Optimizing energy usage through AI and IoT
By Jason Smith
• AI helps commercial buildings achieve peak energy savings of up to 20% annually
• mCloud is using AI and IoT to help building owners and lessees save on their HVAC and lighting costs
• The company is also applying AI to maximize wind energy production and transformers
Artificial intelligence (AI) is poised to fundamentally change the way we use technology to solve challenging problems. From the potential of self-driving cars to virtual assistants like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa, we are already starting to see a glimpse of what the future holds.
While it is still early on for many consumer AI applications, AI is being deployed for a range of business applications that have the potential to be big revenue generators and money savers.
One example is the emergence of “smart buildings,” where AI is being combined with the Internet of Things (“IoT’) to transform how commercial buildings consume energy. Estimates from the U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy put the energy wasted in commercial buildings at 30 per cent, costing businesses US$57 billion annually in the United States alone.
AI and IoT offer a pathway to using “big data” to make building operations more efficient by continuously managing building infrastructure like HVAC units and lighting.
“One of the difficult things about optimizing energy is to understand how the existing equipment is behaving. We use AI to run the more efficient units longer, which makes our work more about solving optimization problems.” — Constantino Lanza, Chief Growth Officer, Universal mCloud Corp.
mCloud’s AI optimizes HVAC performance, passing savings on to customers
With a mission to create a more efficient future by making infrastructure like HVAC systems, wind turbines and electrical transformers “smart,” Universal mCloud Corp. (TSX.V: MCLD) is developing technology powered by AI and IoT to manage more than 28,000 assets in the field for customers such as Starbucks, Dairy Queen and Cinemark.
mCloud estimates it can cut a commercial building’s peak energy use by 20 per cent by turning HVAC and lighting systems into smart assets. Constantino Lanza, the company’s Chief Growth Officer notes, “One of the difficult things about optimizing energy is to understand how the existing equipment is behaving. We use AI to run the more efficient units longer, which makes our work more about solving optimization problems.”
Through a “Software-as-a-Service” (SaaS) subscription model, mCloud charges its customers a piece of their overall energy savings from using its services and equipment. Lanza comments, “At a typical quick-serve restaurant, we’d help them save $150 a month on electricity costs and would keep about $50 worth of those costs.”
Targeting 500K smart assets in the next three-to-five years
mCloud aims to have 500,000 assets in its portfolio in the next three-to-five years. The mCloud business model is designed to scale, generating high-margin recurring revenue along the way.
The mCloud AI is fed by IoT sensors connected to assets that get smarter as the system accumulates more data, delivering greater customer value over time. mCloud views its AssetCare service as potentially more responsive and more proactive than any asset manager in the field. By tapping into the power of analytics and machine learning, AssetCare helps businesses use data intelligently to ensure assets continuously operate at peak performance.
Gianluca Tucci, a research analyst at Echelon Wealth Partners, likes this model. “AssetCare is a solution that sells itself,” he says. “Especially as companies globally find ways to optimize margins and minimize input costs; energy consumption is one part of this multi-faceted answer and this is precisely what AssetCare delivers while optimizing energy performance.”
Longer term, Lanza sees 10 million connectable assets within mCloud’s reach. The emergence of inexpensive IoT sensors, remote data collection (e.g., drones), cloud computing, AI and machine learning give the company an opportunity to achieve that level of market penetration.
Wind turbines, transformer monitoring and maintenance offer long-term growth
Smart buildings are just one of mCloud’s target markets. The company is also working on a monitoring and maintenance solution for wind turbines.
According to NewEnergy Update, wind turbines incur $48,000 in operating costs for every megawatt of energy they generate. This cost structure makes it hard for wind operators to make money, particularly since government incentives subsidizing the industry are less common now.
Lanza comments, “Take a wind farm with 100 or more turbines — when one of our sensors picks up an anomaly, we can send out a drone to inspect the equipment. Our vision is to have a drone on site that can take photos of the damaged part and send them back to us.” This system is designed to catch problems that human visual monitoring would not.
A third market in the works at mCloud is centered around smart electrical transformers. According to Lanza, utilities are excited about mCloud’s technology, which can dramatically reduce the costs of maintaining the transformers within a power grid. The company is designing innovative hydrogen sensors for these transformers, which should go into full production by mid-2019.
With three distinct businesses to target and a plethora of other untapped applications, mCloud (TSXV: MCLD) is harnessing AI to transform how businesses operate. By leveraging the potential of “big data”, the company is aiming to make energy assets “smarter”. In the same way high-tech is revolutionizing everything from cars to virtual assistants, mCloud is taking full advantage of AI and its immense potential to solve the world’s toughest energy problems.