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#58: the changemakers we need

Plus demystifying AI, construction tech trends, fuel cells, and a new podcast
#58: the changemakers we need
“I think the Foundations course’s holistic approach is super valuable. Smart building offerings, integrated systems, and potential roadblocks are quite numerous, so finding a way to navigate it all in an organized way is critical.”

—Nexus Foundations alum (learn about cohort 2 here!)

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: an engineer goes to marketing school
  2. 💡 Insights: Bloom Energy’s long slow pivot, demystifying AI, and the next chapter in construction tech
  3. Brand new stuff: a new podcast episode with Optigo CEO Ping Yao
  4. 🧱  Foundations: the changemakers our industry needs
  5. 🌎  Diversions: the ten-year rule for software

If you missed last week’s edition, you can find it here.

Enjoy!


1. 🤔 On my mind this week

I’m all in this week on learning mode. Since I’m looking to get the word out about the Nexus Foundations course, I’m taking a course on how to do just that. Marketing your work does NOT come naturally to engineer-types like me, so I’m investing in my weak spots. If you’d like to help me get the word out, I would love to hear from you of course!


2. 💡 Insights

Only the best smart building resources we consumed this week…

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How an Energy Startup’s Plan to Disrupt the Power Grid Got Disrupted (WSJ)—Bloom Energy's trials, tribulations, and pivot from Silicon Valley cleantech darling to providing low-carbon backup power and/or peak-shaving for commercial facilities like the Staples center in LA.

"The world Mr. Sridhar foresaw hasn’t arrived. His San Jose, Calif., startup hasn’t put fuel cells in homes and instead has a niche clientele among companies willing to pay a premium for a continuous on-site energy source."

One of the key takeaways from this long saga for those looking to impact the building<>grid nexus: the economics of metered energy are always changing.

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Demystifying AI/ML for Buildings (US DOE)—I was reviewing this nice presentation from LBNL's Jessica Granderson for a project and thought I'd reshare it. Jessica provides a hype-free, vendor-validated summary of the five categories of current applications for AI/ML in buildings: Load prediction, automated semantic modeling, FDD, control optimization, data cleaning.

Note that these are focused on HVAC/metering/energy management/commissioning use cases. Longtime subscribers will remember Nexus newsletter #27, an introduction to machine learning for buildings. Lots of overlap with Jessica’s analysis.

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Rise of the platform era: The next chapter in construction technology (McKinsey)—Smart construction does not necessarily lead to a smart building, but it certainly increases the chances. This investor-focused article outlines the trends in construction tech. And surprise surprise: there are a lot of overlaps with the operations phase technology…

“While the construction technology industry is still filled with players offering point solutions or limited suites, our latest annual effort to map and understand the construction technology landscape reveals that the industry is moving toward platforms and predicts that a combination of multiple platforms will coexist in the space.”

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-ish deep dives, and all past deep dives.

Join NEXUS Pro


3. Brand new stuff

Everything Nexus created this week…

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PODCAST—🎧 #033: Ping Yao, CEO of Optigo Networks, on smart building networks and the blurring lines between IT and OT

  • This episode is the second foray into networking that we’ve done on the podcast, and similar to the first one with Joe Gaspardone.
  • Ping brings some IT vs OT insights that helped me wrap my head around where things are moving on the networking level of smart buildings.

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VENDOR UPDATE—Even though the Nexus Vendor Landscape has 150+ vendors on it, I still learn about new companies/products to track every week. Here is this week’s discovery:

Vigilent—Advanced supervisory control for data center HVAC

(Yes, we’ve seen a lot of new supervisory control companies lately. If you’re wondering what all the hype is about, read my series on ASC, which starts here.)


4. 🧱 Foundations

Bite-sized learnings for newcomers to the smart buildings industry…

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I describe the Foundations course as “an introduction to the smart buildings industry for changemakers.” Today, let’s talk about what I mean by changemakers…

To start, let me be frank: our industry has been producing really dumb buildings for decades. And there is a lot of inertia behind this unfortunate trend… we’re quite good at it.

By changemakers, I mean we need leaders. We need the people who can steward our organizations out of this mess.

First, the changemaker must acknowledge that we can’t do things the same old ways any longer. They need to be able to recognize those old ways on their projects and in their buildings and stamp them out. In the course, we spend a whole week on assessing buildings for “dumbness” and making sure we don’t step on the landmines left over from the past.

Second, the pickle we have ourselves in means we need a certain type of leader. We need a strategic leader. We need our changemakers to see the problem holistically and design a way forward to navigate through the obstacles. To craft this mindset, the course’s five weeks walk through the 5 steps in creating a smart building strategy.

Here’s what the alumni are saying about their new holistic lens:

“It’s not like other learning content for our industry—it pulls it all together.”

“The smart building industry is very complex and it's critical to have the most holistic view in order to advance the use of these technologies.”

With all the students that took advantage of early bird pricing in December, we’re now above 25% capacity for cohort #2, which starts in late February. If you’re interested, enroll soon to claim your spot in the group.

Claim your spot


5. 🌎  Diversions

Technology resources from outside of the built environment. What might we apply in our industry?

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Good Software Takes Ten Years. Get Used To it.—Super interesting 20-year-old, history-of-technology sort of blog post which coins the ten-year rule: it takes ten years to make good software. Before that, it's sh*t. After that, nothing good happens. 😂

Make a ten year plan. Make sure you can survive for 10 years, because the software products that bring in a billion dollars a year all took that long. Don’t get too hung up on your version 1 and don’t think, for a minute, that you have any hope of reaching large markets with your first version. Good software, like wine, takes time.

Great food for thought for the smart buildings industry. How many of our software products have been around that long?


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

If you have thoughts on this week’s edition, let us know in the comments!

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—James