amount of AI really truthfully, being used to analyze these, because true AI is totally autonomous, true AI will make an autonomous decision to turn something on or off or change some settings by itself based on its learnings, you know, 

Whereas machine learning, which is a subset, and we are already using machine learning, machine learning is a subset of AI, which is not autonomous, but based on learning what's happening on site and has a set of rules might have sets of algorithms, where we can certainly make a good improvement. And we have a lot of that happening now. And the combination of machine learning will build the AI libraries over the next coming years. 

And then maybe in five years time, we won't need nearly as much engineering time from our HVAC and controls engineers right now where we do need more of their time to look at the anomalies, look at the correlated data that is given to us by our system, and then interpret and go back to the client and say, Look, we believe you've got a problem with this part. Because it's working abnormally, we're getting more vibration, power factor is going down. So we need your electrical contractor to take a look, we think the bearings are on the way out. But there can be a planned maintenance to replace the bearings before the whole thing blows up. So we can extend the life, save money and save time.

Leigh Baker  
So it was a pump, that was say, pumping water around an air conditioning HVAC system, then if the default is you don't know that it's got a problem. So you wait till it breaks down, then everybody knows that there's a problem. And along the way, you might develop a water leak.

Bob Sharon  
And not only that, then you may have a backup pump, and many do. But the problem is you've got to get it fixed, ASAP, and it won't be fixed, you're going to replace it. And you got to pay double the price because it's got to be done yesterday, there's no plan. It's like get me one ASAP, and you're not going out tender on an orderly process. You're saying I need one tomorrow, and you're paying a lot more. 

Whereas if we had the plan maintenance, we can say, Okay, well have you probably got a few months left. Okay, well, let's organize the parts to the bearings, three weeks time, orderly shut down for two hours at a certain time, they get replaced and the pumpt's going to go for 10 more years or 15 more years.

Leigh Baker  
That very old saying about a stitch in time saves nine? You're not only making the building performance easier, you're also making life easier for the building engineers.

Bob Sharon  
Oh, indeed. And again, I keep saying it saving a lot of carbon in the process. That's the manufacturing of new equipment to replace the old because the whole thing's all busted and the retrospective model. 

Leigh Baker  
A lot less embedded carbon in a new bearing than they would be in a new pump. Correct.

So are there any particular favorite stories that you have - without naming names and shaming buildings or organizations? What's the real world doing out there? And how much can we improve it with not too much effort?

Bob Sharon  
Well, the first building we did, that's back in December 2018. And it's kind of a problem, if you haven't been to an office where you go in one part of the office, it's a bit cool. And they are another part of the office. And it's and it's warm, you know, it's what's going on here, you got to the freezing part of the office. And there you go to the wall part of the office - was happening? 

So there was about a five or five and a half degree variation between the various zones in this small office building. And I remember when we took over, which was I think about the eighth of December 2018, we noticed and you could see it on the graph, it was chalk and cheese, where you got these huge variations in temperature. As soon as we took over, it was like a one to one and a half degree variation between all the zones. And whereas before, it was like five, you know, five degrees on average. So that was from a human comfort point of view, apart from we did save a lot of energy, but it's a nice story, you know, that we can easily relate that was like very, you know, seeable, if I can not put it that way. That's one story.

Leigh Baker  
And it sounds like it must have been very fixable to

Bob Sharon  
Yeah, the way the old system was it was an old BMS in there. And there was very little visibility. And basically they said, Can we put something in, and that was our first so they gave us a break we needed for the first system to go in. 

And we did and it was just a matter of the way you run the system. It wasn't a complex system. There was a number of package systems there and they were quite old and we just took over them and ran them in a better way, and put our wireless temperature humidity sensors around and ran the zone separately, and just got a much better outcome, I think we ended up saving around 20% off the total electricity bill for that, and I think was at 35% of gas or 40% of gas is well, something along those lines. But, you know, the human side of it was really nice, you know, to see productivity level. So that was a nice one. 

Another one I can relate to you is more on the human comfort side. And it's a school. It's a prestigious private school, I won't mention it's in another state. We were initially called to look at mold. And so we put in tvoc, that's volatile organic compounds, sensors in and the mold was apparently cleaned, but wasn't really dealt with completely. So when we came in, we had a brand 400 parts per billion reading, which is in the okay range. 

But you know, over a few weeks, it went up to the 1200 parts, which is getting close to the next range up, which, you know, suggests that spores are coming back. So you know, very, very good to be reading these things constantly and seeing them and not doing a one off audit in a year or something because that's not a good way to do it. And because this school realized there was a problem that we permanently put these sensors in. 

And then the big thing we found was co2 levels was a bigger problem. So they got great air conditioning systems, HVAC - they're multi head splits, but they're not ducted. So that bring in outside air, they cool and heat very well. But the problem is ventilation. And what we found on some days, and some periods during the day, it would go up to three and a half thousnd parts per million, your safety level. And I say safety not ideal is 1000, right, you want below 1000. But that was a problem. And we were quite surprised.

Leigh Baker  
So that's a problem with way too much carbon dioxide. Despite very high quality heating and cooling systems, there was a gap that nobody had realized. And the smart sensors that you put in, picked up that there was something wrong. And goodness, carbon dioxide excess in school rooms must be pretty hard on the teachers and the students, both.

Bob Sharon  
oh, well, and they wouldn't notice, you know, it's just the productivity level will go the retention for the students will go down, you got 24 or whatever students in a room, and it's gonna have an impact. Now, if you had good ventilation -  but you know, all the classrooms weren't designed, they didn't understand. So they didn't bear this in mind that with some of these older buildings. Newer buildings generally, of course, are much better. 

And so what we've done now is we've got a solution that will address this and control it and manage it. So that's that's actually being implemented as we speak. So from a human comfort and safety and wellness perspective. And look there, many office buildings have the same problem, right, the older office buildings don't have great ventilation themselves. 

So this will apply in hotels in some older shopping centers, in office buildings and things. So this will be a problem everywhere. So we'll be able to look at this and address the solution around the human comfort side, which is really important, especially when you're doing WELLS in a building a wells rating for your higher grade buildings.

Leigh Baker  
So WELLS is an industry standard, is it?

Bob Sharon  
It is yes. So your WELL writing for a building is about the environment of the building inside - for people. It is a global standard, it is being implemented all over the world, we have buildings here that are WELLS-rated. And it is about that human comfort, productivity, health and safety point of view, which is fundamental.

then we've got other solutions or problems that we've found. So what we find on many sites, when we go, when there's regular maintenance done on sites, they tend to you know, they'll check filters, they'll check all the usual things, they'll check the switchboards, and they'll make sure everything's clean, and all the wires are looking looking good. And everything's tested and it's all good.

But commonly what's not looked at are the actual valves and the actuators that are running things - like actually testing these things. And when we go through and do pre commissioning and testing, we find commonly that a number of them are stuck, valves might get stuck, actuators might get stuck, some might work, some might not work. And so we're finding this as a common problem in older buildings. 

And so we're able to find these, and as we go through them at least get to a baseline where those things are either fixed or replaced by the preferred mechanical contractor outside and then we're able to go forward. But that's been one of the problems.

The other one that we've found Is that there are many BMS is layered on top of each other. So typically, to save money, if a company is going for a newer BMS - building management system -then the company selling that will overlay that on top of an older BMS, because that means they have to do less work. And they can pick up the points from the older BMS, and it saves them some money, makes it look cheaper. And what happens is, you've got all these band aids going on top. 

So there was a site, we went to a hotel, and they had several BMS, and it's not uncommon to have a number of them, because people want to save money, and they do a cheaper thing. But putting band aids on top of band aids is not optimal. It will work it will deliver in automation, you know, and make something work, they'll get that. Will they get energy savings? Not on your life. And we're finding that on a number of sites. 

So what we tend to do then is dismantle all the legacy systems and, you know, bin them, basically. Not, once we do a gradual project implementation, slowly and orderly and, slowly, you know, take over a site, but then those things are good to put on a display somewhere in a museum or something.

Leigh Baker  
So it sounds like what you're doing is the equivalent of in a home renovation, where you lift up three layers of carpet and flooring, and you get down to the actual beams and work out which of them are rotted, but you're doing it with the information systems and the valves, which are like taps, and the actuators which are like switches, and all these things that are supposed to work. Well, nobody can see inside them. So who knows if they were? by using traditional technology?

Bob Sharon  
That's right, and we throw out all the old relays. So again, commonly the old relays are left, because again, it saves money on the new vendor. And the new vendor can leverage the old relays and save money, make them look cheaper, is they bid "oh look, we're cheap - or cheaper, you know, we're preserving this old stuff, aren't we good?" 

But when it comes to all that electrical stuff - different to a massive chiller or pump -  when it comes to that standards in the old days were, in fact, not as good as today, when it comes to standards for switchboards or standards for wiring, all of that kind of thing. So that's why we make sure that when we put in our equipment, we'll put in new equipment, even power measuring equipment we use. 

One of the problems with energy management is there are a lot of cheap CTS, that is current transformers, they're the things you wrap around the circuits, the wires, to understand how much energy is going through. And there are cheap CTS that are not accurate, especially at a lower load. So for example, if you chiller is running at 20%, or 10%, load, the accuracy of those will be really way off. And so if you get garbage data, you're gonna have a problem. 

And so therefore, what we tend to invest in is high quality, power measuring equipment. And yes, okay, it's a bit of a an ad for soccer, MC, we and it's a French company. And yes, I confess I love French food too, so guilty as charged. But they do make some wonderful things. And they make great planes. And they do make great power measuring equipment. 

In fact, the sock make gear is more accurate than utility meters. The rule under utility meters is, and I was shocked to hear this, but I was told that if you're above 75% load, the utility meter must be accurate to the standard that they ask. But if it's below 75%, doesn't matter, which I was totally shocked about. So for us, the sucker make gear is very accurate, you know, almost all the way down. And therefore we can get accurate data.

Leigh Baker  
And if you've got accurate data about how the buildings really running, then you can increase the efficiency of how the building's running.

Bob Sharon  
Well, that's right. Correct. Correct. So we can find that out and compare units to each other. And then we can compare power factor, something's degrading, and we can compare changes when we change settings, or use and then understand better so yeah.

Leigh Baker  
And so if you were talking to somebody who wanted to do something about climate, but didn't know much about buildings, what would you be telling them about?

Bob Sharon  
Okay, well, I would presume that they probably have a number of buildings in their portfolio, but as you rightly say, they probably don't understand. So they could be head of sustainability for a large organization and looking for ways to get to their carbon net zero target, for example. And if they have a wide footprint of buildings, thing is digital transformation in IT,  in business systems. So that's obviously going to be one area But the other area is digital transformation in FM.  (facilities management) 

And that is, so making sure you've got your asset management up to par, your work order management getting these. And then, of course, the final frontier is linking all of these to your cloud based systems of building automation, energy management, smart grid management, managing renewable power, and then bringing it all to bear in in the cloud, which means that you can interact, compare buildings, have a high level overview, and have a very dramatic impact on the climate when you've got such information. And democratization of data cutting right across all of this. 

So we can learn from other buildings and geographies and jurisdictions, what's going on and then learn and then continuously implement these to continuously improve and drive down the carbon footprint while improving user comfort and health and wellness. 

Leigh Baker  
I'm just checking understand this. So while all the building management systems might tackle an individual building, and give you the basics of how that building was running, to the extent that everything still worked in their measurements, it didn't give you if you're in a bigger organization, it didn't give you an overall picture of where your real impact opportunities were, because each was sitting there all by itself not talking to any other system.

Bob Sharon  
That's right. So by having a cloud based platform can then map out all the buildings, we can compare them. And by doing that, we can further enhance and improve, and then build on cases,  learning from one another. 

And then building the AI, which again, that'll be more helpful, because when you've got this portfolio, you're building the libraries and the knowledge base, which therefore informs the AI engine that we can build up to learn and then do more remote self diagnosis, and self improvement. And then as we then add digital triplets, why triplets? Not twins, you may ask?

Leigh Baker  
You'll have to explain that one.

Bob Sharon  
And this is a good question, because digital twins is not rocket science. Digital twins is a 3d image of a building. So you're doing your building, guess what? You've used AutoCAD. So you've used Revit. And you've got a Revit 3d image of the building - whoop-ee-doo. Oh, yeah. So that's not rocket science. today. That's normal on new buildings today, this is a given. So there's no rocket science in that a lot of people use the term. Oh, we got a digital twin? Well whoop-ee-doo.. Okay, you did it in Revit. You've got a 3d image. What's rocket science here? This is basic stuff. So a basic digital twin is your 3d Revit image, for example. So I've got a monitor, like what you're watching, we're looking at it, you can view it in 3d. That's it. You can own a digital twin, right? Yeah, it's a basic digital twin, but it's a digital twin. 

Now, what we then do with the digital twin, this is what's important, what we then add to the digital twin are - you're talking VR AR, for example, virtual reality, augmented reality? Yes. So then we can do things like inductions. We can say where is this asset? How do we get there. And we can use VR AR for this amongst other things,. 

We can then also then use it for modeling. So we use computer modeling software that we integrate into the digital twin. And then we say, well, under these given conditions, what happens if we do A, B and C with the HVAC system? Or the lighting or, or the ventilation? How's that going to improve or not improve? And then we do the modeling. 

And then based on the modeling, we say, gee, we can get a 3%, performance improvement, energy saving, if we do these things. We then implement it through our cloud platform, and we calibrate the digital twin. And we say, right, this is not quite we'll calibrate it further. Once we've calibrated it, then we build an AI module to slowly do things autonomously. This is called the digital triplet. Why? Because we're doing stuff with the digital twin. That's the triplet, right - trying to explain it in simple terms.

Leigh Baker  
It sounds like a whole new world of fun. If anybody was out there who wanted to combine their computer programming skills with a bit of engineering, they could find a whole interesting career in building management and facilities management.

Bob Sharon  
Yep. And future engineers. There'll be more of this sort of thing happening. So that's why the big push, you know, for kids in schools, learning to code coding and all of that, I mean, that's so essential. Obviously, trying to get more women into engineering which oh, please you know, let's let's do more - we'll be very helpful.

Leigh Baker  
Okay, so what she's saying you As any young female engineers out there with a bit of an IT bent and want to make an impact in the real world, they should get in touch.

Bob Sharon  
Absolutely, absolutely, yes, we need more studying or the engineering disciplines in high school and university, because it will be very rewarding for them. I mean, gee, we don't have enough engineers.

Leigh Baker  
So far, we've talked about just how much impact Building Performance can have on carbon emissions have rich an opportunity is - because there are so many buildings, and so many of them are very old. Probably, I don't know, three quarters of the buildings in Australia could be run smarter?

Bob Sharon  
Try 90% of them. Try 95%. Sorry.

Leigh Baker  
Just because nobody's ever really thought about it.

Bob Sharon  
Oh, no, look, there is much bigger awareness Now, to be fair. it is now making an impact everywhere. You see a lot of info all over the place about this, people are much more aware. And they're exploring what could be done. So I guess the problem now is there's too one, how can we do this economically, sustainably. And that's actually quite easy to be honest. I mean, you know, we're delivering sub three year paybacks. So from an economic point of view, we take the sustainability box for the bean counters, you know, which I think is critical. 

But I guess one of the problems we have, we still get "Oh, yours is a new technology. And you know, we want to see 1000 more buildings before we get it. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. " You never got sacked for buying an IBM. 

There is still this mentality out there, though one of the things with COVID. What's done is more people are open to newer technologies as a result. So instead of two or 3% of people being open to new technologies, it's gone to 5-6-7 percent perhaps. So there's some more, which is really helpful, and who want to make a real difference and not just trust the old ways. And you know, the old relationships because they convenient.

Leigh Baker  
You said you had some comments on the ideas? 

Bob Sharon  
Yes, Yes, I have. So what we see and one of the problems out there is you people quite focused on say a design standard. So in Australia, we have greenstar. In Europe, America, you got LEED , you got BREEAM, there's green mark in Singapore, there's a number of design standards out there.

Leigh Baker  
And that's standards on how to make a building that is properly sustainable, and how to measure how sustainable.

Bob Sharon  
Well, no, not the second part. The first part is what materials are you putting in the buildings? So yes, it's going to have better insulation, it's going to have better R-ratings. It's gonna, you know, have all these ticks but I am well aware of, I'm not sure if it was five or five and a half star green star rated building got one and a half star NABERS. What does that tell you?

Leigh Baker  
You need to explain NABERS for our listeners.

Bob Sharon  
good point. NABERS is the National Australian Built Environment Rating System, as developed by the Department of Environment in New South Wales, but now nationally adopted, adopted in New Zealand and now gone to the UK. 

And the wonderful thing about NABERS is it looks at the last 12 months of actual performance. And we have NABERS for data centers, NABERS for shopping centers, we have NABERS for office buildings, NABERS for hotels, apartment buildings, and it is a wonderful system and that we have energy, there's energy and water. There's even indoor air environments. 

So they have a number of aspects and it's focused on how did we perform in the last 12 months. It's not about how the building was designed. So don't get me wrong, it's important that the design of the building has these things, but without an ongoing measure as to how it's performing. What is the point? Right so you have a one and a half NABERS, you know why? They put the cheapest possible infrastructure in because it went to a cheap builder who didn't care and put cheap junk inside. And guess what, you know, you had enough energy used to sink a few coal mines. 

So what we now have is NABERS that says okay, how did you perform so we get a five star green star building fine. Now let's measure the outcome. And what NABERS does is compare buildings relative to other buildings. That's how the baseline. So three is that is average. But six star is top, you get six star and you are you're going to great building from an energy point of view. So what we like to do then is not just look at, you know, all these ticks in boxes, which Yes, we need to do. 

But what equipment are we putting in to make sure we get a sustainable outcome? not cheapest price wins in a tender process, which again, I believe is totally flawed because the total cost of ownership is not considered, and really should be. And so part of the circular economy, the blue economy that we've spoken about, 

So what we need to then do is make sure the equipment that is procured as part of the building is going to attain great NABERS numbers. So when people build a new building, and they get a NABERS commitment agreement, before it's built, they have to get modeling so that NABERS will believe them, which is proper, if you're above five star or more, and make sure they do it. So then they can use the logo and say, where five star or five and a half star because they have a commitment agreement with the neighbors team to do that. And that's wonderful, because that means they will invest in the right infrastructure, because they're committing to it. And then we observe the outcomes. 

And it's the previous 12 months of how well have you actually performed and it gets renewed every year, year on year. And that's why we need to focus on continuous outcomes. Continuous optimization, it's about the life - it's not about here is a building handed over Goodbye, Charlie, if it breaks, we'll come back and fix it, which is the traditional way of doing it. 

So they're the major comments that I had, because there is this tendency to focus on a design standard, but you need both, you need design, and you need ongoing verification and test and verification and certification. And in fact, we're getting involved now with a new group in terms of smart building certification. So we'll be adding that to our sleeve of arrows in our quiver, in order to certify a building as a smart building. So that adds another layer of certification in order to further deliver these outcomes. 

Because at the end of the day, what are we trying to achieve? It's not the certificate, per se, it's about Okay, the combination of what we've got is going to deliver an amazing carbon number, amazing outcome for people in these buildings. and a contribution to the climate.

Leigh Baker  
You mentioned one form of resistance that people have to looking at better building management systems - looking at full integrated facilities management, which is where I'm think could be a term for what you're doing. And you mentioned that some people go "well, first, I want to see it proved in 1000 buildings around Australia."  Is that the main one? Or are there other concerns that people have that may be a bit out of date?

Bob Sharon  
That one is one of them? The other one are " Oh look, it's cloud based. We don't trust the cloud, what happens if the cloud goes?" Now I come from an IT background and I recall before the GFC in 2008, many people have not yet migrated their IT to the cloud. Now can you imagine now today, if a company's IT goes what will happen? Nothing will happen. The business will stop. Right? If any company if their IT system goes and they're mostly now all in the cloud. And if the cloud drops out, goodbye Blackbird nothing's gonna happen. Right? Absolutely nothing because people can't go online to check their freight they stopped there. This the anything, nothing's in stock received stock, nothing's gonna happen. But yet in 2008, with the GFC, the mass migration to the cloud was like this, this huge migration after the war. And everyone migrated, because they wanted to save money. They wanted to reduce their costs, but the cloud has been proven to be totally reliable. And most people run everything from the cloud. Now,

Leigh Baker  
if you're worrying about what happens if the cloud breaks - if the cloud breaks, you'll have a lot more to worry about than you're building management system.

Bob Sharon  
Yeah, definitely. So we run a private network in a building. That's a non IP network, by the way. So it's very cyber-secure. It's a radio network. But what happens is we build redundancies of multiple gateways. We have multiple telcos even if Telstra dies, which it has I might add, the Telstra network. Yes, the 4g network. \So we have multiple telcos failover. 

But even then, let's just say that still failed. And we have no access to the data center. And we're in a tier four data center, by the way, in Melbourne. And if that did happen, well, our controls will be running on their own loop. They run with their little edge computers in their own right, and they'll be running their loop till the next time they get a command from the cloud.

Leigh Baker  
So that's like you're phone's still there with your pictures on it - even if the Telstra network goes down.

Bob Sharon  
Yeah, exactly. And the other one is, it's relating to the technology, some of them are comfortable with the old way " On, you know, we like the way sensors. Some of them are worried about wireless sensors." 

Now up to some years ago, you know, wireless sensors were not that reliable. But today, they're everywhere. In  LORAWAN sensors alone. And LORAWAN is one of the IoT communication protocols, long range wide area network, there's 200 million in notes all over the world of this now today, and it's growing like crazy. So the wireless sensor is very reliable today, wireless controllers, it's not like in the old days. People who can see, understand this is the way it's going.

Leigh Baker  
Makes a lot of sense. So the sun technology that enables my partner to have a 3d printer in the back room that he just uses - that same level of technology development - is there supporting the Internet of Things, and the sensors that all go together to help build the Internet of Things and to collect the data that your systems can turn into information to actually help building managers manage their buildings instead of just firefighting problems?

Bob Sharon  
Yeah, doing that for how long now? Long time? Yeah. And look IoT -  some people over dramatic size what it is -  but Internet of Things is just simply a bunch of stuff connected to each other, even through wires for that matter, but through the internet.

 So whether it's a phone, a car, you know anything - a Fitbit, whatever it may be, it's just a bunch of stuff connected to each other through to the internet, wired or wirelessly. And that's it. That's IoT, you know, very simply explained.

Leigh Baker  
Yeah. So that's the set nerve system. And your car,

Bob Sharon  
Yep, exactly, exactly. And the benefit of the cloud here is - because it becomes a central repository And because we can gather information from many places, and many systems - we have much greater knowledge. And we can feed that knowledge and better manage using that to optimize all the individual buildings, and places and basically, again, deliver better sustainable outcomes, as we do. Why? we've got this wonderful body of knowledge. 

And then what we also want to do is work with other organizations to democratize the data. So people don't know where it comes from. But we learn from other buildings. And together we learn how can we make this work better. And the by optimizing and then connecting to other applications, (we don't do all things). But what we do is work with open API's. 

So working through open API's, we can connect to other pieces of software. So might be parking software, it might be urban planning software, it could be all sorts of different things that we can plug on to - be part of an ecosystem to deliver a better outcome to the community.

Leigh Baker  
Okay, so that's a little bit like, you've got the old satnav system that came with your car, and it's always five years out of date. So when you go to the cloud, you go into Google Maps, and you're going to everybody's updating Google Maps with the bit that they know. 

Bob Sharon  
Yep, exactly. Yeah. 

Leigh Baker  
And then the satellite view comes in and the ability to share useful information is improving. It's as much, or even more so, in making buildings work better and reduce emissions, and make buildings friendly to people and more livable to pay for, as it is to navigating around town.

Bob Sharon  
Indeed, and then by collaborating and not keeping it or charging, you know, a whole lot of money, every time you want to connect to something else, which been a common problem, it becomes a lot better, because it then again, it serves our customers, but it serves the community and it serves the planet.

Leigh Baker  
Yes - in software, that's the open source movement, and tools that have a free version with basic functionality, and then a pay as you go model rather than a big spend up front model. So a whole range of thinking like that as well.

Bob Sharon  
It's certainly the way forward and I think, you know, the way buildings are built, and the way they set up, the model needs to be built at least under a 10 year Cost of Ownership model, you know, obviously, buildings are going to last longer than 10 years, but at least your initial model first part you know, the building obviously you're going to build for 30 40-50 years however long the actual structure. But then you'll face lift it every so many decades, but it should be built to a cost of ownership not "here's an upfront and then..."  it's it's all short term, it's all short term and short term is not sustainable.

Leigh Baker  
Yeah. And we're seeing that with those poor apartment dwellers in Sydney, where the apartments develop cracked and the home they thought they'd bought for life in this apartment block is worthless to them -  because of that short term mindset of building to a minimum standard and get out of there quick.

Bob Sharon  
The truck Yeah, exactly. Yeah, not very good model.

Leigh Baker  
Any more stories. Because in this podcast, we're talking to people who know that climate needs to be fixed, but have really been fooled into thinking that the only thing that they can do is lobby the government to change the law. You're not doing anything where the government's got to change a policy.

Bob Sharon  
No, no, I'm out there in the real world doing stuff. Okay. People can lobby the government. That's fine. Nothing wrong with that. That's different.

Leigh Baker  
Yeah. Yeah. Keep doing it, please. And....

Bob Sharon  
But we've got to work at the coalface. Right, and we're going to get stuff done. So they can do their stuff. I just want to get stuff done. All right. That's the focus. 

But I do have another story, I can relate - a good practical story. And that was a site of a very old building with 23 year old infrastructure. It was the second building we ever did. And oh, boy,the  BMS wasn't that old actually, I think it was about seven years old, or something - or five years old. But the system had a very complicated HVAC system.

Leigh Baker  
HVAC is air conditioning,

Bob Sharon  
yeah, consisting of about 19 mixing boxes, which mixed hot and cold air together. And then we had three package systems, and a cooling tower on the roof and a big compressor and a big air handling unit that was absolutely massive, and a huge fan, big 22 kilowatt supply air fan, and chewing up a whole lot of energy. 

Anyway, so when we went into replace the controllers in the 19 mixing boxes around that was delivering to ducts to deliver the hot and cold air to the various areas, we found that Firstly, the bus, the line from the mechanical switchboard across to all these was a proprietary bus. So the BMS had a proprietary line, Oh surprise, surprise, it wasn't even modbus or standard protocols, it was proprietary. So if you wanted to replace them, you would have to re cable everything with another cable, and all that stuff, just to make it hard. 

So fortunately, our control is a radio operator, we don't need lines. And so we replaced those. And it was quite a lot of work because all the actuators and the dampers were like very old. And we were able to put our controllers on these. And it took a couple of months of very hard work going through each one of these going through and probably made a loss on that one, actually. But that's okay, good learning. 

And when we took over that, we added one variable speed drive, that was the one new thing we added apart from our system to control the supply air fan. It was a very old fan chewing up 22 kilowatts the whole time, right, which is a lot. So what we did, we took over. And once we got it all going, Well, first, we found problems with actuators, again, the usual problem, everything got fixed. And we all sorted that out. And once we took over this thing, we then took the handle on it, and boy, the savings that came.

We ended up saving 70% of HVAC kilowatt hours, or 46% of total utility bill kilowatt hours year on year, and this is not a COVID here, by the way, we don't compare COVID numbers, and it was massive. And gas was 64% saving on mega joules. So we got four boilers and supplying hot water for heating through the system during the winter time. And so that was - even I was surprised with the level of savings that we got on that. Part of it was due to a new variable speed drive that saved energy on the fan. That was certainly a contributor. But still it was it was a pretty amazing number. I was pretty happy with

Leigh Baker  
For one new fan, you replace some actuators, which I think is switches, that weren't really working.

Bob Sharon  
Yeah, well, we had the client to replace some faulty actuators and things which weren't that many.  But one of our challenges was to work our new controllers onto these old actuators. And also we had to do some tweaking ourselves to make sure - because we were only doing our second building - to make sure we got them working. And we did. And yeah, the fan was still the old fan. But we bought this variable frequency drive to mean that we could run it up and down and save a stack of energy, which we did. And yeah, we've got pretty amazing outcomes.

Leigh Baker  
Essentially one new driver to drive the fan and some smart building management technology from Blue IoT - 60 plus percent savings in gas, 46% saving in electricity.

Bob Sharon  
Yep. Pretty good.

Leigh Baker  
All of which is a whole lot of greenhouse gas savings too

Bob Sharon  
Indeepd. Yes, it's not a five or 10% saving. We don't we don't do five or 10%.

Leigh Baker  
So somebody is looking for a new career, and they like to do things with their hands and do things with their heads. And if 30% of greenhouse gases globally come from the built environment, then they can set themselves up in a new career in building management, knowing that they're earning a living saving the planet, so to speak, 

Bob Sharon  
Absolutely.Come on down.

Leigh Baker  
And if you're a person working in an office building, and you want to do a little bit of gentle activism, you could explore how well the building that you're working in is being run, and still write to the government and still do your lobbying. And still be careful in what you use, but they're just the beginning.

Bob Sharon  
Still do all that stuff, yes. Get connected to the citizens climate lobby everyone. They're a good organization, they're doing some good work in trying to bring a market based carbon trading scheme. so a plug citizens climate lobby,

Leigh Baker  
well, thank you very much. It's been great to have you share what you know, on Regenomics down under, I might check in with you in a little while and see if you've got any more good stories to share.

Bob Sharon  
My pleasure, Leigh , and thank you very much for having me.

Leigh Baker  
So we've heard from Bob about buildings, building management and climate solutions. What's the evidence? Well, Project Drawdown, for example, lists individual evidence base building solutions, including building automation, smart thermostats, district heating and building retrofitting. However, they're individual solutions, and they're only listed when they have a peer reviewed evidence base to support them. 

And as Bob mentioned, there are a growing range of high impact opportunities in the built environment that are happening really very fast. What's particularly exciting from a regenomics point of view, is the way the wealth of solutions can combine to multiply their impact. A smart building has the tools to do energy trading, and participate in district heating and cooling solutions, as well as minimize its own emissions. 

So if you like doing things with your hands, doing things with computers, and you're looking for a challenge, then this may be for you. And if this doesn't float your boat, go looking at the other evidence based solutions already scaling, and see what aligns with your skills and interests. And then look further for what else is evolving. 

Thanks for joining us on Regenomics Down Under. I hope you enjoyed hearing about smart building revolution. And don't forget to check the show notes for links to the Drawdown research and to Blue IoT. 

This show is brought to you by the climatic collective, a podcast network by and for Australia's climate community. My name is Leigh Baker, and I'm the host of the show. I'd really love your feedback, and especially any stories you have on the climate solutions happening on the ground where you live and work. Just gave in touch through hello@climactic.fm or you can find and follow us on social media where we are @climacticshow. 

You can give the show a rating and review so other people can check us out from climactic.fm. Just click on the lever review link. Here's the making the 2020s a decade of regenerative action on practical climate solutions.