8 min read

#40: what does "open" even mean?

Plus: the air conditioning crunch; stickiness for overlays; Charlie and Maureen finally talk about tech
There's so many layers of abstraction from one role to the next it's just created this disconnect between the buyers and sellers of buildings, the operators of buildings, the facility managers of buildings.

And I think a lot of that has helped to disrupt the willingness to invest in technology. Because if you don't get it, obviously you're not going to be interested in (buying) it.

—Logan Soya on Episode 18 of the Nexus Podcast

Good morning!

Welcome to Nexus, a newsletter, podcast, and membership community for smart people applying smart building technology—written by James Dice. If you’re new to Nexus, you might want to start here.

Here’s an outline of this week’s newsletter:

  1. 🤔 On my mind this week

  2. 📚 What I’m reading

  3. 💡 New from Nexus

  4. 🧐 New to me

  5. 🧱 Foundations


1. 🤔 On my mind this week

Last week, another LinkedIn post about openness seemed to strike a nerve. The questions posed by the commenters showed so much diversity, and quite frankly confusion, around what “open” means for our industry. It’s just so nuanced.

I’m definitely living the Nexus ethos of “learning out loud” on this one. My upcoming podcast episode with openness guru Andrew Rodgers puts the learning process on display… and he did a great job painting the problem in full color, but also simplifying it for me.

If you made me give you a one word answer for “what is open?” it's “choice”. It's like, do you have choice?

Episode coming soon. In the meantime, what does “open” mean to you?


☝️ Also, one quick announcement:

I heard a lot of great feedback on my podcast interview with Deepinder Singh, CEO of 75F. If you want part 2 of that conversation, you’re going to want to sign up for next week’s free live webcast, "Healthier Buildings: The Future of Building Intelligence", where Deep will turn the tables and interview me (😬). I’ll probably sneak in a few questions back to him too… because I can’t help myself.

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2. 📚 What I’m reading


Grid-Interactive Efficient Buildings Are the Answer to California's Brownouts—Good primer on grid-interactive buildings that connects the dots between advanced supervisory control in buildings, climate change, and grid management issues like the brownouts in California. (Propmodo)

With grid-interactive technology, buildings could reduce peak demand by 24 percent in the summer and 22 percent in the winter this year, according to data from the Energy Information Administration. Peaking demand also results in high-demand charges, where large commercial and industrial customers are charged a monthly fee based on their facility’s individual peak demand from that month. In some areas, these fees can account for as much as 70 percent of a customer’s energy bill.


The technology to implement GEBs on a wide scale already exists. Advanced submetering instructure for HVAC, lighting and water systems is nothing new, but connecting the different components and managing them from a central system can be a challenge.



Returning to the office and its impact on smart building technology—Joe Aamidor shares his thoughts on researching the return to office surveys and articles and what they mean for smart buildings. Felt more informed after reading this—thanks Joe!

Returning to the office is 'TBD' for a lot of firms, and without a vaccine or more confidence in our control of the virus, it will be hard to get a good read on what all this should look like. But the uncertainty does not mean these firms just go to a permanent ‘work from home’ model.



Despite being a seemingly small change, this reduction in sick days equates to roughly €25,000 ($33,016) in annual savings to the municipality and €1 million ($1,320,646) in savings over the projected lifespan of the building, not adjusted for inflation.

When combined with the estimated maintenance and utility savings of the project as identified in a separate cost-benefit analysis, the total savings amounts to €17 million ($22,450,982)—significantly more than the original €3.4 million ($4.49 million) marginal investment in energy efficiency, healthy materials, etc.


The Post-Covid, Tech-Enabled Office In 2 Graphics (CB Insights)


Other pertinent reads from just (a bit) outside the smart buildings industry:
air conditioners

How to avoid the coming air conditioning crunch—Fascinating look at the global air conditioning problem with lots of data and a look at radical new solutions, like beaming heat to space from the rooftops and separating latent from sensible cooling. (MIT Technology Review)

Without major improvements, energy demand from cooling will also triple, reaching 6,200 terawatt-hours by 2050—or nearly a quarter of the world’s total electricity consumption today.


In addition, developing increasingly smart grids could help electricity systems deal with the peak-demand strains of AC. That entails adding sensors, control systems, and software that can automatically reduce usage as outdoor temperatures decline, when people leave spaces for extended periods, or when demand starts to bump up against available generation.


One of the most powerful tools for bringing about those improvements is public policy. The IEA notes that the best technology available is more than twice as efficient as the average of what’s actually in use around the world, and three times better than the most inefficient products on the market.


What Schneider Electric’s Recent Move Says about the Microgrid Industry—Unpacking Schneider’s mid-August announcement of a new company it has formed with Huck Capital, a San Francisco-based private equity firm focused on clean energy, that’s focused on small to mid-sized buildings. (Microgrid Knowledge)

Feasel says that Schneider’s move into microgrids for smaller buildings is analagous to Elon Musk’s decision to introduce the Tesla Cybertruck.

This installment of NEXUS is free for everyone. If you would like to get full access to all content, join the NEXUS Pro community. Members get exclusive access to the Nexus Vendor Landscape, monthly events, weekly deep dives, and all past deep dives.

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3. 💡 New from NEXUS

4. 🧐 New to me

Even though the Nexus Vendor Landscape has over 100 vendors on it, I still learn about new companies/products to track every week.

Here is this week’s discovery:

Wattsense—Integration and building operating system platform out of Europe with an impressively cool website. These guys reached out to me on LinkedIn and I’m excited to connect with them when my schedule opens up.

5. 🧱 Foundations

The dates are set for cohort 1 of Nexus Foundations, an introductory course on smart buildings. From 10/1 to 11/19, we'll publish weekly content, host weekly live workshops on Zoom, and hold weekly office hours.

The weekly content will feature the story of Charlie, a smart building rookie who eventually grows into a smart building champion thanks to his mentor, Maureen.

In week 4, they finally get to the stage where most people start: the sexy tech.  If you missed weeks 1 through 3, check previous newsletters for the rest of the story.

Week 4: Buyer beware

For their fourth lesson, Maureen decided to shake things up a bit. She texted Charlie and told him to meet her at a Starbucks around the corner from the office instead of the usual spot. Charlie thinks Starbucks’ coffee is terrible, but at this point, he wasn’t about to question Maureen. She was teaching him so much.

When he was pulling into the parking lot, he realized this was no regular Starbucks… it was inside of a large retail building—Recreational Equipment Inc (REI). Before Charlie could sit down with his coffee, Maureen motioned towards the door to REI.

“Let’s take a walk…”, she said.

Maureen knew Charlie knows nothing about outdoor gear. She had sized him up from their very first meeting. He’s too much of a city guy… not the type to get his hands dirty. That’s why she picked REI to teach today’s lesson.

They start to walk around with their coffees and Maureen explains that while a store like this has everything and that’s great, the shopper can easily get derailed, disillusioned, and frustrated if they’re not careful.

“For example, let’s look at sleeping bags… which one would you pick?”

Charlie browsed through the sleeping bag section. He saw a vast price range. He saw different materials… down, synthetic, etc. He saw different weights, shapes, and brands. And he realized that, having never spent a single night in the wilderness, he had no idea what any of it meant.

Just then, Maureen called over an REI employee and asks for help. She explains how she’s going on a trip with her girlfriends this weekend and needs to fill a hole in her backpacking set up. She explains the existing set up she has now and then what she’s trying to accomplish. The REI employee asks a few questions about use cases and budget and then bam, she tells Maureen exactly which bag is the ideal one for her. Done.

As they walk to the cash register, the golden nugget of this lesson becomes clear to Charlie.

“Ahh, I get it. You’re sneaky, Maureen. My job as the Smart Building Champion is to play the role that the REI employee just played for you. I need to create clarity in the buying experience for my stakeholders.”

This was music to Maureen’s ears. It seemed like these lessons were really paying off.

“Yes, Charlie! It doesn’t mean you can’t still be a technology nerd, but the bells and whistles and latest gizmos and gadgets and all just noise to most of your stakeholders. Bright flashing lights. Distractions. Your job is to make sure they’ve assessed their current tech, identified use cases, and then be their concierge.”

Once they got back to their table at Starbucks, Maureen took Charlie through the framework she uses to assess new technologies in order to simplify them and map their capabilities to use cases…

To be continued… 


We're capping this (deeply discounted) first cohort at 25 students to maximize the time we can spend with each student. There are only a few spots left!

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OK, that’s all for this week—thanks for reading Nexus!