If you run your own business, you’re probably very aware of your outgoings and overheads. So, would it surprise you to know that nearly half your energy bill is probably generated when your premises are empty? Now that we’ve got your attention, let’s hear from Graeme Robertson, VP Sales at NetThings, whose utility monitoring solution could send your energy savings into orbit...
Tell us about your product...
We’ve developed a disruptive product called nanoBEMS - BEMS stands for Building Energy Management System. What we’ve done is take the world’s leading IoT building software, Niagara, and put it into a product that’s suitable for residential properties and small businesses.
The Niagara software currently fits into huge buildings and has 400,000 installations worldwide - but there’s nothing that would fit into a shop or home. We’ve partnered to provide that hardware and push the software into new areas of the market.
And this is going to save small businesses lots of money? How?
A survey by British Gas indicated that 46% of energy consumed by small businesses is used when there’s no one in them. Across Europe there are about a million small businesses and if we extrapolate that worldwide, that’s an enormous amount of profit being thrown away by these companies.
So, we’ve developed a product that addresses that; we’ve also partnered with E.ON, who will be marketing a variant as part of their Optimum range that will be installed throughout the UK, initially with SMEs.
At the moment we’re running a trial with a leading restaurant chain, who have over 600 restaurants, where we’re switching off the drinks coolers when they’re not needed. It’s a very simple example of something that uses energy by cooling drinks to a low temperature, but for long periods of time no one will drink them. So, why do they need to be kept at 7˚C when no one’s going to buy them? It’s pointless; you can let most drinks rise to a temperature of 10˚C or 12˚C, then gradually cool it back down without deteriorating the product at all.
There are lots of opportunities to make simple savings on energy consumption by having a different type of technology that’s easy to install.
What's the difference between your system and exsisting energy management solutions? Or smart meters?
Traditional building energy management systems have needed to be installed by specialist companies with highly trained engineers who are quite expensive. But nanoBEMS can be installed by a standard electrician at a lower cost; they’re also more likely to be local to the property. In the restaurant trials, the engineer was in and out within two hours, with a working system connected to the internet, whereas the installation of traditional systems might have taken one or two days.
A smart meter is provided by the energy company and it reads the energy consumption and puts it on the internet, so they don’t have to read the meter. It won’t switch anything off or control anything.
Also, if the hardware is tied to the energy company, when you switch supplier you might need to change the meter and have all those complications. The nanoBEMS product is completely independent of any supplier and it can save energy by switching things off and controlling energy usage to a better level. In doing so, it can improve comfort conditions as well.
Plus, there are other uses for nanoBEMS, such as business intelligence. In a shop, for example, the device can scan Mac addresses and tell you how many customers you’ve had, how long they stay, how many times they’ve visited your shop etc. So, big data analytics are possible with this small device that is literally controlling your energy. There’s lots more you can do with it, from looking at the air quality to the effect it's having on staff.
Where did this idea come from?
The company was set up in 2006 by a homeowner who was so shocked by her huge energy bills that she decided to do something about it. That was Tania Ewing FRSA, now an awardwinning entrepreneur and voted British Female Inventor of the Year in 2008.
She went about developing a product that provided real time energy display so that it could help people save. Originally called Ewgeco, the company evolved and the name was changed to NetThings in 2011. Since then we’ve had investment from several high net worth individuals, to create a disruptive company that’s at the leading edge in this area of IoT.
Tania had the vision and drive to set up a company that’s now evolved into something a bit bigger.
Speaking of investment, how much support have you had in terms of funding?
We’ve had £9m invested through Archangel Investors, the largest angel fund in Scotland. They’ve really backed the company quite a bit and will possibly continue to back us through our various stages of development. We’ve also had lots of support through Scottish Enterprise, which is one of our investors and they also provide 30% of the funding for our research and development work, which really helps us.
We’re actually going to New York shortly as part of a Scottish Development international trade mission to help us build our channel there and we’ve just heard that our product will be used in 5,000 branches of the Wells Fargo bank in the US. That’s a great bit of news for us.
So, is energy monitoring and control the future for homes and businesses?
Definitely. Once the idea is being driven by huge global companies, such as E.ON, we’ll be able to create new standards for small businesses and eventually it will reach government level. Small business owners will be told that if they’re going to have premises, they need to at least be able to switch everything off. When we ran a trial in a small Vodafone store, there were 14 different power outlets that should have been switched off at night but nobody did it.
After we fitted the energy display, staff were able to check that everything had been turned off and in that case, there was a one-year payback. So, there’s some low-hanging fruit available and no one’s addressing that at the moment.
Our system is available to individual householders, they can buy it through distributors and contractors. We’ve trademarked nanoBEMS in the UK and have got one pending in the US. We really want to create a new generation of products that captures the hundreds of millions of small properties that have no energy management system.
NetThings has worked with Breakthrough funding, a company that helps UK SMEs achieve R&D tax credits - a government scheme created to enhance and reward innovation amongst UK businesses. Could you be eligible? Click here to learn more.
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