38 min read

🎧 #114: Decarbonized Buildings Require Better Energy Modeling Tools

“I don't know as much as a tax consultant by a long shot, but for most cases with TurboTax, 90% of the cases, I was good. The 10% of the cases, I'm definitely not good and I will need a tax consultant and all of that good stuff. That was really what I wanted to build for the energy modeling community, where for the 90% of the cases we can get pretty darn close."


—Sandeep Ahuja

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Episode 114 is a conversation with Sandeep Ahuja, Cofounder and CEO of cove.tool.

Summary

We talked about all things energy modeling, and how Sandeep’s team started out as sustainability consultants and set out to automate as much of the process as they could through software. Along the way, they’ve built an impressive software product with features across the construction lifecycle and tools for connecting all the disconnected silos in that process.

So without further ado, please enjoy the Nexus podcast with Sandeep Ahuja.

  1. cove.tool (1:09)
  2. Perkins+Will (3:14)
  3. Kendra Tupper (12:59)
  4. Amp It Up! Podcast (47:12)
  5. HBR's 10 Must Reads (48:07)
  6. Wharton Online Courses (48:37)

You can find Sandeep on LinkedIn.

Enjoy!

Highlights

  • cove.tool today (4:11)
  • Building a successful sustainability consulting firm (9:47)
  • Selling to architects (17:15)
  • The difference between early-stage models and detailed later-stage models (24:35)
  • Key products and features and why they’re important (30:06)
  • Including costs in energy modeling (34:25)
  • How electrification is made easier with an energy model (44:42)
  • Carveouts (46:29)

👋 That's all for this week. See you next Thursday!

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Music credit: Dream Big by Audiobinger—licensed under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License.

Full transcript

Note: transcript was created using an imperfect machine learning tool and lightly edited by a human (so you can get the gist). Please forgive errors!

[00:00:03] James Dice: hello friends, welcome to the nexus podcast. I'm your host James dice each week. I fire questions that the leaders of the smart buildings industry to try to figure out where we're headed and how we can get there faster without all the marketing fluff. I'm pushing my learning to the limit. And I'm so glad to have you here following along.

[00:00:31] James Dice: This episode is a conversation with Sandeep Huda. Co-founder and CEO of Cove tool. We talked about all things, energy modeling and how Sandeep's team started as sustainability consultants and set out to automate as much of the process as they could through software along the way. They built an impressive software product with features across the construction life cycle and tools for connecting all the disconnected silos in that process.

So without further ado, please enjoy the nexus podcast with Sandy. Hello, sand. [00:01:00] Welcome to the show. Can you introduce yourself for us?

[00:01:02] Sandeep Ahuja: Sure thing. It's so it's so great to be here. Thanks James. I'm I'm one of the co-founders CEO at cool. That's the shortest

[00:01:11] James Dice: that is I'm pull more out of you that can you a little bit of your background before co tool.

[00:01:18] Sandeep Ahuja: Um, depends how far back you wanna go?

I sometimes go all, all the way far back. Um, to me being a, a diplomat daughter where I was basically traveling all across the world, all the different countries went to Tanzania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, um, kind of all all across the board. And that's really what all the way back looked like. And that created my love and passion for architecture.

Became an architect was this wide eyed architect. So excited about everything that I was going to do in all the buildings. I was going to design and practice that for a little bit until I happened to [00:02:00] sit in a lecture with late professor Godfrey Abra, who was visiting new deli at the time. And he talked about how buildings were 40% of all carbon emissions.

And I was. Wait. I went to school for five years and no one told me no one said

[00:02:15] James Dice: anything about this.

[00:02:17] Sandeep Ahuja: no one told me that. Um, so I just waited, um, till the end of the lecture, I went over to him. I was like, Hey, I think I'm gonna apply and be, be your student until I know exactly everything that you're talking about so I can go fix it.

And he is like, well, give. His words, not a shitty application. And I'll think about it. that's amazing

[00:02:40] James Dice: what a great response .

[00:02:43] Sandeep Ahuja: Yeah. For everyone, for anyone that's ever known to him while he was, while he was still alive, he that's, that is a very freed response.

[00:02:51] James Dice: All right. All right. So then you did it. You gave him a non shitty application.

[00:02:55] Sandeep Ahuja: I gave him a non shitty application. I became his student and I became an expert. [00:03:00] All things, building performance, which is gosh, so wide and so vague for anyone that's in that world. Um, and then I went and co-founded the kind of the energy lab within Perkin mall, which is one of the large architecture firms.

And that was fun and grew that grew the team there. And while that was fun and wonderful, I was like, well, let's see what it's like to jump outside the safe bubble and do it outside of that. So then I started my consulting practice, um, here in Atlanta and we grew really fast. We had tons of projects. We were doing all of it.

It was, it was actually really, really good for all intents and purposes. Like from a, you know, me feeling great and making enough money. I doing enough projects. It was wonderful. Only I was not having the impact that I needed to. Cause I mean, mm-hmm, a hundred projects for a team of 10. is what we were roughly doing per year.

That [00:04:00] was not gonna have the carbon impact I needed to have. So I was like stuck on it. I've gotta change what I'm doing. Mm-hmm and that's really what got me on the software journey. Cool.

[00:04:10] James Dice: Very cool. Um, Fast forward to today, you guys have how many people, and can you talk a little bit more about where the company's at before we kind of dive into more of the details?

[00:04:21] Sandeep Ahuja: Yeah, for sure. So fast forward three and a half years, uh, we are now, um, 75 people and we just moved into our new HQ in Atlanta. The. Interesting thing about that story. And I, it's not a long detour. I promise you. But when I was first starting my consulting practice, you know, I. Pretty fresh or green or I don't know, whatever word someone may wanna use for someone who's new Uhhuh

Um, and you know, when there's a new business owner, there's a lot of scam artists out there. And there was this one scam artist who was trying to do a [00:05:00] project, you know, there's like all kinds of stuff. And he was like, oh, you know, we have an entire floor in the equitable building. Gosh, a very reputable building in Atlanta.

So it's like, that's where you wanna be. Mm-hmm and he's like, if you do this project, you get a whole floor. And I was like, yeah, yeah. And then that, at that time I was like, you know, one day I'll get there, but I'll I do wanna, I do want a whole floor. Yeah. Yes. So that is exactly where we're at now. So that's amazing.

Just took the fifth floor on the equitable building, which is pretty. Yeah.

[00:05:28] James Dice: And only you said three and a half years. Like it's a really long time. It's really not. It's it's

[00:05:33] Sandeep Ahuja: pretty in world. It feels like lighters. Okay.

[00:05:36] James Dice: I feel that, I feel that. Cool. Um, so I was, I was looking at a little bit, you know, of your, of the company's background a little bit.

It sounds like you're you just raised series B from Robert Downey Jr's fund how's how's it been meeting with Ironman and getting to know.

[00:05:53] Sandeep Ahuja: A little bit more. Oh my gosh. I'm a super fan. I do. I watch all things [00:06:00] Marvel. I'm a big Avenger fan. I not only am I just. For anyone that's geeky enough, like me, not only am I the one who will watch the movie I'll then go and watch like the debrief of every 15 minutes of the, of the movie to understand all the Easter eggs and all the things.

Oh, you're that nerdy just to set it set the stage that that's who I am. Um, so when I got introduced to Robert, of course it was a super fan moment. I was meeting him of course, in a very professional capacity because I can't just go fan out and be like, oh my gosh, you're the best thing ever. Let's take a selfie.

I can't do that. I mean, I could, but it'd be really weird if I can probably. Um, so we, we talked about everything that we were doing and I learned a little bit more about all the things that he was doing with footprint coalition and his focus towards sustainability. And there was so much. In the [00:07:00] impact that both his fund are working on himself and the stuff that we were doing, that it, by the end of the conversation, it definitely felt very much like, this is how this is, this is, yeah, this is something we're gonna pursue together.

Because when I spoke to him, we weren't raising around. Cause we just weren't raising around and he is like, well, when you. Let's get in touch mm-hmm so when we were, we, we got in touch and of course, since we had already connected and there was so much synergy there and because we were growing so fast, all our metrics were looking so beautiful.

Like everything just kind of beautifully got together in like a week.

[00:07:39] James Dice: Damn cool. Cool. I was also researching the company and saw that you, um, your partner is your co-founder your partner in life is your co-founder and then the other co-founder is his brother. Can you talk about what it's like to build this company and the family at the same time?

[00:07:58] Sandeep Ahuja: Yeah. Talk about putting all [00:08:00] eggs in the same basket, right? all, all around. Yeah. Um, It's it's actually really, really fantastic. So originally me and my, uh, partner, Patrick who's also, of course my partner in life, we've been working together from the moment that I've known him. like we met at Georgia techs.

We did all projects together. We went to Perkinson together. We started the energy life together. We quit it together. We started consulting like there was nothing. Ever since we've met, we've not, not work together. Wow. And we were work partners first before any other partner. So it really helps us maintain a strong professional relationship when we are at work.

And we really, when we are at work, we're at work and. Because we were working on such an awesome mission, which I think is going to completely change the world. And it already is, uh, we had to pitch, pitch it to Daniel, cuz we needed a CTO. We needed a [00:09:00] co-founder who was really, really focused on software.

Cause that is not me. That is not Patrick. We needed someone who really could build the app from the ground up and make it scalable. I mean I can code. But it will break. It will break from time to time. And that is not the app that I needed to build. Yeah. So that's where we got Daniel involved and it was not a great offer that I had to make.

I had the offer that I had was, this is really big. It's fantastic. It can have world changing effect on climate change. I have no money, but as soon as I do, I promise I'll figure out a way to pay you. And that is the offer that I had to make. He really saw the vision and here we are.

[00:09:45] James Dice: Amazing. Very cool.

Well, let's, let's kind of dig in a little bit. Um, so we were, we were talking before we hit record about, at one point in my career, I was doing full-time energy modeling and it's been a while since I've built [00:10:00] energy models, but I have to imagine that when I was modeling. Co tool didn't exist. I'm pretty sure, but also I probably wished I, I would've wished it did exist at this point.

So can you talk about, um, well, I wanna ask you, I saw something around the automated sustainability consultant. So you started this consulting firm and you said, I need to scale what I'm doing. Right. I need to affect more than a hundred buildings. Can you talk about what automating the sustainability consultancy meant to you at that point?

And then how. Um, the energy model process, just wasn't scalable and why you needed to build software.

[00:10:39] Sandeep Ahuja: Yeah. I can talk about how we even called it that back in the day, which it has completely changed now. I mean, now there's all these many different products that serve many different people and industries, but let's go back to what it once was.

It started out like at the time I was doing taxes. I was like, [00:11:00] well, I used TurboTax, right? Like not too necessarily. I'm not a sponsor. I don't care about them at all, but that is the app that I was using. I was like, this is a pretty complicated form. Um, mm-hmm and I'm able to fill it out with reasonable amount of accuracy, like, sure.

I don't know as much as a tax consultant buy a long shot, but for most cases, 90% of the cases. I'm good. The 10% of the cases, I'm definitely not good. And I will need a tax consultant and all of that good stuff. Mm-hmm but that was really what I wanted to build for the energy modeling community, where for the 90% of the cases we can get pretty darn close.

And when we're like on that super complicated, super detailed something super peculiar, well, go get a super expert. There's plenty of them in the market. Totally. And that was the whole, that was the whole goal. The reason why I knew we needed it is because when I was growing, my consulting practice hiring was a, a real [00:12:00] challenge.

Like you hire an energy modeler. If you get them right out. To basically train them from scratch. Mm-hmm once you train them from scratch, if you teach them all of these inputs, I'm like, why aren't all of these inputs just automated. Shouldn't someone just automate them for across the world so that it just pulls up the right thing.

And that's, that's really where it was. Cuz I knew that it could be done. And I knew that no one was doing it and I knew I needed to democratize it. And the only way to do that is to just give easy access to information. If it's, if it's that easy, then you have no excuse to not do it.

[00:12:35] James Dice: Yeah. I remember. I was like, I was self taught.

I taught myself, you know, kind of like on my own time at night so that I could take on more responsibility at work during the day. And I remember I took like this, this massive energy modeling one week course, and they gave me this huge binder and it was basically like, that was what you paid. I mean, it was a great course.

It was great to be in the workshop itself. Um, [00:13:00] Kendra Tupper was the one of the teachers and she's like one of the most amazing, uh, energy professionals. I, I still follow her to this day, but she handed me this like massive binder back then. And it was all the cheat sheets and inputs you're talking about like basically learning how to use Equest, which is what I was using back then.

And it was like, why do I need all of these cheat codes? Right. Um, why

[00:13:22] Sandeep Ahuja: isn't it in the software? Why isn't it just doing it also? Why isn't it more pretty.

[00:13:27] James Dice: Right. Right, right, right. And then I built, I also built just, this doesn't matter for your story, but like I built this once the energy model was run, I built all of these Excel workbooks to then take it and actually make it.

Make better decisions based on what the outputs were. Um, so tuning, parametric runs and all of that stuff. I did all in Excel for

[00:13:51] Sandeep Ahuja: a very long time. Why do you say it doesn't matter, but it matters so much, for example. Yeah. We started with the energy modeling, but now that [00:14:00] we've launch flowed modeling tool, which is, you know, like HVAC sizing for all mechanical engineers.

Like there's all of these ventilation caps and there's all of these really old Excel spreadsheets that everyone has been holding onto for the last 20 years. They're like, these are our firm sheet code. Like there's a feature called template. You can templatize it and use it over and over again. It's simple.

Gosh

[00:14:26] James Dice: anyway. oh, that's funny. Um, so these processes, like basically the way I understand it is what you guys said is let's let's reduce the time complexity, staffing requirements, um, expertise required to get to this certain point in the energy modeling process. Right. Um, so you basically launched software.

The software company from there when you were doing all this stuff and the consulting side. Okay.

[00:14:55] Sandeep Ahuja: Yeah, that was, that was, that was basically it. And when we launched the software, [00:15:00] that's when we started, you know, getting a good bit of response as, you know, being from the same industry and space that people are pretty vocal in our industry.

If something doesn't work. They have no problem writing a 10 page email to describe what about it is not working, which my gosh, I could not have been more appreciative for totally. Because when we had a whole bunch of our beta testers got tons of feedbacks. Made the software better was like, yeah, that's totally a fair point.

Yes. To totally keep good point. Yes. Let's, let's do that. And once we launched the actual commercial version of the app, we started selling it pretty quickly and we were selling it at a premium because we didn't want to. Replace the preexisting crap solutions because it wasn't a competitor to preexisting crap solutions.

It was basically the thing that saved time, because time is the most expensive part of any business of a person's actual time. [00:16:00] And despite that, despite being more expensive than anything else in the market, we started selling it rapidly. And that's when we're like, all right, well, Me, one person I can do one thing really well at a time.

I can either run consulting really well and be really, you know, keep all my clients extremely satisfied or I can grow the software business. But if I try to do both, I'm likely gonna fail at both is the realization that I had for sure. And that is the time where I had to basically meet all of my consulting clients, the ones that were ongoing.

I'm gonna of course, finish out your project because I made a commitment to you, but I won't be taken on anymore and say goodbye to perfectly good money, perfectly good revenue generation engine for one that I hadn't quite built yet, but with the vision that I knew I could, and I knew I had to, to get to where I wanted to get to from a carbon.

Mission [00:17:00] standpoint. I love

[00:17:01] James Dice: that. I love that. I did the same thing about six months ago too. I had a full consulting practice and I said, I gotta focus on nexus fulltime. So here we are. That's amazing. We have that in common. That's

[00:17:12] Sandeep Ahuja: great. You've figure it out. Yeah, you gotta

[00:17:14] James Dice: figure it out figure. Okay. So typically when I have tech tech founders on the show, they're talking about technology that they sell to building owners.

Typically, and I would love for you to describe to me selling technology to architects and how that's different and engineers. It sounds like you're doing load sides of now and

[00:17:34] Sandeep Ahuja: building owners and contractors. I mean, we, but you

[00:17:36] James Dice: started out with architects,

[00:17:38] Sandeep Ahuja: right? We did. So back three and a half years ago, we started out with architect.

Then engineers. Now we sell to books like Scansca cousins JLL. So it's kind of the whole, the whole GAT with all the different product lines that we have. Okay. Um, so what was your original question? What is it like selling it to our, well, I was

[00:17:58] James Dice: just gonna say you started there because that [00:18:00] was who your consulting clients were.

It sounds like,

[00:18:02] Sandeep Ahuja: right? No, really. I was consulting with owners and, um, contractors too, even as a consultant, the reason why. We wanted to start with architects and engineers, which I must say like, historically, like just in the tech world, you might have already heard of this pretty much everyone else on the call may have already heard of this is like, oh, that's a hard client to get.

That's a hard one to, to get on your books. And the reason why I still needed to go and really wanted to go that way was because of the product roadmap is when I think about something like Revit, which. Used predominantly across the board, right? Like 40% of all projects use Revit. That's a pretty high penetration percentage.

They started out with architects because architects are the ones that control the drawing. They control the decision making around the project. [00:19:00] Typically they're the ones who hire the mechanical engineer. Of course, all contracts can be laid out a different way. Typically the engineers will. Same software too, for easier collaboration.

And when all of your all technical team members are using a particular software type, it's not like the contractor and the owners. They're like, oh no, we are the data experts. We're going to use this totally other software. It just brings that validation ahead of the actual usage, because now that we're the defacto tool for all architects and engineer, It's not really a discussion for owners and contractors occurs like, well, oh, AECOM, great.

Our architects and engineers already using it. Oh, D are wonderful HDR. Great. They're already using it. So makes perfect sense. It just makes the whole conversation much easier. So I feel like while that is the harder route, it is the route that has allowed us to grow by getting credibility first [00:20:00] and really establishing like, Hey, we have been vet.

So many times you can't even count on your fingers. Like it's, it's that much validation because every firm wants to go through validation. So it's been validated. It works across all of these different workflows that are all unique, that all use different types of software. And if it works for these thousands of different workflows, We have some knowledge that it's gonna work for you.

Yeah.

[00:20:26] James Dice: So I wanna key in, on the architecture piece, because whenever I got involved in a project, I was working for a mechanical contractor at the time. And so I'm way down this progression that you just talked about. Right. And typically there wasn't a model for me to piggyback on top of, which is why I was building one to begin with.

Right. So can you talk about why in the architectural process energy models don't get built until. Sometimes they're not built at all. Right. Um, back then it was, we need to build them only if they were going for these certain lead points or [00:21:00] lead credits right. Today. It's different. I feel like, but I'm not involved as heavily as I was at that point.

Can you talk about why it takes so long for an energy model to get built? If at all?

[00:21:11] Sandeep Ahuja: I mean in the old school ways, it definitely does. Right. There's you have to collect all the inputs. You have to get the geometry into the model. My gosh, that is the piece that took me the longest. I used to, um, use a different platform in my energy modeling career and it only digested.

Part of my Revit model. It digested none of my rhino model and absolutely 0% of my sketch model. And if that is the translation that I have from. The platforms in, gosh, if I'm using arch cat, I'm basically done for, I can forget about energy modeling together because nothing is compatible with anything.

It just takes that much longer. So the first thing we did with analysis tool, which is one of our product lines, the energy modeling software within Cove tool, we made the geometry translation easy. [00:22:00] So you can bring in geometry from pretty much. Doesn't matter how pretty or geometry is. Doesn't matter if it's perfect or closed room, doesn't matter if all walls touch each other, which was a very common and irritating problem.

It just works. It's designed to just freaking do the job. So you bring in your geometry from any of the different sources and then you enrich it with layers of information. You understand? Okay, this is where this project is located. All right. I totally already know the context. I completely understand.

Well kind of whether there is, I. Exactly know what energy code it it's in. I totally understand what kind of zoning criteria it has because we're enriching it with so much extra layers of information. It just makes all the things that took hours like 40 to 80 hours of time happen in about one to two hours, because they're not doing rework.

You're basically making smarter choices. And getting smarter [00:23:00] yourself because you can run it more often. Like if I had to do a change or test out 20, 30, 40 iterations, like that would take a while. Yeah. And now I can do that in about an hour all included and that just gets me to be smarter. So I can say smarter things about my project because I know them and I think that's extremely powerful.

Yeah.

[00:23:23] James Dice: Hey guys, just another quick note from our sponsor Nexus labs. And then we'll get back to the show. This episode is brought to you by nexus foundations, our introductory course on the smart buildings industry. If you're new to the industry, this course is for you. If you're an industry vet, but want to understand how technology is changing things.

This course is also for you. The alumni are raving about the content, which they say pulls it all together, and they also love getting to meet the other students on the weekly zoom calls and in the private chat room, you can find out more about the course@courses.nexus lab. Start online. All right, back to the interview

Yeah. I remember [00:24:00] just, just one of those details was the codes you mentioned. I remember rooting through so many different, you know, going to like municipal websites to figure out what code they were using in that time. And like, you switch to a different project and it's totally different. One, then you have to figure that out.

Yeah.

[00:24:15] Sandeep Ahuja: And then no one stores either, right? Like you would imagine there's one website that tells you exactly what code is in every single location. No such thing exists. We are the. Company that has that information in our proprietary database because we've spent the effort and time to build it. Mm-hmm wow.

[00:24:34] James Dice: That's that's awesome. So can you, let's go back to our stages, right? Can you talk about the difference between models at different stages? So. You need a certain amount of detail at the architecture, like early design stage, you need a certain amount of detail and, and then eventually it needs to be like an as-built.

Right. So can you talk about those different stages and kind of how you approach the product at the beginning and yeah, sure. How it exists

[00:24:57] Sandeep Ahuja: now? I, I love that [00:25:00] question because that's exactly how my brain works is to think through the progression. Um, one of the common things. From my mentor, um, was you can't use like a cannon where you can get away with a gun.

Not that I am in agreement with any violence that say no to all firearms, I suppose, but the analogy was hilarious. Like, you know, you've gotta use the right tool for the right stage. And that's really how we think about, um, the entire product roadmap. So. You start in extremely early design. Right? All you're doing at that point as an architect is sketching.

You're testing out different massing, you're testing out different shapes. And that's really what drawing tool is for where it's free for all. It's completely like there's no subscription. You don't have to pay anything to use. You can draw it and export it out in any format, whether you wanna take it in, sketch up, [00:26:00] take it in rhino, take it in Revit, take it in ACAD, take it to IFC.

No matter what you wanna do with it, you can take it out of it, but you can draw kind of in-app and really get your massing going. So that's the drawing tool, super, super early redesign phases. Then once you have something, now you wanna start studying it. You wanna start understanding, all right, what's my daylight.

Like, what's my radiation. Like, what's my energy. What's my embodied carbon. What's my operational carbon. All of the different typology. What's my water use. You wanna start enriching it with that level of information so that every time you change something in drawing tool, you can see, oh, that changed my energy entirely, or that changed my carbon entirely, or that changed my water use entirely.

So that's really what the analysis tool is, where it's used kind of in your free designs, schematic concept design, early design development, and. Often than not the architects at more, the [00:27:00] schematic design design development phase will invite their mechanical engineers or energy modelers if they already have them on board, which in many projects, as you know, is not the case.

So invite their engineers to the analysis tool, collaborative platform, cuz it is 100% collaborative cuz it's on the cloud. Yeah. And be like, Hey, here's the automated input? Do these look. Do you wanna adjust them? Do these numbers look right? Is it the right? Can you give it a gut check? So it doesn't take down too much time to give like, okay, right.

This feels about right. Or, oh no, this ventilation number looks totally off because we're doing something completely unique and we can't use the automated input. We, whatever that may be, they kind of go through that kind of in that schematic design, design development phase, and really move through the optimiz.

Where they're running thousands of iterations to find out the absolute lowest cost. To get to their energy targets, whether it, their code minimum or high performance targets, whatever [00:28:00] those are. Once that's done a few times, which as you know, happens quite a few times through schematic and design development, depending on the team, right.

They may do it once. They may do it a couple times. Mm-hmm they can actually export directly out for code compliance modeling with open studio. Where it takes out, leaned on very, very heavily thanks to the support from department of energy on the open studio, um, model. And we've built that collaboration and integration with it.

And all the while that detailed energy modeling is happening for compliance, you can also go in with your detailed. Load model and really run your 87 60 model for the full year, which will basically get you all the way to construction drawings. So it's kind of the first time because I missed this in my previous life.

When I was a consultant myself, like why do I have to always switch a software from a really design to compliance design? That was a pain. It took bunch of time and [00:29:00] well, frankly, I didn't like that cause I wanted to, to be more profitable. So it just kind of bridges that gap for the first time. So we don't have to waste all of that effort that we make early on.

And then start again later.

[00:29:14] James Dice: Absolutely. How about when you get into like handover and operational phase, what are, what are some of the uses and what's an energy model detail like then?

[00:29:25] Sandeep Ahuja: So from a handover phase standpoint, of course it's still that compliance level. We typically haven't dabbled much in the.

Occupancy or operational stage, of course, a, an open studio model is an energy plus model. So there's no reason that one couldn't use it for a Calab after a calibration has been completed mm-hmm um, for their operational purposes. But of course that would require a full calibration by an expert that is not automated.

Yet

[00:29:53] James Dice: not no yet. Totally. I also had Excel workbooks for that as well. I could pull [00:30:00] them out. If anyone wants to create a SAS company calibration. There you go. uh, so you mentioned all these different parts of the product. Can you talk about all the different things that you guys have built over time to kind of make this process and.

Easier. And what's interesting. It sounds like you're selling these different features to different stakeholders in the process. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

[00:30:25] Sandeep Ahuja: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, if you think about the optimization piece, right? Which basically that's where you're really hitting the nail in the head, cuz you have a project budget, you have.

Energy goals, whether you're self imposed, lead, imposed, government imposed, wherever these goals are coming from. There's some goals. Yeah. Unless you're in a select few states that have no regulation, but most of America and most of the world, there's, there's some, you know, energy targets that you have to get to and there will be more over time.

Right? Exactly. And it's getting more and more stringent [00:31:00] across the board. I mean, if, even if you look at Atlanta, I mean, George is not known to be the most progressive state, but we just went through a pretty major overhaul last year where our energy targets now require us to be 40% more efficient than just the year before, which that's a big deal.

40% is a really, really big deal. And that's that's happening across the board, no matter what state you're in, no matter what location you're in. So since there's energy codes that are definitely getting tighter and even if they're not getting tighter, gosh, they already exist. That are pretty darn tight.

And. Project budget that we have to get to. Now it's all the variables in the middle, right? Mm-hmm like, how do I match these two? How do I get to these codes with this budget while getting all of my design while making sure I get my score footage while making sure my building is wonderful and great and leaseable, if it's, I guess the, uh, you know, an office building or whatever, and those are the decisions where the developers find the most value, the owners where they're trying to [00:32:00] not necessarily trying.

Do the optimizations themselves, cuz of course they've hired wonderful teams to work with them, but get a quick gut check and create a nice collaborative workflow. So for example, if I'm the project manager at cousins and it is my job to build this office building for this project, budget hit this criteria for energy and I'm telling the architecture team that, Hey, test out this glass type and they're like, oh it doesn't.

I don't have any visibility into that. Yeah. I don't know. It doesn't work. What does that mean? Do we need to change some other variables? And that's really the clarity that the cost optimization provides, where you can list out all of the variables. Like I can look at five different types of glass. 10 different types of insulation, different mechanical systems.

Although that's typically not up for debate for some of the developer driven projects, really put all of the variables that are up for debate and [00:33:00] figure out exactly transparently the lowest cost way to get somewhere and know that as a team together. So when the architect changes something in the geometry or the design or the shape, or what have you, and it trickles down and you can see, oh, that thing that we just changed.

It also means that we're gonna need to change our mechanical system. It also means that this optimized solution that we had is no longer the optimal solution. We actually have to add a few sensors here or what have you. So it creates this interconnected web. Of information to really empower smart decision making as it relates to the budget, which I think is something that was critically missed for well forever.

Yeah.

[00:33:45] James Dice: And I'm, I'm picturing in my Equest days. Taking a model and sharing it with someone to get their feedback. that was not even possible.

[00:33:55] Sandeep Ahuja: Um, that would be fun. Uh, try sharing that to an owner. Oh my goodness.

[00:33:59] James Dice: Oh my [00:34:00] God. Yes, yes. Yes. So in, in today's world, you said office buildings. Let's just use that as an example, they have regulations hitting them.

They have tents that are getting more stringent around what experience they need to have and the landlord's, um, sustainability performance. Right? You have. um, employees deciding whether they wanna go back to work or not. Right. I'm not trying to go back to the office

[00:34:22] Sandeep Ahuja: are down their throat, right.

[00:34:24] James Dice: Are down.

So the ability for them to have this collaboration engine and optimization engine really is really what it is. I need to optimize for all of these different factors. Right. That's that's that's awesome. Tell me about this cost database. Cause you guys built. Built out this code database, you built out this like system I'm sure.

Database. You built out this materials database. I'm sure. To be able to optimize for embodied energy and things like that.

[00:34:54] Sandeep Ahuja: Right. And then we to partner with manufacturers right. For the material database. Okay. We have [00:35:00] partners like everything from a glass manufacturer. Solar band to an insulation manufacturer like Rockwell mm-hmm, all the way to like a mechanical ventilation manufacturer, like in varied.

So it's all varieties of products that affect building performance were partnered with them. So not only do we get accurate data on the performance, which of course we validate, but also their current, whatever they're wanting to put out there in terms of cost course mm-hmm we. Quoting products. Like, I mean, if they, if they actually give a different proposal, that's perfectly fine, but we even add transparency into that process.

So after you run the optimization and you learn that, oh, this particular, you know, HLR ventilation system is the right thing for me to do bam right then and there, instead of having to call a bunch of people, you can be. Hey, can I get a quote on this? And then they can make you a [00:36:00] real time proposal on your project because you can share and connect that information through and through too.

Wow. Um, that's, I'm not sure if that's where your question was going at all, but you talked about that's exactly where I was going. Just that excited.

[00:36:13] James Dice: No. Yeah. So what about that's that's like equipment and materials cost. What about like, I need to figure out what the cost is between this system installed and that system installed.

How do you guys accomplish.

[00:36:27] Sandeep Ahuja: So we're not necessarily like in terms of the labor cost, we definitely have a database that we have created. I mean, we lean on industry standards like RS means and R strategic partners across the board, but I mean, we all know. You know, they, they can be good and bad depending on yeah.

You know what it is that you're looking at, we've gotta be pretty real. So the way that we've set it up is for a really solid apples to apples comparison until you have a cost estimator. So if you have already hired a cost estimator, or perhaps if you are collaborating with your [00:37:00] pre-construction team, which.

I strongly support collaborative workflows, just invite them into the platform and they'll add actual real time values, which in markets like these, I mean, there can be giant bubbles that won't be within any set database, even though we run quarterly cost surveys and we have a in-house team that runs Q and QC on all of our cost information to make sure that it's valid and accurate and makes sense.

And these are certified cost estimators. Um, Will be allow teams to go in and actually enter it themselves because that information is so variable.

[00:37:37] James Dice: Yeah, totally. This is another Excel spreadsheet that I had by the way that I

[00:37:41] Sandeep Ahuja: was, you have all the spreadsheets,

[00:37:44] James Dice: they're probably totally, you can't even open 'em now because they need to be updated with the latest macros or whatever.

But yeah, I had all of these and the reason I'm so excited about talking to you is what I was doing was really important at that time. I was trying to convince people to, [00:38:00] um, Make a different decision and they're planning on making, if I wouldn't have been doing that energy modeling. Right? Yeah. So what you're doing is making that easier, quicker, more collaborative.

Like it, it, I'm super excited. That's really awesome. Um, thank you. You mentioned you guys haven't got involved much in the operational phase. I, I would love to hear from you just your thoughts. There's a lot of hype around digital twins and, um, Operational phase software platforms. Right. Um, in fact, that's a lot of the topics that we discussed in this podcast, usually how do we run buildings more efficiently?

Right. Um, I, I I'm wondering. Okay, so there's that hype, but then there's also a lot of research papers. So my time at NRE, there was a ton of just. Here's how we can use energy models in the operational phase, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And so that, I feel like there's like those two ends of the height, but then if you actually look at the number of energy models that are being used on a day to day basis [00:39:00] in the operation of the building, it's probably very small.

So can you talk about your, your thoughts

[00:39:05] Sandeep Ahuja: there? Yeah, for sure. The way that I think about operational and the digital twin hype and all of that, I mean, I, I think it's, I think it's meaningful. The way that we have chosen to tackle the problem for a very, very specific reason is the design phase, because I'm a firm believer that you solve the problem before you create it.

Like, I want us to create awful buildings, build them and then figure out how to run those efficiently and much. Rather us go down the. of designing great buildings. And then of course it backs to question, well, what about all the buildings that are already here? Well, of course you absolutely still need to do all this optimization for renovation and retrofit projects too, which by the way we do tons of, but it's still about solving the problem before it becomes a [00:40:00] problem.

It's like insulation, right? I wanna put it as close to the outside as like stop the heat before it comes in. I'm not gonna put a layer of insulation two feet inside my building and be like, that should do the trick. We're gonna collect all of that heat and, you know, tackle it later and just size up the mechanical system and figure it out.

That is what I think happens. When we focus predominantly on the operational side. Mm-hmm, not that it's not a big problem. Cause if it's already built, which a lot of buildings are totally, you absolutely have to fix how to, how to run them better. But. Majority of the buildings are going to be billed from now in 2050.

And I'm currently focusing 100% of my efforts on the ones that are coming and just making sure that they come better. So we give the digital twin guys an easier time. Plus there's so many great players in that space that we have an [00:41:00] open API for. That we can collaborate back and forth with that. We can create easy communication and data challenges with and solve all of those problems where if they need information like, oh, what was modeled, bam.

Here's exactly what was modeled and really connect that gap. That's something that hasn't existed for a while because. Nothing has an open API. Right. But we do. So you can take all of your data from the modeling phase to the construction phase, to your digital twin phase for the very first time with the open API and actually see that loop all the way through.

And actually finally start answering. All right. How accurate was the model? Why wasn't it accurate? What could we do differently next time? How we as operators and owners can get smarter in our next model, because we know how we build and we know how we operate. So totally that is definitely possible through API, but.

We're not personally pursuing it.

[00:41:55] James Dice: Yeah. I love the, the transparency and thinking. Thank you. Um, the [00:42:00] there's so much opportunity there though. I feel like with the, like, I've been doing a lot of writing and speaking recently on this next phase of operational decarbonization technology and it's a lot of the opportunities are in, how can we.

Better and easier, um, lists of retrofit projects for people. How can we help them make better decisions? And that whole sort of section of the journey is all. Enhanced or even just possible with an energy model. Right. So I feel like that that has to be coming at this point. Hopefully people don't build new energy models when you guys already have one built.

Um,

[00:42:40] Sandeep Ahuja: yeah, that's what the, for.

[00:42:44] James Dice: Okay. I think my last question is around sort of what's next in energy modeling and I'm gonna kind of lead you. I feel like what's next is helping make better decisions around electrification. Is that, is that one of the areas where it's, it's [00:43:00] becoming more important?

[00:43:02] Sandeep Ahuja: I mean, I think electrification has been important for the last well, many years.

And it should have been important long ago that, yeah, I mean, I think that's a given, like that's already in my mind, that's already here. Like we already are focusing on that. We already need to be focusing on that. Mm-hmm I really think the next, the next. Big thing or at least I don't even know if that's the next big thing.

There's a series of things that we all absolutely need to be doing again for this world to have a fighting shot, to then occur on climate change, because I don't about you, but knowing your background, you probably follow the science has closed. I do. I mean, we don't have that much, that much time left.

Yeah. So I, I really think that the next big movement is interoperability and connectivity. And that is exactly what we're focused on. The reason why. I think yes, energy modeling is super critical, super important, but not as a stand alone energy modeling is almost meaningless. [00:44:00] If it's not plugged in with cost estimation, pretty much meaningless.

If it's not plugged in with the agendas that the architects care about, no one cares about energy modeling. If it's not plugged in with the agendas that the developer or the contractor cares about. And I think it's creating that collective circle. Of the, the network is, is basically how I visualize it, of interconnected information that each enrich each other for better decision making is where it's headed, where it's not let's do design.

Oh, let's also do energy model. It's like, let's do design together. Mm-hmm is I think what's next.

[00:44:40] James Dice: Love it. Love it. And it seems like you guys have been thinking about that from the very beginning. Um, the way that you built the tool. I wanna circle back on electrification, just cuz I'm curious, how can an energy model sort of aid in that process?

Because maybe, maybe a little more context. So when I I'm trying to [00:45:00] electrify my home and. It's not a good payback at all to do that. right. Um, and so I need to optimize for other things, right. And it's a, or it's a really difficult, even for me, someone who build, has built energy models for a living. It's really difficult to figure out what my actual return on investment will be.

So can you talk a little bit about how exactly, even though it's already here, how electrification can be easier with energy model?

[00:45:28] Sandeep Ahuja: I think it depends entirely on the objective. Hmm. If the return on investment and there's like, let's say a carbon tax equation starts to change. Let's say there's other ways that you're thinking about how the premium that you put on your future, which.

Let's be where many portfolios and you know, like many of LPs and the large, uh, real estate largest real estate developers have started to put, you know, the value on the investment and the risk mitigation. So as you start putting more. Dollar [00:46:00] multipliers and factors into it. Mm-hmm the calculation absolutely starts to change.

So as we're thinking about the net carbon that it's causing, right? Whether like not just the, the site, but the source carbon. And then if we look, just keep zooming back and then run the optimization with the source carbon, I think that just makes the whole calculation a little bit easier. And I think that's where an energy model can.

Love

[00:46:28] James Dice: it. Love it. All right. Let's end with, uh, carve outs. So, first of all, thank you. This has been super insightful, but also a little bit so fun. This is a little bit like therapy for my past self. So I'm feeling like I'm sending vibes to my 23 year old self and I

[00:46:44] Sandeep Ahuja: rarely get to geek out on this level.

There you go. I rarely get to geek out on this level. This was, this is so. That's

[00:46:50] James Dice: awesome. That's awesome. Um, cool. So I, I like to end with carveout. So is, are there any books, podcast, TV shows, movies? [00:47:00] Um, well I didn't, I name, um, that's about it that you'd recommend personally, professionally that people

[00:47:06] Sandeep Ahuja: check out.

Yeah. I, I, man, this was a month ago. I read this really awesome book. It's called EMP it up. It's from. I wanna say the CEO of snowflake, I forget his name, but I will send you the link after, after this. It's fantastic. I mean, for anyone that's, you know, building a business like yourself, myself, I think it's just a really, really cool book.

Other than that, I mean, I don't, I've been reading a lot of, um, just the Harvard, um, not the business reviews, the Harvard, like they have like top 10 bucks. Guide to doing this and guide to doing that. Oh yeah. Yeah. Those are like the ones in the airport, four books that I just keep next to me and I have to refer them every now and then.

Cuz my gosh, they have so much gold in them. Just they're super condensed. Yeah. Those are fantastic. Like, and I have them bookmarked and I have to keep going [00:48:00] back and sticky notes. Those are just wealth of knowledge. I'm glad they put it together. Yeah. So that, um, but yeah. That's mostly it, I've not like there needs to be like a,

[00:48:12] James Dice: yeah.

Yeah. I'm trying to do less of that. I feel like there needs to be like a book list for people that started out technical, like started out like an architect, like you or an engineer like me, and then have gone into being a founder. And it's like, Someone catch me up. It's probably an MBA, but like there's, I'm more of a books person than a school person, but

[00:48:30] Sandeep Ahuja: yeah.

It's like a MBA and a book, right? Yeah. Like there's this really cool course from Wharton school of business. Okay. When, back in, back in the early days when I was starting out and I was like, I need to be really, really good at understanding all of the numbers and all of the finance and really the ins and out of my business.

And I went online and it's not like I did a certificate course or something, cuz I didn't have the time to do that. But I just went into bunch of these online classes and I thought [00:49:00] those were phenomenal. Like I tried quite a few, but the Wharton ones, those ones were excellent.

[00:49:05] James Dice: All right. Well, if you dig that link up, we'll put that in the show notes as well.

Uh, thank you Sandy, for coming on the show. This has been super.

[00:49:13] Sandeep Ahuja: This is awesome. Thanks for having me.

All right friends, thanks for listening to this episode of the Nexus Podcast. For more episodes like this and to get the weekly Nexus Newsletter, which by the way, readers have said is the best way to stay up to date on the future of the smart building industry, please subscribe at nexuslabs.online. You can find the show notes for this conversation there as well. Have a great day.