Valerie Eacret and Amanda Gassé, ERS, for Zondits
Zondits first met 75F’s Bob French and Deepinder Singh at E Source Forum 2017 during a networking event. Our conversation evolved into this interview. 75F was founded in 2012 with the purpose of improving energy efficiency in buildings and providing users and occupants with more control of the energy systems in their work spaces. Over the past 5 years 75F has expanded their market space from restaurants and retail to large commercial buildings and campuses. We’ve divided our interview into two parts. Part one introduces 75F and their product and services. Part two gets more into the technical details of their system and applications.
- Please give us an overview of the 75F system.
75F is essentially “building intelligence in a box” for commercial buildings. It’s an affordable, quickly installed, and easily managed building automation system that proactively delivers comfort, air quality, and significant energy efficiency, leveraging the Internet of Things (IoT) and predictive cloud analytics.
With easy setup and functionality out of the box, 75F requires no programming. It makes building automation a viable option for the majority of smaller (under 100,000 square feet) buildings vs. traditional overbuilt controls systems, which require custom programming and lots of specialized resources. In fact, some 8- and 9-year-olds in Minnesota installed and commissioned the 75F system in their school.
75F offers a vertically integrated suite of sensors, equipment controllers, and smart thermostats with a software suite accessible via Web browser or mobile app for remote, multi-location monitoring and management of HVAC, lighting, and other building controls. Our software-defined hardware approach and flexible equipment controller can adapt to most controls needs and applications, while also delivering new features and functionality after installation.
- How did the idea for 75F come about?
Upon moving to Minnesota, 75F founder Deepinder Singh discovered that his daughter would wake up in the middle to the night crying from discomfort because her east-facing room was 10 degrees cooler than the other bedrooms. So, Deepinder, as any self-respecting engineer would do, quit his job and designed a solution to fix the problem of temperature imbalances in his own house. Although 75F originated as a residential solution, it focused on commercial market sales in 2014, the year it won the Minnesota Cup and the top spot in the national category for energy efficiency in the Midwest Cleantech Open. That’s when its visibility and client base really started to grow.
- What does the 75F name mean?
The 75F name stands for 75 degrees Fahrenheit. It was inspired by a United Nations resolution in 2008 to change the temperature in their global office meeting rooms to 75 degrees from 70 degrees in the cooling season (with the process reversed in the heating season), as a sustainable energy-savings measure that came with corresponding relaxed dress codes.
- If someone is too hot or too cold in a room, can they manually adjust the temperature, and if so, does the system learn that preference?
Yes. Occupants can use one of the wall-mounted user-interface products (either the 75F Central Control Unit, the 75F SmartStat, or the 75F Intelligent Temperature Mote), to adjust temperature – and lighting ‒ within the range determined by the facility manager. Changes made manually at these levels are factored in to the algorithm of the learning system. We also offer user feedback rating and comments from the app, to provide voice of the occupant and ratings that could be used for measures such as the Arc “human experience” score.
We offer building and zone controls to the facility manager (building owner/tenant), so that they may set the building’s parameters as well as zone setpoints. The system proactively manages according to these setpoints (typically staying within 1 degree), as well as anticipating weather, solar gain, occupancy, and other factors. So, we first will deploy the system to eliminate hot and cold spots to meet the facility-determined setpoints for each zone. The facility manager can use the Web and mobile app to view and adjust the temperatures for each zone.
And, now with the 75F Occupant App, occupants can also adjust temperatures and lighting from their mobile phones, and geofencing capabilities can anticipate individuals’ approach and precondition their zone to match preferences. You may have heard of our most automation-forward client, Three Square Market, who recently made news for being the first US company to offer employees voluntary microchip implants to enable access controls and automated transactions. However, our clients’ tenants can use their mobile phones – no microchip required.
- Does the system work in both residential and commercial buildings? If not yet, are there plans to expand to both sectors?
Right now, our focus is on addressing the 90% of light commercial buildings that have no building automation system in place. Since buildings account for 40% of all US energy consumption, we see the greatest value and impact for good – for the energy market, for our customers, and for the planet – in first addressing that very large unmet demand. Traditional building controls systems have been too expensive, resource-intensive, and overbuilt, especially for those under 100,000 square feet.
- Is the driving factor for most of your customers to improve comfort or reduce energy usage?
Both! But it depends on their situation. We find that the conversation often starts with the energy savings and reductions in operating expenses – although, as noted earlier, the occupant comfort and overall indoor environment quality proves to have much higher overall value (an order of magnitude higher).
We like to use a 2-20-200 model, inspired by JLL’s 3-30-300 rule, that asks business owners and CEOs the importance of energy in the overall scope of their business. We see that the typical annual investment per square foot is about $2 for energy, $20 for space, and $200 for the people or staff. Given that, while an ROI in the $2 energy space can pay for the system in a year or two, the real worth is in the valuation of the smart building space and in the quality of the tenant experience, including comfort, health, and productivity.
- 2 represents energy cost per square foot of most building space today.
- 20 is the cost of a commercial rent/lease/mortgage per square foot of building space.
- 200 approximates what employees cost per square foot.
Border Foods has 75F solutions installed in dozens of Taco Bell locations. You might think that they, as a restaurant chain, fit the energy savings value proposition, but they actually place more emphasis on employee and customer comfort, as well as the pressure management capabilities. So, it’s really a matter of fitting the unique business, building, and application needs of each customer. Fortunately, we have highly flexible and adaptive solutions that benefit most.Read Part 2 of our interview with 75F