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Wednesday, 9 November 2016

How 75F is going after the ‘Internet of Air’ and making office spaces more energy-efficient

Founded in 2012 in the USA by Deepinder Singh and Pankaj Chawla, 75F is a startup in the ‘Internet of Air’ space, which means it uses internet-based tools and technologies to create smart solutions that predict and automate building needs and manage them proactively. The aim is threefold — to make workplaces more energy-efficient, cost-effective, and comfortable.
L-R Pankaj Chawla,CTO,75 F and Gaurav Burman,VP and Country President,75 F
To do so, 75F mainly harnesses the power of Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud computing. The company has been operating in the B2B space (commercial buildings) in the US and in August 2016 expanded business operations to India.

Story so far

Gaurav Burman, former Director of Marketing at Schneider Electric India and presently VP & Country President, India at 75F, spoke to YourStory. Talking about 75F’s origins, he said,

75F stands for 75 Fahrenheit (or 23.88 Celsius), which was set by the United Nations in 2008 as the optimum temperature in all its offices worldwide. Inspired by this, 75F seeks to deliver optimal comfort while saving the maximum energy.

Gaurav Burman
Bootstrapped for the first two years, the venture first raised funding in 2014 and has so far raised $2.75 million across three rounds. The company claims to have created hundreds of energy-efficient and comfortable buildings, while also winning multiple accolades in the process.

The current focus is to gain a foothold in the ‘smart’ heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) space in India, while further consolidating their presence in the US. Gaurav noted that 75F’s long-term goal is to drive high-level automation in this space by gathering intelligent data and helping buildings become smart and function according to clients’ needs. Elaborating further, he said,

There are five key trends in the commercial buildings segment — increasing automation across commercial spaces, increasing awareness of the need for energy efficiency, customers becoming more demanding in terms of comfort, air quality operational visibility, and lastly, new technologies making all of these benefits available at a price point affordable to most.

75F generates revenues by bundling and charging for hardware, software, and services. For clients with more specific needs and greater interest in improving energy efficiency, they also provide value-added services such as data analytics for additional cost.
The technology behind 75F


Based on a room’s dimensions, 75F installs multiple ‘wireless zone controllers’, which are small devices that sense and collect hundreds of data points from the room every minute. These devices then send the data to the Central Control Unit which is redirected to the servers in the cloud.

Each night, 75F’s cloud computing algorithms analyse the data points collected, including the weather forecast and daily usage patterns that allow the system to predict future conditions. Gaurav said,

Post this, a new set of instructions are sent to the Central Control Unit and the motorised dampers are modulated a few degrees at a time to achieve the perfect balance.The system also factors in real-time events, such as room occupancy, sunlight, and weather patterns to make continuous adjustments to the plan as needed.

Leveraging IoT design philosophy and the power of cloud computing, 75F’s Dynamic Airflow Balancing Technology aims to provide continuous commissioning (or air balancing) while driving energy efficiency.

75F claims that along with increased comfort and automation, it is able to provide 40 percent savings on energy bills. The client, though, has to make an initial investment in equipment like wireless zone controllers and peripheries. The actual cost of installation is a function of multiple factors at the client’s facility and hence can be accurately determined only based on a site survey. 75F estimates that the one-time cost for installation could be anywhere between Rs 50–100 per sqft. Gaurav noted that customers could expect a complete payback on the initial investment in less than three years.
Challenges and sector overview

While it is easier to integrate IoT in modern buildings, one of the challenges is integrating the solution into existing workplaces without disrupting employees. Gaurav noted that there are numerous challenges in doing so, such as managing multiple protocols and wireless technologies and taking care of heightened security norms. But with newer and more powerful tools available, it is possible to overcome these hurdles.

While there is a global need for HVAC solutions, 75F found India’s needs to be different from those of cooler parts of the world like North America, where roof top units allow for cooling using relatively cooler ambient temperatures. In India, there is a greater dependence on chilled water units to provide the right temperature.

North America needs either heating or cooling during different parts of the year. India, on the other hand, generally needs only cooling solutions as the climate doesn’t fluctuate drastically. Another major difference is that in North American markets, the focus is on comfort, while India is more concerned about energy-savings and cost-efficiency.

There are many players in the HVAC space that are going after different aspects of the overall problem. Some companies manufacture smart hardware components like dampers, and others like Honeywell and Schneider Electric manufacture sensors. Coming to software, 75F competes again with players like Honeywell and Siemens.

Gaurav noted that 75F aims to stand out by being a player that looks after the entire value chain from manufacturing their own hardware to deploying their own software and services. He also said, “Ours is a predictive solution that captures data every 60 seconds, while most others are reactive systems that don’t capture so much data.”

Nest, which was acquired by Google for $3.2 billion in 2014, is another interesting player in this space. The company is mainly known for its smart thermostats which provide energy savings, smoke detectors, and home security solutions. Unlike 75F, though, its main focus is the residential market.
India focus and R&D

75F has an R&D centre here in Bengaluru, which includes an in-house industrial and product design team that supports both the India and the US markets. The facility also includes a full test lab to test all production hardware in-house before it ships out. Gaurav said,

For our data analytics platform development, we use R and other machine learning techniques. A full-fledged hardware design and test lab is involved in the entire value chain — from front to back hardware and firmware design and development.

Having tasted success in the USA, 75F now considers the growth potential in the Indian subcontinent to be huge. The short-term goal is to go after the Indian market and offer solutions across specific sectors like IT/ITeS, healthcare, and hospitality in the four major metros. The long-term goal is to expand the footprint into similar Asian markets. 75F is also working on some India-specific solutions, which they aim to launch by Q1 2017.

Future plans and trends

Gaurav noted that the company is financially healthy and hence not looking to raise further external funding at this stage. However, they are looking at hiring more employees and onboarding more partners and resellers. Gaurav believes that new building deployments and existing buildings too represent an enormous opportunity with the growth curve for the Indian economy, appearing to be robust for the medium term.

Talking about the long-term future of the energy market, Gaurav noted that alternative energy is evolving at a rapid pace and hence not as far away as most think. With rising pollution levels globally, there is a need to rely on renewable sources of energy to fulfil energy needs of commercial buildings. Elon Musk’s SolarCity and Tesla recently unveiled its new product, A ‘Solar Roof’, with hidden solar tiles that powers homes with clean, renewable energy. Production is expected to begin in mid-2017.

Apple has an energy subsidiary ‘Apple Energy’ LLC with solar farms in Cupertino and Nevada. The venture plans to sell electricity across the whole of the US. While the world is shifting to these energy sources and moving off the main grid, Gaurav believes that it will not affect 75F’s bottom line as there will always be a need to better manage and increase energy efficiency.

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