4 min read

#47: When occupancy sensors don't work

Plus sales advice from Jigar Shah, Bill Gates' Green Premiums, and yet another ASC startup
“You don’t just want to be selling people things that are simply “good” for them, like vitamin pills. For example, saving 10% on corporate energy bills is something, but in the grand scheme this is just a nice-to-have, and you’ll need to work hard to convince stakeholders. So, instead, you need to find the people who are really suffering – and sell them pain medication.”

Jigar Shah (pairs well with this week’s 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.

I’m going to be keeping the newsletter short and sweet for a few weeks as I focus on facilitating the Nexus Foundations course. This might be a relief for those of you that need some time to catch up with all of our past goodies. If that’s you, hit the archive!

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

  1. 📚 What I’m reading

  2. 💡 New from Nexus

    • PODCAST—🎧 #025: Friendly rants volume 6: know your customer! (Pro members only)

    • DEEP DIVE—October digest: what the digital twin conversation it missing (Pro members only)

  3. 🧐 New to me


👉 If you enjoy reading NEXUS, please share it with your colleagues!

1. 📚 What I’m reading and watching


A Review of Existing Test Methods for Occupancy Sensors—Interesting report from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) on how well occupancy sensors in connected lighting systems perform and how we might test and commission them better. This is an important topic, as the occupancy analytics market is set to expand in the near future (Memoori estimates a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 21.5%). It’s also a great primer on all the technology behind each type of occupancy sensor solution: presence, count, location, track, and identity.

In practice, they frequently do not meet energy-savings expectations. Occupants at times remove or otherwise bypass occupancy sensors that hinder their work or otherwise do not perform as expected, thereby compromising the sensors’ potential to reduce energy consumption. Poor performance can result from multiple causes – ranging from fundamental limitations of the sensor technology, to misconfiguration, to poor placement in the room or space.

Innovative occupancy sensors, some of them combining multiple sensing technologies (i.e., multimodal), have come on the market over the years, with claims of improved performance compared to their predecessors. However, in practice, their performance has neither differed enough from the performance of previous products to necessitate a test method that facilitated comparison between them, nor has it led to high deployment or high user satisfaction in human-occupied spaces with persistent presence.

To me, as occupancy data comes from more diverse sources (lighting system, access control, people counting sensors, etc) and gets passed between systems in the building and to the cloud, this reinforces the need for the overlay platform to determine the highest quality / best available occupancy data at any given time.


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


Introducing the Green Premiums—Bill Gates previews his upcoming book about solving climate change.

Once we know what’s driving a given Green Premium, it acts like a roadmap—it tells us the route we need to take to get to zero. In the case of electricity, one step is to keep deploying renewables where they make sense. Another is to invest more in developing technologies like long-term electricity storage, carbon capture, and advanced nuclear. And we need to modernize and expand the grids that deliver clean electricity from where it’s generated to where it’s needed—often a distance of thousands of miles.


The Bay Area Just Turned Orange. All Eyes Are on PurpleAir—How long until this sort of crowdsourced air quality analytics happens inside your building?

Drawing crowdsourced data from air quality sensors it sells to the public—ranging between $200 and $300—PurpleAir builds maps that show in real time just how bad a neighborhood like mine is suffering from particulate matter (PM) 2.5 pollution, the particles that make up wildfire smoke.


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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2. 💡 New from NEXUS

  • PODCAST—🎧 #025: Friendly rants volume 6: know your customer! (Pro members only)

    • Joe Gaspardone, COO of Montgomery Technologies, throws his rant in with Dennis and I’s past rants. He tells the story of all the meetings he’s been in where tech vendors pitch their product to a business they seem to know nothing about. Very entertaining!

  • DEEP DIVE—October digest: what the digital twin conversation it missing (Pro members only)

    • This was an experiment that I might start doing every month: a catalog of 5 things on my mind right now.

3. 🧐 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:

Urecsys—another advanced supervisory control startup that controls HVAC based on indoor *and* outdoor air quality. Born out of Israel but would be particularly useful in parts of the US that have experienced wildfires recently. The website says it’s “incredibly easy to install”, which makes me think Israel must be on a different planet.

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


P.S. Early bird pricing (25% off) for the Nexus Foundations course Cohort #2 is available starting today and will run until midnight on 12/31/2020. I recommend signing up sometime before the end of the year to reserve your spot… we’re capping cohort 2 at 40 members.