Ecopilot’s innovative AI technology saves time and money for a greener planet

Posted on March 01, 2021 | Atlantic Business Magazine | 0 Comments

When the Halifax Marriott Harbourfront became the first hotel in North America to retrofit its heating, ventilation and air conditioning system with a state-of-the-art, artificially intelligent solution for real-time energy savings from EcoPilot Canada, it was happy just doing its part in the fight against climate change.

In fact, the transformation last year has proved to be one of the best hard-nosed business decisions it could have made. “We installed the Ecopilot® system to help mitigate one of the world’s biggest challenges, and to provide continued improvements in guest comfort,” says General Manager Jeff Ransome. “But the operational savings have been amazing: a 24.5 per cent reduction in natural gas consumption, and a three per cent drop in electricity use. We’re on track to exceed our estimated savings.”

He’s not the only one singing EcoPilot Canada’s praises. The list of satisfied, duly impressed customers of the company (whose North American headquarters are located in a “smart building” of its own engineering on Halifax’s Barrington Street) and its namesake HVAC system is growing – from Southwest Properties, which operates apartments, condos and retail spaces in Halifax, to Beaverbank Elementary School.

In 2018, Crombie REIT’s Cogswell Tower downtown Halifax became the first commercial property on the continent to integrate and control its building management system (BMS) using the company’s proprietary AI technology. With a daunting goal to reduce energy consumption by 1,000,000 kWh per year, Crombie REIT’s Manager of Engineering & Sustainability Pat Poirier was initially cautious. “Actually, I was skeptical,” he says. “But, as a result of our AI integration and creating a more intelligent building, we achieved those savings.”

Indeed, just one year after installing the technology, Cogswell Tower reported combined HVAC energy savings of 26.54 per cent, cost savings of 24.29 per cent, estimated ROI of 1.96 years, and marked improvements in tenant comfort. That boiled down to a 1,248,478-eKWh reduction in annual energy consumption – equivalent to 883 tonnes of CO2 per year. Says Crombie’s Director of Operations, Atlantic, Dan Bourque: “AI is a big step to a smarter building and we’re thrilled that EcoPilot Canada is helping to make a major impact in our environmental stewardship.”

Then, there’s Killam Apartment REIT, whose Quinpool Tower in Halifax went live with Ecopilot® in September. Aligned with their vision to reduce its environmental footprint, Killam adopted the AI solution to reduce heating costs at the 11-storey 233-unit building. “We are committed to investing in energy initiatives that reduce our carbon footprint, as well as our ongoing utility costs,” says Vice President of Operations Brian Jessop. “Ecopilot® is an interesting tool that aligns well with our sustainability goals and we’re very excited to see how it performs.”

For Quinpool Tower, Ecopilot® is acting as the brain for the entire HVAC system, delivering intelligent heating control, based on the buildings thermal properties, weather, and internal temperature. This real-time solution will reduce energy consumption there by a minimum of nine per cent, a firm target which is backed by the company’s energy guarantee. “That’s basically how it works,” says EcoPilot Canada/USA President Dean Shea. “Our technology can play a crucial role in significantly reducing a property’s energy consumption and carbon footprint.”

Specifically, he explains, “The Ecopilot® Artificial Intelligence system automatically and continuously optimizes an existing HVAC system, while delivering a more comfortable indoor climate, by harnessing a building’s thermal mass. It provides an offset to the existing building management system to make automatic and continuous energy management decisions based on the short and long-term heating and cooling needs in real time. The AI communicates to the BMS via standard communication protocols.”

Looking at it another way, most control systems in use are set to instantly compensate and react for each temperature variation that occurs in a building. But these systems often work against the buildings natural thermal inertia, which can lead to the overlapping and waste of both cooling and heating capacity.

The application behind Ecopilot®, which harnesses existing thermal energy, is based on the building’s “partitioning” into different thermal zones, each with its own thermodynamic properties. Each zone’s local time constant is the length of time it takes for the natural release of heat from the building, given the building’s construction materials and contents.
These partitions also consider factors, such as sunlight, the effect of the wind and other known heating and cooling loads. Using temperature sensors the AI technology collects all the data and proactively adjusts each zone’s internal temperature in accordance with the client comfort requirement.

Essentially, the system “recommissions” a building’s HVAC every few minutes based on ever-changing internal and external climate variables.

The broader implications for industry, society and, of course, the planet, are enormous. And one of the factors driving such advanced initiatives in building management is the commercial readiness of AI platforms, many of which have, themselves, been driven by the movement for responsible energy efficiency.

“On a global scale, buildings and building construction sectors combined are responsible for 36 per cent of global final energy consumption and nearly 40 per cent of total direct and indirect CO2 emissions,” Shea says. “In Canada alone, buildings contribute about 30 per cent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.”

On the other hand, he adds, “In 2018, global investments in clean energy totalled more than $332 billion… So, there’s clearly a fast-growing business case for environmental responsibility out there.”

According to a recent study published by the IBM Institute for Business Value, 76 per cent of chief operating officers reported that increasing automation in both facility and asset management will have a positive impact on operational efficiency. Meanwhile, energy efficiency and renewables rank among the highest priorities as global initiatives and government mandates seek to drastically reduce the impacts of climate change.

Nova Scotia is aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 to 50 per cent of 2005 levels by 2030, and Canada has issued ambitious climate change objectives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 30 per cent of the 2005 levels. According to the Canada Green Building Council, focusing on how to retrofit old buildings will be key to reaching these aggressive goals.

As the world becomes increasingly aware of earth’s environmental challenges, business and government are leveraging the potential of AI to be a real game changer in transformative environmental solutions. Access to big data, processing power and a connected globe are the factors converging to bring AI from research labs to everyday lives. As technology pioneers move forward in the research, development and investment of AI, the future of energy solutions is endless with possibilities.

Certainly, that’s a prospect that keeps Ecopilot® customers like Jeff Ransome enthusiastic. “Incorporating AI that automatically optimizes our HVAC performance is very exciting for our team,” he says. “We’re very proud to be an industry leader.” •

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