Podcast
min read
James Dice

🎧 #136: Innovation and case studies of grid-interactive efficient buildings

February 3, 2023
"Data transparency is a key part of unlocking stronger two-way communication. If you think about the utility side, usually the amount of data they have about where and when energy is being used stops at the substation level. So you might have a really connected smart building but the utility side doesn't have the data to make smarter decisions about reliability, planning, targeting customers for specific programs, etc. If we're able to pull the curtain back with that data, a lot better planning can be done."

—Cindy Zhu

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Episode 136 is a conversation with Cindy Zhu, Director of Grid Services at Prescriptive Data.

Summary

We primarily cover grid-interactive efficient buildings, or GEB, my second least favorite acronym in our industry (behind SPOG of course).

GEB implies a connection between the electric utility and the building, or more specifically, the ability for a building to be a resource to the grid and provide demand flexibility. This is important so we can tailor our buildings’ load profiles to closely match when the grid is cleanest and help it become more resilient.


️️🏢 A message from our sponsor, Jaros, Baum & Bolles 🏢

Building intelligence engineering allows OT and IT systems to seamlessly and securely integrate with each other and onto common platforms. Creating a successful building intelligence strategy entails translating the owner’s goals to outcomes, use cases, intelligent building technologies, and enhanced MEP systems.

To learn more about what JB&B is calling “MEP 3.0” and the value of building intelligence design, as well as the difference between smart and intelligent buildings, listen to JB&B’s Division Lead’s conversation with the global certification company WiredScore.


Mentions and Links

  1. NYSERDA (10:35)
  2. Prescriptive Data (13:17)
  3. Clean Energy Leadership Institute (15:27)
  4. Better Buildings Initiative (20:53)
  5. Nexus Foundations (23:56)
  6. The Future of Life Paperback by Edward O. Wilson (58:41)
  7. Prehistoric Planet (59:15)
  8. Everything Everywhere All at Once (1:02:35)

You can find Cindy on LinkedIn.

Enjoy!

Highlights

  • How smart is Cindy's home? (1:57)
  • Cindy's background (4:09)
  • DOE's role in the smart buildings industry (19:13)
  • Grid-interactive efficient buildings (25:28)
  • The practical side of GEB (40:25)
  • Utility innovation (45:44)
  • Open ADR (52:25)
  • Carveouts (57:19)

☁️ A message from our sponsor, SkySpark ☁️

SkySpark is a comprehensive software platform for connecting, storing, analyzing and visualizing data from smart devices and equipment systems. SkySpark’s automated analytics, KPIs, Energy and GhG Apps, turn your data into actionable intelligence providing improved performance, reduced downtime, and operational savings.

Head over to SkyFoundry.com for insightful white papers, case studies, and blog posts, as well as a link to sign up for a free demo.


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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!

[00:00:00] James Dice: Hello and welcome to the Nexus Podcast. This is a conversation with Sydney Zoo, director of Grid Services at prescriptive data. We're gonna cover primarily grid interactive, efficient buildings, or gbs, which is my second least favorite acronym in our industry. Behind single pane of glass or spag is my least favorite.

So GBS implies a connection between the electric utility and the building, or more specifically, the ability for a building to be a resource on the grid and provide demand flexibility. This is important so we can, tailor our building's load profiles that closely match the grid to when the grid as cleanest and help it.

More resilient.

[00:01:00]

[00:01:13] James Dice: As we covered in our latest white paper on the five vital roles, smart buildings require engineering that allows OT and IT system to seamlessly and securely integrate with each other and onto common platforms. Creating a successful building intelligence strategy entails translating the owner's goals to outcomes, use cases, intelligent building technologies, and enhanced MEP systems.

To learn more about what JB and B is calling MEP 3.0 and the value of building intelligence design, as well as the difference between smart and intelligent buildings, check out our friends at JB and B and specifically their podcast conversation with wires core at the link in the show notes. All that being said, let's get started. Hello, Cindy. Let's start with a an icebreaker. How smart is your [00:02:00] home?

[00:02:00] Cindy Zhu: Oh, how smart is my home? Okay, so I recently moved out to Seattle this year but I'm working East Coast hours, so that means that I wake up super early. So one smart connected device. I've got a floor lamp in the bedroom that turns. At 5 15, 5 30. But I'm finding that it no longer wakes me up anymore, so it turns off and I just keep sleeping through it.

So I guess that's not, not the problem of advice. And then I've got an Alexa, but I don't know how smart she is sometimes she kind of just like starts talking. I'm like, shut up Alexa. And then I've got a, a Roomba, which I don't know if that counts as a, a smart device.

[00:02:46] James Dice: I think it does.

[00:02:47] Cindy Zhu: Yeah. So I've got three, three things,

[00:02:50] James Dice: Three devices is

pretty good.

[00:02:51] Cindy Zhu: say that they're doing too much.

[00:02:53] James Dice: Yeah, I think that might be more smart devices than I have, so well done. I love that.

[00:02:59] Cindy Zhu: Yeah. [00:03:00] And then I do have one more acronym to, to add to your bucket. That

[00:03:04] James Dice: to, to my bad acronyms list.

[00:03:07] Cindy Zhu: yeah. Yeah. I recently learned the term U ui, which stands for Unified User Interface. So I think that's, that's the competitor to the Spog.

[00:03:18] James Dice: Yeah, I love that. So that you don't like that one either.

[00:03:23] Cindy Zhu: I don't mind it.

[00:03:26] James Dice: All right.

[00:03:27] Cindy Zhu: out of the gsa, so, you know, maybe they said we reject Spog. We're gonna give you another one.

[00:03:33] James Dice: I think to me, SPAG and also probably with u u I, it's not necessarily the acronym, it's that I don't agree with the concept of a spog, the way that most people define what it means. And we don't have to get into that because I've, I think I've complained enough another episodes about that. But it'd have to be, we'd have to figure out what u u I actually means and what people think it means to like, figure out whether it's on my shit list, you know?

[00:03:59] Cindy Zhu: [00:04:00] Yeah, well I'll look out for it.

[00:04:02] James Dice: All right. Let's jump into you. So can you tell me about your, your background?

[00:04:06] Cindy Zhu: Yeah, sure thing. So I will be the first to say that I. Came to this industry, buildings, real estate energy efficiency, probably a little bit differently than most. I am not an engineer by trade. I don't even think I, I think like an engineer. I asked more questions than provide solutions. I studied biology and fine arts in undergrad.

I always loved both science and art. That was more of a conflict for me when I was younger. Like, I would have like dreams about should I go this way or that way all the time. I don't anymore. But, and I think that sort of interdisciplinary approach, has really helped me in my career.

In undergrad I studied developmental biology and molecular biology. So really how [00:05:00] does a single cell turn into. A complicated human being or a complicated ecosystem. I always thought I would go the academia route with biology. But a really cool opportunity that I had right after undergrad really kind of, changed my, changed my career path and kind of led to me being where I am right now.

So I know there's been a lot of talk of like multiverses in pop culture recently, so I definitely feel like there's a, a multiverse me somewhere that kind of went that more traditional path. But right after undergrad, I got the opportunity to move to Doha, Qatar, where my undergrad Carnegie Mellon had set up a new. And they were setting up the biology degree for the first time the year that I finished school. So, I got to go out there to really help stand up the bio lab and to, um, really act as a, a ta [00:06:00] for many of the incoming freshman students. As well as several upperclassmen who were getting into the, the bio labs to complete their degree.

So this was 20 13, 20 12, 20 13. Qatar had just won the World Cup bid. So the year that I was out there, there was a lot of buzz and excitement about that and some of the construction had started, but it was quite, quite new. So this year, the World Cup was pretty interesting for me just to see how much, how much development had happened.

Up until I, I went out there, I had never really thought about energy. Before had had never really thought about climate before or climate solutions, climate change. My sort of perspective was really from the natural sciences, biology, biodiversity conservation, the, you know, the more kind of traditional science and, and science focused paths.

But I, I got out there and two interesting things happened that kind of [00:07:00] exposed me to the, the more climate and energy world. The first is that Qatar is, is a country that depends completely on exports to sustain life, right? So they have no clean water there. Every, everything that is, is potable water out there is desalinated.

Or you're buying big plastic bottles of water to drink.

[00:07:22] James Dice: Hm.

[00:07:23] Cindy Zhu: But they are also one of the richest countries in the world, right? So they, they discovered natural gas, I think in the seventies. And that completely changed their way of life. Abu Dhabi part of the UAE nearby nearby golf country was, I think at the time they were building like one of the, the world's largest solar array out in the desert.

So tons and tons of sun all year round. Lots of land desert land to build these big infrastructure projects and a lot of like, political capital to get it done in those nations, right? So the tho these are kingdom nations. If they wanna build a huge [00:08:00] infrastructure project, they can just do it rather than, you know, all the, the red tape planning reviews, et cetera, that has to happen in, in countries in the west.

So. Kind of getting exposed to that was the first time that I was like, oh my God, what is happening? You know, what is all this? And then another cool thing that happened is the UN had their cop and I looked up, it was COP 18 was in Doha that year, and it was happening at the convention center that was right across from where all the Western University campuses are.

And as a staff member, we were able to like, go, go into the halls of, of the, of cop and kind of walk around and, and see what was going on. So, I was able to do that and, you know, first exposure to all these huge United Nations type events. First exposure to like the terms adaptation and mitigation, which, you know, back at that time, I, I definitely didn't really know what was going on, just.

There's all these countries that get together every year and work on these big, [00:09:00] huge, large scale problems that are related to climate, related to energy and like very, very far away from the, the world of just like pure science and, and research. So that was really cool. So my year living there really got my wheels turning and thinking like doing a PhD in a very niche bio biology topic is, is probably not the best or biggest impact that I could make.

And, you know, I was young. I wasn't really thinking about a job or anything, you know, I was just exploring like what was interesting what, what felt like it was invigorating and, and worth putting time into. Um, So that actually led me to, rather than, you know, going into a PhD program doing a master's in environmental policy.

Cuz that felt like it, it, it fit a little bit better. It's, it, it seemed very broad. Again, I wasn't trying to end up in a particular job or anything. I was really looking to, to find something that felt right, felt [00:10:00] like a right fit. And a PhD program did no longer felt like the right fit after I kind of got this more broad and, and exciting exposure to the world.

So very impactful year for me. I think about that year, all the time. It was fun, again, fun to kind of see Qatar in the, in the global stage um, this year or last year after having spent, you know, a short amount of time, but I would say a, a significant amount of time for me in my life.

[00:10:26] James Dice: absolutely.

It sounds

[00:10:28] Cindy Zhu: So after that moved back to the States started a grad program in New York City.

Got an internship at Erta which stands for the New York State Energy Research Development and authority. So basically like New York State's D oe. That's when I was first introduced to really the concept of energy efficiency for buildings, the concept of incentive programs, trying to retrofit you know, these old, old apartment buildings to be slightly more energy and water efficient.

[00:11:00] Part of my, my first job in the industry was really going out to buildings that had gone through the retrofit programs, gotten money for incentives, and then they were getting QA to, you know, make sure that you know, they did the things that they did. So I would go out and, you know, sample apartments in these buildings and make sure they had the right, you know, fitting faucets and shower heads.

So, you know, very like everyday things that impact. Regular people, right? People's homes. People's lives. Which was cool. And, and, you know, never thought that I would get to go to Coney Island as part of my job and like, go into people's homes to like, look at their bathrooms. It's a pretty, pretty strange, strange part of the world.

Shortly after that, I got the opportunity to move to dc joined the Department of Energy, the Building Technologies Office. This was let's see, 2015. So the Paris Agreement was in negotiations and about to be signed that year. The [00:12:00] Iran Nuclear deal was also being negotiated. So, there was a lot of, like these big, again, these big global efforts of countries coming together trying to work towards something you know, to, to help the planet.

And it, it felt like a very exciting time to join the federal energy r d space. So, that was awesome. 2016, you know, things changed a little bit uh, in DC so, you know, I like to tell people I had one Obama year at DOE and three Trump years, and, you know, learned, learned tons and experienced tons through all of that.

But, you know, great four years at doe. Really, really being exposed to the smartest researchers, the most advanced industry leaders. Um, You know, being able to be in that mix. I definitely credit those years to helping me advance and, and be where I am in my career now. And then, you know, I felt ready to leave DOE after four years.

I really wanted [00:13:00] to kind of leave the advocacy of advanced technology space and move into a. More boots on the ground role like how do we actually implement new technologies in real estate or in the built environment. And joined a company called Prescriptive Data based out of New York City software company that came out of real estate that is really focused on machine learning ai advanced technologies to help automate and optimize energy use as well as carbon carbon emissions reductions.

So I've been there for a little bit over three years now. Again, started in a very boots on the ground project development role. How do we actually make this all happen? What are the, the real, you know, real challenges and barriers to implementing new technologies? Um, And then about about a year ago I moved into a different role standing up what we're calling the grid services team.

Um, [00:14:00] At prescriptive data which is all about gbs. How do we use our software to help buildings become grid interactive and have flexible loads? How do we make this happen in, you know, in the US where policies and regulatory rules are different across, across state lines? And as well as, you know, the challenges of just selling to real estate, selling to building owners and operators who are very unfamiliar with some of these terms, right?

Machine learning, ai, all the, the kind of scary stuff that you know, we as technologists feel can have huge, great impact. But people as people are always gonna come a little bit nervous, a little bit unsure. So it's all about helping, helping to educate the market, helping to you know, make people not afraid of change and, and and technology, but you know, really help, help them understand that.

Things are, things are changing and it, it shouldn't be scary and, you know, we're not [00:15:00] trying to end people's careers or take their jobs away, but really help and enhance what they already do.

[00:15:07] James Dice: Absolutely. Thank you for that background. That's

so cool. so cool. that uh, a basically biology nerd and I mean that

endearingly can end up here

making buildings more intelligent. That's awesome.

[00:15:21] Cindy Zhu: And there are some of us in this space. I've, I've, I've come across them before. Yeah.

[00:15:26] James Dice: That's great. You also told me that you do some volunteering for the Clean Energy Leadership

Institute. Can you tell me a little bit? I've never heard of that.

And I wanted to make sure people, people, heard about this.

[00:15:37] Cindy Zhu: yeah, so I am a volunteer participant, alumni participant in a organization called or Clean Energy Leadership Institute. It's a nonprofit whose primary mission is to. Train and provide tools for professionals that are in the clean energy space to become leaders and to [00:16:00] influence and impact you know, those around them, and really build strong coalitions to move the entire country and world into a clean energy forward space.

The, the organization originated out of Washington, DC and some of the first few cohorts of fellows that they trained really came from the hill. So, you know, legislative aids lawyers that worked for congressmen and women that had clean energy or, or, you know, energy efficiency focus.

As part of their legislative identity and, and focus. And so the goal was to really help some of these young people come up to speed on renewable energy finance, technology policy, you know, all that good stuff. It has since evolved into being way, way larger than, than just that. Right. I think the clean energy space is very unique in that it's not a single industry, right?

Climate action covers [00:17:00] finance, technology, law all, all, all different parts of our economy. So what CLI is really trying to do is like create that cross-sectional, cross-cutting interactions connections, training and, and uh, really help not just young people anymore. I think it's, it's, it's really advanced to.

Touch all, all aspects of, of people's careers. Bringing people together, providing them with the tools and information to understand the topics, but also you know, help help people feel that they, they can make an impact, they can help others and, and just generally help, help us move into that clean energy future.

So the fellowship is now in DC New York San Francisco, Chicago as the city cohorts as well as several virtual you know, online cohorts that people outside of those cities can participate in. We're actually gonna be selecting the next round of fellows uh, for this fall in a couple months.

So,[00:18:00] fellowship is annual. There's a huge group of of alumni that are still connected, still volunteer their time and. And their expertise now to really train up the next cohort. So I think for anyone that knows someone that, you know, would benefit from this type of program or wants to participate themselves please go take a look at the Clean, clean Energy Leadership Institute organization.

[00:18:21] James Dice: Great. And one of my, my goals is to like, there's a lot of energy right now behind clean energy, especially clean tech. One of my goals is to make like that bigger audience, right? Realize that there's a ton of work, good work to be done in building technologies, right?

It's kind of like a smaller subset

[00:18:41] Cindy Zhu: Yeah, for sure.

[00:18:42] James Dice: overall

umbrella.

[00:18:43] Cindy Zhu: Yeah. And I think that's another thing that has evolved with the organization, right? It started out as you know, what is renewable energy? How do we, how do we understand solar? And now, You know, renewable energy covers battery storage, it covers nuclear as well. The end user side perspective, energy [00:19:00] efficiency that is, is looped in there as well.

So, again, it's the industry impacts so many different parts parts of our economy and, and I think the fellowship has adapted to reflect that.

[00:19:11] James Dice: Great. I'd love to spend a few minutes talking about the work at doe. You're obviously not there anymore, but you spent four years there. Can you, just for people that don't know what, what role in the smart buildings industry does the d o E play? Can you kind of describe all the different ways um, that there's an overlap there and that the DOE benefits all the people that might be listening to this

[00:19:35] Cindy Zhu: Yeah, of course. Yeah, so the Department of Energy is first and foremost a research institution. So, um, DOE at the federal level manages I a whole, whole bunch of national labs. I don't know the exact, the exact number. 17. Yeah. And, you know, through the national labs is how they really advance research not only in energy topics, but [00:20:00] also in other science science topics as well.

And then in addition to the research element there is a lot of engagement with industry. So the real estate industry, the buildings industry manufacturing. I'm really engaging industry leaders to help inform r and d so that, you know, research is not happening in a vacuum. But also connect research teams to what's going out on in the real world, right?

So what are the challenges that need a research focus? What are potential, you know, barriers that on, you know, on the research perspective, you wouldn't think of what are the market strategies that are, you know, in play or could be you know, advanced. And my role when I arrived at at at doe was to work on a large public private partnership program called the Better Buildings Initiative.

So the Better Buildings Initiative at the time was to again, work [00:21:00] directly with industry leaders to challenge them to set very aggressive energy reduction. Water reduction waste management reduction goals. Have them set their goals publicly have them work on sharing best practices and solutions.

And then finally provide recognition that national rec recognition that, you know, if you're a big brand like home Depot or Whole Foods, that's the type of stuff that you can't really get anywhere else, right? That, that recognition at that federal level um, saying that, Hey, you're a leader.

You're hitting your goals, you're sharing your, your secrets, your solutions. And so working in this program you know, I was in my, my mid twenties was honestly amazing for my career, right? Like, where else are you gonna get to work with, you know, the industry leaders of all the biggest uh, biggest companies in the country, as well as all the smartest people doing science, doing r and d, and, and be able to sit in the middle of that and like marinate all in all of that.

It was super [00:22:00] cool. Great opportunity. The theory of change for that program is that if you work with leaders to share their success stories they, they're a role model for everyone else that's not in the program, right? And, and not not just the biggest, most well known companies are leaders, right?

You can find leadership in small local community, you know, local governments, mom and pop shop businesses. Similar theory of change for finding champions. So, there's usually a champion at every company and they might not know it yet. And if you help shine a light on them, right, that's gonna empower them.

It's gonna empower their role at their company and ultimately it's gonna benefit their company in general. So for us, we were always looking to find that energy champion. And I think that's something that I have taken away as, you know, something to apply to the rest of my career or, or Other endeavors, right?

Like everyone can be a champion for something. You just gotta find them and help them. So that was a, a really cool space to work in. Coming out of that [00:23:00] program, I feel like, you know, the, the great skill that I think I developed from, from working in that environment was to really help again, the, the business people and the engineers and scientists speak a similar language.

Cuz often that can be that can be a challenge, right? Business you know, business jargon is always gonna be different from engineering jargon and sometimes people are saying the same thing and they just need help navigating that translating that for each other. For me, I feel like, you know, my, my career to date thus far, you know, I'm not an engineer, I'm also not a business person per se.

But I have figured out how to kind of sit in the middle of that and, and, you know, kind of really work both of those angles and, and help both, both sides come, come towards common, common goals, common solutions which I think, you know, people always want.

[00:23:51] James Dice: Absolutely.

[00:23:52] Cindy Zhu: yeah.

[00:23:53] James Dice: teach this, what you're describing right now, we teach in our foundations course. It's important for smart buildings. It's also important for energy [00:24:00] management. Decarbonization, kind of like you're saying. We teach it as the champion mindset, right? So you just described like one aspect of the champion mindset, and it's super important.

And I feel like all, everyone, like we're doing this big exercise right now at Nexus to figure out like who are all the players in the ecosystem and what categories do they fit in, what roles do they play? But it's important to realize that all of us can like embody that mindset no matter where we sit.

Are you a vendor? Are you a service provider? Are you a building owner? Are you the intern? Are you the janitor? Right? It doesn't matter. We're all sort of trying to align

ourselves around this, this change, whatever that change may be. And yeah, I love that, that champion mindset.

[00:24:43] Cindy Zhu: Yeah. And actually now that you've mentioned janitors one really cool case study that one of the partners I worked with through this program was actually building out a green janitors like, like, awards program. Cuz they, they recognize that like janitors are like, [00:25:00] First people that interact with a building that are always there, that go to different parts of the building and can be an advocate or eyes on the ground for identifying, you know, green, green or energy efficient solutions.

And being able to recognize them for, for you know, going out of their way and doing that type of work was something that helped, helped that company you know, find energy savings.

[00:25:22] James Dice: Awesome. All right. This is all great context on who you are and your expertise. Let's dive into, Gabs. So let's maybe start with just what are they,

[00:25:34] Cindy Zhu: Yeah, for sure. Um, So maybe backing up a little bit I'm gonna just drop a couple more acronyms because, you know, it wouldn't be a conversation about federal or public sector without dropping a million acronyms. But I feel like your audience might already know about ems. Right. So energy management and information systems these are software usually software technologies that pull in a [00:26:00] whole bunch of different energy data and tries to make some sense of it.

So provide some analytics but basically helps you you know, the, the term in this industry is measure what you then can manage, right? So you gotta measure your energy use in order to manage it in some way. The next

[00:26:18] James Dice: you move on from that one, Cindy, I would be remiss not to mention my, my former n r colleagues would be mad at me if I didn't mention that. We wrote slash i, you know, wrote the Federal Energy Management Program's Guide to EISs. And we'll put that link in the show notes. So my, my team and I wrote, I should say,

[00:26:37] Cindy Zhu: Cool. Yeah. So from emi you've got some other kind of subcate. So the next one I'm gonna drop is aso, which means automated systems optimization. And that ASO is what prescriptive data's core product NASM OS falls under. So basically an ASO is an emmis that can then [00:27:00] do some automation to optimize building systems to reduce energy, right?

So, we're talking about you know, integrating to your building automation system being able to take some of those EMIS analytics to then run your building in a way that reduces energy reduces load demand, all that good stuff. So with Gabs, so Gabs are kind of like a supercharged version of Emmis and aso and the new piece that Gabs are bringing in, which you mentioned is the, the connectivity to the grid, right?

And that can happen couple different ways. My time at DOE is kind of, you know, when the road mapping for Gabs started and, and the acronym came out as well. So Gabs are pretty new, right? So everything that kind of comes out in the r and d world takes years to really hit industry and, and, and real, and the real world.

So because of that, there's not a, a common definition [00:28:00] of what makes up a GB right now. So, there are some characteristics of, of what gbs could be like. So I'll, I'll talk a little bit about what those characteristics. And then and then give some examples of how gabs are kind of coming to market right now.

Cuz again, you know, it's not like there's one type of gab and everything has to fit it. This is all very you know, driving the car while we're building it, type of type of space. So four characteristics for Gabs.

[00:28:30] James Dice: Can I pause you real quick?

When you were, when you were at DOE and this concept just started to come about, is there, is there like a defining like story around why, like what was the, what was the impetus for like why this

[00:28:47] Cindy Zhu: yeah, yeah. No, that's a

[00:28:49] James Dice: had to be.

[00:28:49] Cindy Zhu: good question. Yeah, I think a lot of it is just coming from renewable energy, right? Solar power becoming more prevalent. Batteries kind of starting but really solar, [00:29:00] solar and wind. So, you know, the, the intermittent of renewable energy. Creates challenges on the grid.

So, best example is California and California's duck curve. And what that means is California's estate was really successful in convincing homeowners and businesses to adopt rooftop solar. They were so successful that, you know, during the day all of their cust power customers are, are using renewable energy from their solar panels.

But then when the sun sets all at once, all at the same time, those homes and businesses powered by solar are gonna have to transition from their rooftop solar arrays to pulling energy from the grid. So the demand on the grid goes from zero to, you know, really high, very quickly. And that type of kind of, unreliability right, that really provides challenges for grid op grid operators.

So. happening [00:30:00] in California right now, I think starting to happen in Hawaii as well. Other states are, you know, able to kind of look, look towards those examples as well. We don't want that to happen over here, right? So how do we, how do we make sure that the, the demand on the grid is reliable at all times?

So that really, I think generated the, the, the, the big picture questions of well, how do we prevent that from happening at other states and also nationally, how do we anticipate all the other sources of renewable energy that are, are gonna come online? And are, you know, obviously starting to come online now.

batteries, ev charging fuel cells. All the stuff that, you know is happening as we speak has to be considered. When thinking about what the grid of, of, of the near future and the far future need to look like.

[00:30:49] James Dice: Love it. Yeah, that's a. Great explanation of of, I didn't want people to think like the doe just like made up this category and just decided it was a thing, but it's [00:31:00] actually really needed.

Yeah.

Thank you.

[00:31:02] Cindy Zhu: sure. Cool. So let's go back to uh, what are the characteristics of a grid, interactive or efficient building, gabs? So first and foremost uh, gabs are efficient, right? So, we want buildings that persistently have low energy use which will, you know, minimize overall overall impact. On, on the grid.

So these are buildings that have gone after all their low hanging fruit. They've done their l e D retrofits. They've, you know, commissioned their building. They've got up to date controls for that building. The next characteristic is that they're connected. So this is that two way connection with your utility grid.

And the build and the systems within your building. We can talk a little bit about the communications protocols that, that are, you know, also being developed and evolved to, to support Gabs. But uh, connection to the grid. It could be as simple as pricing, right? Real-time pricing signals having time of use rates you know, impacting how you're [00:32:00] operating the building.

The next uh, characteristic is that it's smart. So this is sort of where the smart buildings come into play. So, a smart building has lots of analytics in it. There are sensors throughout the building. There are controls in some sort of control system that can uh, uh, help you operate that building.

And that smart building will also hopefully consider occupants which is, you know, occupants are somehow usually the. The, the, the party that get gets left out when we talk about buildings, but they're, they're the most part, important part of the, of the building. And I think you know, throughout the past few pandemic years, we've kind of realized you know, how, how exactly occupants p play a big role in, in actual op operations.

And then the final characteristic of a gb GB is that it's flexible. So what that means is that it has energy loads that can be reduced. It could be shifted, it could be modulated. Whether [00:33:00] that's through integration to a onsite solar system or onsite battery system, or it's just got energy loads that can, that that can be reduced or, or flexed by itself.

That that's what that flexible load meaning is.

Um, So that, that's what the that's generally the concept of a gab. So as you can see, you know, a couple different ways that, that a building can can turn into a gab. Technology is a big part of that. And we are really just starting to see gabs really proliferate into the market, especially amongst market leaders.

So there's been a couple different funding opportunities that have come out of the doe as well as gsa, the General Services Administration to to you know, push gabs out into the market. The first that I'll talk about has come out of GS a's proving ground program. So this is a [00:34:00] program that really vets and evaluates new technologies that can ultimately.

Get adopted by by federal buildings. The GSA is the nation's largest landlord. So lot, huge, huge portfolio. Lots of opportunity to test technologies. And, you know, with federal buildings you know, federal buildings have been mandated to reduce energy and to now to reduce emissions in a, in a way that I would personally say has been more aggressive than on the private sector side.

Right. So, of, with this proving ground opportunity they went out to to seek software solutions that can fit that EMIS with ASO category that I mentioned earlier. Prescriptive data was selected as one of the companies to to demonstrate those capabilities. That is actually how I first heard of the company.

I was on. The, the review board, the review side to select an EMIS solution that could then be [00:35:00] tested in, in GSA sites. So that, that happened in about 2018. I'm happy to say that the white paper for those evaluation sites came out last fall. So 2022. So four years later, we've got results from that.

And I would encourage your listeners, if you're interested in, in, in that just Google GSA emis with aso and you'll find a really awesome one pager that summarizes all of it. But then, you know, the 30 page paper for, for the nerds that wanna get into the details. So out of that proving ground effort GSA decided to do a, another evaluation related evaluation looking at Gabs, right?

So they opened it up again, looked for technology vendors that could provide Gabs prescriptive data was selected for that. So. NATO right now is being evaluated at a courthouse in in, in Las Vegas under Nevada Energy Territory. And specifically we're being evaluated for our b our ability [00:36:00] to automate demand response with a utility signal as well as automate demand management.

So the demand management piece I wanna talk a little bit about because it's pretty cool. Um, So from from the first set of uh, uh, demonstrations en re who's,

who's the m and V lab for these projects found that ntm is able to predict a building's uh, uh, load as well as peak load out into the future, right?

So that's the load forecasting capabilities. And there's machine learning packages that take in, you know, a building's historical performance, localized weather forecasts As well as a bunch of other data to really predict that future forecast. So once you're able to predict future load, you can do all sorts of really cool analytics and, and predictive and, and prescriptive measures on top of that.

And so we are taking that five day forecast and and we're, we're gonna predict [00:37:00] another capability, which is based on your predictions of your energy use into the future, are you at risk of resetting your billing periods? P and this is important because if you've ever looked at a energy bill, especially for large commercial users peak demand charges are a big, big chunk of that.

Right? So you've got your energy use and then you've got your demand use. And those demand charges, depending on, you know, where you're, where you're getting your energy from, can be quite high. So California, Northeast Hawaii, very large peak demand charges. DC's about to ramp up their peak demand charges.

So anyone in the capital region this is relevant, Texas, pretty cheap. So, you know, just goes to show that this country is a, is a country of tiny countries Um, so with that peak demand prediction what NASM can then do is help you avoid resetting those peaks, right? So then we're, we're spitting out a [00:38:00] optimal demand limit which is a value that the building can then monitor keep track of.

And then if that building is coming close to surpassing their demand limit, it can go into some automated strategies to reduce load. So, peak demand management very utility cost focused, right? We can't leave costs out of the conversation for these, you know, new technologies because that is what real estate owners and operators do care about.

. So, so that's the GSA project. And then the next one that I'll mention which we are not currently involved in, but is, is a really cool effort for your listeners to stay up to date on is a D DOE funding award called Connected Communities. That came out in 2020 and I think nine projects were selected.

They're really just getting started on it. It's a, it's a long-term project which you know, DOE doesn't usually fund these long-term opportunities, but because Gabs is again, such a, a new concept and really just getting started into the [00:39:00] market that they are, they have funded these five-year awards.

But the concept there is to really think about how buildings can act as communi communities with, with each other and potentially share load with each other. Right. So imagine you've got a commercial building whose energy use peaks in the afternoon versus a residential building whose energy use peaks, you know, in the evening when people come home.

And then you've got other buildings that have DERs connected to it that can generate generate energy. How can these kind of combine with each other and really share energy, use and share load with each other? And what are the technologies, the integrations, the connections that need to happen in order to essentially, you know, create this, this connected community.

Other terms that I've heard are, you know, virtual power plant that can kind of maneuver these signals around. So that's something to definitely keep uh, keep up to date on. These project teams are usually technology vendors, paired with utilities, [00:40:00] paired with nonprofits, paired with local governments.

Cuz again, this, this all is gonna eventually manifest at the, at the local level. Which, you know, everything good that happens is localized. Right.

[00:40:11] James Dice: Absolut. So before we move on to utilities, I don't wanna kind wanna dive into that for people that don't really understand, what does it mean for them, the building to connect with the grid. I want to go into that side of things, but first can you kind of summarize, those are the sort of doe, gsa government, you know, funded. EB projects. I, I would love to get a sense for like what other projects are happening, you know, that you're a part of that are sort of outside of that ecosystem. Can you sort of summarize what's going on?

[00:40:43] Cindy Zhu: Yeah. Yeah. I think, um, Gabs as well as the, the ASO term that is starting to get out. Into the utility space. And so, you know, leaving the federal r and d, you know, heavily research funded world and getting implemented out [00:41:00] into the utility world or the, you know, state and local space that you know, might have funding for it, but is ready to kind of figure out how does this work in, in their environment.

Okay. So two examples for this that prescriptive data is active in right now. So we've had some a couple years of collaboration and partnership with Salt River Project which is a electric utility in the Phoenix metro area in Arizona. They've got a really cool group uh, internal.

Called customer innovations that specifically looks at new technologies that can ultimately be turned into a customer program. Hopefully. So, that group, they'll take technologies and then they'll, they'll run pilots within their own portfolio of buildings that their employees um, uh, work in as well as pilot at a customer partner partner up there.

So I think that's a really cool model for utilities to basically, you know, try to talk the talk and walk the walk with new technologies. And also make [00:42:00] sure, again, the whole concept of r and d not happening in a vacuum, but supporting you know, ultimate program goals utility goals. So we've been working with 'em on the automated demand response piece, as well as the automated demand management piece that I just talked about.

With the, you know, end goal of hopefully really scaling automated DR with them. The second thing I'll talk about which is very new for us is working within the New York City space. So our kind of home playground. But narta has run a program for many years called the Realtime Energy Management Program, rte.

And RTE has been very successful in the New York state, but particular the downstate, you know, Manhattan space in advancing technologies like ours. So software technologies, EISs, asos into the market. And so we will be working with Narta on a very very cool pilot related to Gabs.

And essentially proving out that a building can act like a [00:43:00] battery, right? So a building that has flexible loads. Can shift or shed those loads very quickly, just like a battery can be dispatched very quickly. So be, we will be working with our one of our big customers uh, rooted Management to prove out that, you know, if you are able to automate curtailment strategies using a software like naum and then using our ability to run fast demand response activities, you can actually send a signal to the building, have them shift or shed a significant amount of load in a very quick time span.

So Narta is interested in seeing this type of reaction within 15 minutes which essentially is, you know, how, how quickly a, a battery could respond.

Um, And then with the, the ultimate goal here is that, you know, there's a lot of utility incentives getting stood up right now to convince people to buy you know, storage for their buildings.

But in New York, there's space constraints, [00:44:00] right? You can't just put a big battery on a tiny little high-rise rooftop. There's a lot of F D N Y regulations around that. So instead of incentivizing batteries for building owners, what if you could just incentivize this very quick, you know, battery like flexible load strategy.

So we'll be working on, on that through this year with Urda and, you know, excited to hopefully share results and findings next year.

[00:44:23] James Dice: Yeah, we'll have to have you come back and talk about the results. Thank you. You know, GZ gets talking about a lot and it's more of a, this is what we need to do in the future sort of way. So I really appreciate you sort of coming on and talking about active projects that are happening

right now and then pinning it down.

Okay, this is an EMIS with ASO capability, and here are the capabilities that that sort of software product has. I think that was really, really valuable to sort of frame it in that way. So thank you. Before we move on to utilities, let me do a quick message from our second sponsor. So we, we had one of our most popular episodes ever which [00:45:00] was episode 44 with the legendary John Petsy who just retired in December.

So, uh, thank you to John for an awesome career. John founded our co-founded um, Skys Spark. They're our second sponsor for this episode. Sky Foundry created the product. Skys Spark. It's a comprehensive software platform for connecting, storing, analyzing, and visualizing data from smart devices and equipment systems.

So head over to sky founder.com. white papers, case studies, blog posts, and everything they have about their, their product that's been around for one of the longest products that's been around and, and they're still kicking. So thank you to Sky Foundry for supporting the show. So Cindy, let's jump into utility side.

So we don't talk about this very much. We talk about, we've talked about virtual power plants, we've talked about how utilities have a hard time sharing their data with their customers. I think back to the archive of episodes, we haven't talked about sort of, what's going on in the utility business space, [00:46:00] and particularly in context with, with gab.

Utilities want buildings to be flexible. But I'd love to just sort of, as a utility expert yourself, sort of pick your brain around why that is, sort of what's going on in the utility. Right now, and I wanna circle back definitely as part of this conversation into, you mentioned communication protocols.

I think that's an interesting piece to dive into around, okay, how exactly are buildings getting connected to the grid and what are the, what are the methodologies there? But let's just start broad, so, so where would you start in terms of describing to this audience, sort of what's going on in the utility space?

[00:46:36] Cindy Zhu: Cool. Yeah, and I'll, I'll definitely say I'm not a utilities expert. So, you know, I'm coming at my experience from the building owner and sort of operator perspective. So, learning all about how utilities how it run and operate has been a, a new endeavor for me. And you know, honestly, really eye-opening I think the, the highest level to understand is that, you know, utilities, their ultimate [00:47:00] goal is to balance the supply of energy that they have with the demand for energy from their customers.

Like that is the, the highest level golden rule to do that. And, and, you know, they need to ensure that reliability otherwise bad things happen. Like blackouts. But they also wanna maintain customer satisfaction, right? So that at the end of the day, they're selling power and they wanna keep those customers happy.

And if anything disrupts that balance of supply and demand that's, that's when bad things happen. So they can do this basically in two different ways, right? So if, if there's more demand than than supply they can get more supply, right? And that might mean building more infrastructure. So the, the poles and the wires that bring you know, electricity from primary sources of energy far away to city centers, urban areas where people actually use electricity.

Those are long term projects. Those are really expensive. You know, big, big dollars dollar projects. . [00:48:00] The other option is they can work on the demand side, right? So, one of the tools at play, or actually maybe let's talk about two of the tools at play. So one is running energy efficiency programs, right?

These are the incentive programs to retrofit equipment at buildings that will ultimately reduce end user energy use. Or there's the demand management play, right? So, we're thinking demand response programs which can offer financial incentives to customers for reducing energy load at certain times, usually the hottest days of the summer.

Their demand management programs that, you know, try to encourage buildings to reduce their everyday demand. I talked a little bit about that earlier. So these type of programs that utilities will set up to really engage customers. Usually there's incentives involved, right? So the utility may work with various implementers.

Payout incentives to encourage their customers to produce energy. These type of [00:49:00] programs are easier to easier and cheaper to build out than the supply side, right, where you're talking long term planning infrastructure projects. So, that demand side is really where you're, you're starting to see technology vendors like, like ours, like prescriptive data really try to embed into and kind of, work alongside utilities to, to figure out.

The other thing I think is worth mentioning is gabs, again, new concept lot of it's still in r and d, lot of it's still being figured out. Lot of it has to happen with utilities at the table. And that's a role that traditionally utilities are not used to that. Innovation role that you know, quick changing type role technology forward role.

So, that is a new type of of, of requirement. I would say it's kind of mandatory, right? Utilities, the utility business is over a hundred years old and [00:50:00] it's, it's not exactly a one that is that, that is modern and, and can evolve quickly. But utilities are being asked to, to do a lot that they're not used to,

[00:50:09] James Dice: And the status quo for, for gabs. Right now, the way that you talk about it is basically the owner. It's coming from the owner side and they're basically saying like, you know, right now, can I minimize my demand charge? Like you said, can I maybe respond to a signal that maybe comes from the utility or maybe comes from somewhere else to do demand response?

It's not necessarily like what people sort of project it to be in the future, which is this two way street of communication happening today. And I think mostly it is because there's limitations on, well, we have to set up the technology on the building side, but that's solvable easily. It doesn't feel like there's that same easily solvable problem on the utility side.

It sounds. Seems like that side of things has a lot more innovation that needs to happen.

[00:50:57] Cindy Zhu: Yeah. Yeah. And I think data [00:51:00] transparency is a key part of unlocking that, you know, stronger two-way communication. If you think about a smart building by itself, you know, a very smart, connected building, that operator, they can see what each subsystem is doing when, you know, what, what energy use patterns throughout the day.

Their central plan is doing, their airside systems are doing. If you think about the utility side, Usually the, the amount of data they have about where we, where and wet energy being is being used stops at the substation level, right? So they have no idea what these super smart, connected buildings that are downstream of that substation are even doing.

So you might have really cool, connected, smart buildings happening in a community somewhere, but from the utility perspective, they, they don't have any information about that. And without that you know, those, those smart analytics, they, they can't really use that data. Or, you [00:52:00] know, they don't have that data to make smarter decisions about reliability, planning, about you know, targeting customers for specific programs, all that all that good stuff that, you know, if, if we're able to kind of, pull the curtain back with, with that data, that flow of data you can imagine a lot, a lot better planning can be done.

[00:52:19] James Dice: Absolutely. So let's, let's circle back on the communications protocols. Can you talk about, maybe talk about open adr, but then also talk about how it's done without open ad.

[00:52:34] Cindy Zhu: Yeah, sure. So open a d r is a communication protocol. It's a standard. It, it a lot of it originated from LB and L actually. And so the, the protocol is really meant to help utilities and grid related technology companies have communication with each other. So similar to how the controls industry really stood up, backnet as the standard [00:53:00] for data flow and data architecture within the building control system.

Open ADR is trying to do that for the grid with. Things that couldn't connect to the grid. It, I would say it's, it's gotten, it's gotten pretty good adoption on the west coast because it came outta California. It's gotten decent adoption abroad actually. So Japan and some other global countries have adopted it.

It's starting to trickle out to the East coast and, you know, to the rest of the us. Open ADR also maintains a member alliance called I think, I think the Open ADR alliance. That is you know, trying to bring together utilities technologists to advance adoption of of, of adr as well as prove out case studies, you know, spread the word.

Open ADR is what can enable automated demand response programs, right. So there's uh, two terms that that are good to know. So the Open ADR enables a virtual top node. That's [00:54:00] basically any entity that can send a signal out, and then a virtual end node. So that's the end node that can receive that signal.

So that end node, it could be a building automation system, it could be a EB charging system. Essentially it's gonna take that signal and then it's gonna follow those instructions whenever the, the message tells it to do something. So, these two components essentially can enable shifting of loads, shedding of loads, modulation of loads.

So it's the, the communication or the glue that kind of holds all of that together. And, and really you know, you can imagine what, what can happen if, if we have free flowing communication happening between grid and, and, and new system.

[00:54:43] James Dice: Absolutely. Okay. Last thing I wanted to ask you about on the utility side is in order for gabs to take off, right, I've always kind of felt like there needs to be some sort of reflection of the value of flexibility in the rate, [00:55:00] right?

In other words, give me some sort of signal based on time of day, right?

There are time of use rates, right? They're not spread everywhere, but there isn't. there. There isn't a variable rate in most cases. Can you talk about like where that's at and where that kind of needs to go?

[00:55:17] Cindy Zhu: Yeah. Yeah. So, with rate planning rate planning and rate design is another tool or lever that utilities have in order to kind of affect that demand side of, of energy

[00:55:31] James Dice: right?

They could price in the value of flexibility. They could price in the value of carbon. They could price into anything. Right.

[00:55:38] Cindy Zhu: Yep, exactly. So, time of use rates is one example of how that's starting to happen. Time of use, use rates more prevalent on the west coast, I think, than on the east coast right now. There are also real-time rates that are, you know, taking the real price of energy from the supply side and filtering that down to to the customer end user side.

There's a lot of planning [00:56:00] going around with ev charging right now too, right? So when is the best time to charge how do you price those time periods so that it, it influences the behavior of ev charge charging owners as well. I think all of this is moving very quickly. As DERs are coming online very quickly, and again, this goes back to utilities just not moving very quickly or able to move very quickly.

Especially with rate planning and rate design, like those things are multi-step often have multiple rounds of like community review and and rape case making. They ultimately have to be approved by, you know, the public Utilities Commission commissioner if you're in a state that has that.

So it's a slow moving cycle. But it is, it is happening. It's happening as we speak. And I think all of those pieces have to work together in order to create the best environment to make or have gabs be as, as functional and, and as useful as we want them to be.

[00:56:58] James Dice: [00:57:00] Absolutely. Well, Cindy, this has been awesome. Thanks so much for, for coming on the show. You're a, you're a depth of knowledge on this topic. You, you said you aren't an expert, but you'd know more about utilities than 99.9% of

people. So I think you are. Let's end with some carve outs. I'd love to hear if there are any books, TV shows, documentaries, movies, et cetera, other media, right, that have had a, a big impact on you lately.

[00:57:28] Cindy Zhu: Cool. Yeah, I love this question. And, you know, coming from from this industry, from a biology perspective, I'm always inspired by authors and writing and movies that are more on the biodiversity and nature side. So one of my favorite authors is also one. The most favorite famous scientist of his time, EO Wilson.

he is a, an biologist, or he was, he recently [00:58:00] passed, I think last year. But he's written a number of books that really come from a perspective of hope for why we should protect our earth. Why you know, everything evolved to be, to work together, to, to, to be you know, in symbiosis with each other.

So whenever I'm feeling like really depressed about climate or where, where things are, I always go back to his readings to just get some little, you know, inspiration and hope. And he writes short essays, so, you know, you don't need to tackle whole book, whole book at at

[00:58:35] James Dice: Is there a particular book or essay?

[00:58:37] Cindy Zhu: So I have this one right next to me, but this is called The Future of Life.

So it's, it's really these short vignettes of, of why we need to protect nature and protect our earth and why it's worth doing so, and again, coming from a hopeful perspective. The other TV show that I loved, love, love last year is so [00:59:00] I, I'm sure everyone's familiar with Planet Earth and David Attenborough and Planet Earth too, and all the amazing camera work and like, you know, dances in videography that have happened between the first and second series.

But Apple tv, I think last year released Prehistoric Planet, which is also David Attenborough narrating, but it's all CGI and it's all dinosaurs and it looks absolutely amazing. There's maybe five or six episodes and they have finally figured out how to CGI dinosaurs with feathers, and it looks so good.

So I absolutely love, love those episodes and it's, you know, filmed in a way as if it looks like it's planet Earth which is really cool. And then my final piece that I think I'll leave you with is I mentioned I just moved to Seattle, so I am new to the Pacific Northwest after, you know, 10 years living in New York and DC and kind of grinding it out, on the east coast.

And I just continue to [01:00:00] be inspired just by the Pacific Northwest. And how, you know, just mountains, water, lakes, you know, the ocean, like it's all so close by and it's, it's so incredible. I never thought you could live in a city and that that's also still just so beautiful, you know, within, within the urban environment.

. And one really cool thing that I learned recently I don't know if you're on TikTok or not, but Seattle got this big ice freeze that the week bef around Christmas when like the whole country was in the polar vortex. And everything froze over and Seattle's very hilly. So there were all these like silly TikTok videos of people like sliding down the sidewalks and like car parked, cars just like sliding down.

Like for a brief, like half day. Seattle was like the, the main character of the internet, which is kind of funny . But there were a lot of people asking like, why didn't you guys [01:01:00] salt? Or, you know, like, why weren't you prepared for this winter weather? And the reason why they can't salt out here is because all of the runoff here goes into tributary streams.

Or directly into the ocean that supports, you know, all the salmon that, that really are critical to the environment out here. So, I had never thought of that of that before. Right. Because, you know, I come from New York where they salt very well, but there's also just salt everywhere and, you know, ruins your shoes and plants.

But just thinking about like the, the connection between what humans do to the the world that we live in, right? We're all connected. So, kind of goes back to, you know, all the things that I care about is, you know, we, we as a species, we as a population, we, we impact our surroundings and, you know, we need to be careful about that.

[01:01:52] James Dice: I love that and I love the three that you shared. Such a great collection of

different media. [01:02:00] Even you're the first person that's brought TikTok into the carve out. So thank you. I'm feeling compelled. I don't always share a carve out, but I'm feeling compelled to share. Cause you talked about Metaverses earlier

or

[01:02:11] Cindy Zhu: your, what's your metaverse? James

[01:02:14] James Dice: It's not necessarily a metaverse recommendation, but it's more of a multiverse recommendation where you mentioned earlier when you were talking about your career, Choosing to go one way, and then, you know, you're, it splits off into a different version of yourself in a different different, whatever you want to call it, domain multiverse, whatever you wanna call it.

But everything everywhere, all at once. It's a movie that I

[01:02:37] Cindy Zhu: Love that movie.

[01:02:39] James Dice: Okay. It's so good. It's so, so good. I could probably do without some of the quirky, quirky details, but it's endearing in that

way

[01:02:47] Cindy Zhu: you didn't like the hotdog fingers.

[01:02:49] James Dice: dog fingers or just, I could do without every of, every one of the scenes with hot dog

fingers.

But it's a great, it's a really, really great movie. My wife and I watched it twice in a row in the same [01:03:00] day because we just like, there's so much going on and

[01:03:02] Cindy Zhu: I love it.

Yeah.

[01:03:04] James Dice: really feel it.

[01:03:05] Cindy Zhu: through it.

[01:03:06] James Dice: Yeah. Yeah. So we'll put that in the shed notes for people that want to check all four of those carve outs out.

It's

a bonus episode of four carve outs. So again, Cindy, thanks so much for coming on the show. I hope to see you soon at a conference near us.

[01:03:22] Cindy Zhu: Great. And I actually have I have one dad joke that I'm gonna leave you with because

whenever I educate people on these, you know, kind of dry topics, I usually like to pepper in some dorky jokes. Alright. So why are wireless appliances bad at music?

[01:03:42] James Dice: I don't know why

[01:03:44] Cindy Zhu: They don't know any chords.

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"Data transparency is a key part of unlocking stronger two-way communication. If you think about the utility side, usually the amount of data they have about where and when energy is being used stops at the substation level. So you might have a really connected smart building but the utility side doesn't have the data to make smarter decisions about reliability, planning, targeting customers for specific programs, etc. If we're able to pull the curtain back with that data, a lot better planning can be done."

—Cindy Zhu

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Episode 136 is a conversation with Cindy Zhu, Director of Grid Services at Prescriptive Data.

Summary

We primarily cover grid-interactive efficient buildings, or GEB, my second least favorite acronym in our industry (behind SPOG of course).

GEB implies a connection between the electric utility and the building, or more specifically, the ability for a building to be a resource to the grid and provide demand flexibility. This is important so we can tailor our buildings’ load profiles to closely match when the grid is cleanest and help it become more resilient.


️️🏢 A message from our sponsor, Jaros, Baum & Bolles 🏢

Building intelligence engineering allows OT and IT systems to seamlessly and securely integrate with each other and onto common platforms. Creating a successful building intelligence strategy entails translating the owner’s goals to outcomes, use cases, intelligent building technologies, and enhanced MEP systems.

To learn more about what JB&B is calling “MEP 3.0” and the value of building intelligence design, as well as the difference between smart and intelligent buildings, listen to JB&B’s Division Lead’s conversation with the global certification company WiredScore.


Mentions and Links

  1. NYSERDA (10:35)
  2. Prescriptive Data (13:17)
  3. Clean Energy Leadership Institute (15:27)
  4. Better Buildings Initiative (20:53)
  5. Nexus Foundations (23:56)
  6. The Future of Life Paperback by Edward O. Wilson (58:41)
  7. Prehistoric Planet (59:15)
  8. Everything Everywhere All at Once (1:02:35)

You can find Cindy on LinkedIn.

Enjoy!

Highlights

  • How smart is Cindy's home? (1:57)
  • Cindy's background (4:09)
  • DOE's role in the smart buildings industry (19:13)
  • Grid-interactive efficient buildings (25:28)
  • The practical side of GEB (40:25)
  • Utility innovation (45:44)
  • Open ADR (52:25)
  • Carveouts (57:19)

☁️ A message from our sponsor, SkySpark ☁️

SkySpark is a comprehensive software platform for connecting, storing, analyzing and visualizing data from smart devices and equipment systems. SkySpark’s automated analytics, KPIs, Energy and GhG Apps, turn your data into actionable intelligence providing improved performance, reduced downtime, and operational savings.

Head over to SkyFoundry.com for insightful white papers, case studies, and blog posts, as well as a link to sign up for a free demo.


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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!

[00:00:00] James Dice: Hello and welcome to the Nexus Podcast. This is a conversation with Sydney Zoo, director of Grid Services at prescriptive data. We're gonna cover primarily grid interactive, efficient buildings, or gbs, which is my second least favorite acronym in our industry. Behind single pane of glass or spag is my least favorite.

So GBS implies a connection between the electric utility and the building, or more specifically, the ability for a building to be a resource on the grid and provide demand flexibility. This is important so we can, tailor our building's load profiles that closely match the grid to when the grid as cleanest and help it.

More resilient.

[00:01:00]

[00:01:13] James Dice: As we covered in our latest white paper on the five vital roles, smart buildings require engineering that allows OT and IT system to seamlessly and securely integrate with each other and onto common platforms. Creating a successful building intelligence strategy entails translating the owner's goals to outcomes, use cases, intelligent building technologies, and enhanced MEP systems.

To learn more about what JB and B is calling MEP 3.0 and the value of building intelligence design, as well as the difference between smart and intelligent buildings, check out our friends at JB and B and specifically their podcast conversation with wires core at the link in the show notes. All that being said, let's get started. Hello, Cindy. Let's start with a an icebreaker. How smart is your [00:02:00] home?

[00:02:00] Cindy Zhu: Oh, how smart is my home? Okay, so I recently moved out to Seattle this year but I'm working East Coast hours, so that means that I wake up super early. So one smart connected device. I've got a floor lamp in the bedroom that turns. At 5 15, 5 30. But I'm finding that it no longer wakes me up anymore, so it turns off and I just keep sleeping through it.

So I guess that's not, not the problem of advice. And then I've got an Alexa, but I don't know how smart she is sometimes she kind of just like starts talking. I'm like, shut up Alexa. And then I've got a, a Roomba, which I don't know if that counts as a, a smart device.

[00:02:46] James Dice: I think it does.

[00:02:47] Cindy Zhu: Yeah. So I've got three, three things,

[00:02:50] James Dice: Three devices is

pretty good.

[00:02:51] Cindy Zhu: say that they're doing too much.

[00:02:53] James Dice: Yeah, I think that might be more smart devices than I have, so well done. I love that.

[00:02:59] Cindy Zhu: Yeah. [00:03:00] And then I do have one more acronym to, to add to your bucket. That

[00:03:04] James Dice: to, to my bad acronyms list.

[00:03:07] Cindy Zhu: yeah. Yeah. I recently learned the term U ui, which stands for Unified User Interface. So I think that's, that's the competitor to the Spog.

[00:03:18] James Dice: Yeah, I love that. So that you don't like that one either.

[00:03:23] Cindy Zhu: I don't mind it.

[00:03:26] James Dice: All right.

[00:03:27] Cindy Zhu: out of the gsa, so, you know, maybe they said we reject Spog. We're gonna give you another one.

[00:03:33] James Dice: I think to me, SPAG and also probably with u u I, it's not necessarily the acronym, it's that I don't agree with the concept of a spog, the way that most people define what it means. And we don't have to get into that because I've, I think I've complained enough another episodes about that. But it'd have to be, we'd have to figure out what u u I actually means and what people think it means to like, figure out whether it's on my shit list, you know?

[00:03:59] Cindy Zhu: [00:04:00] Yeah, well I'll look out for it.

[00:04:02] James Dice: All right. Let's jump into you. So can you tell me about your, your background?

[00:04:06] Cindy Zhu: Yeah, sure thing. So I will be the first to say that I. Came to this industry, buildings, real estate energy efficiency, probably a little bit differently than most. I am not an engineer by trade. I don't even think I, I think like an engineer. I asked more questions than provide solutions. I studied biology and fine arts in undergrad.

I always loved both science and art. That was more of a conflict for me when I was younger. Like, I would have like dreams about should I go this way or that way all the time. I don't anymore. But, and I think that sort of interdisciplinary approach, has really helped me in my career.

In undergrad I studied developmental biology and molecular biology. So really how [00:05:00] does a single cell turn into. A complicated human being or a complicated ecosystem. I always thought I would go the academia route with biology. But a really cool opportunity that I had right after undergrad really kind of, changed my, changed my career path and kind of led to me being where I am right now.

So I know there's been a lot of talk of like multiverses in pop culture recently, so I definitely feel like there's a, a multiverse me somewhere that kind of went that more traditional path. But right after undergrad, I got the opportunity to move to Doha, Qatar, where my undergrad Carnegie Mellon had set up a new. And they were setting up the biology degree for the first time the year that I finished school. So, I got to go out there to really help stand up the bio lab and to, um, really act as a, a ta [00:06:00] for many of the incoming freshman students. As well as several upperclassmen who were getting into the, the bio labs to complete their degree.

So this was 20 13, 20 12, 20 13. Qatar had just won the World Cup bid. So the year that I was out there, there was a lot of buzz and excitement about that and some of the construction had started, but it was quite, quite new. So this year, the World Cup was pretty interesting for me just to see how much, how much development had happened.

Up until I, I went out there, I had never really thought about energy. Before had had never really thought about climate before or climate solutions, climate change. My sort of perspective was really from the natural sciences, biology, biodiversity conservation, the, you know, the more kind of traditional science and, and science focused paths.

But I, I got out there and two interesting things happened that kind of [00:07:00] exposed me to the, the more climate and energy world. The first is that Qatar is, is a country that depends completely on exports to sustain life, right? So they have no clean water there. Every, everything that is, is potable water out there is desalinated.

Or you're buying big plastic bottles of water to drink.

[00:07:22] James Dice: Hm.

[00:07:23] Cindy Zhu: But they are also one of the richest countries in the world, right? So they, they discovered natural gas, I think in the seventies. And that completely changed their way of life. Abu Dhabi part of the UAE nearby nearby golf country was, I think at the time they were building like one of the, the world's largest solar array out in the desert.

So tons and tons of sun all year round. Lots of land desert land to build these big infrastructure projects and a lot of like, political capital to get it done in those nations, right? So the tho these are kingdom nations. If they wanna build a huge [00:08:00] infrastructure project, they can just do it rather than, you know, all the, the red tape planning reviews, et cetera, that has to happen in, in countries in the west.

So. Kind of getting exposed to that was the first time that I was like, oh my God, what is happening? You know, what is all this? And then another cool thing that happened is the UN had their cop and I looked up, it was COP 18 was in Doha that year, and it was happening at the convention center that was right across from where all the Western University campuses are.

And as a staff member, we were able to like, go, go into the halls of, of the, of cop and kind of walk around and, and see what was going on. So, I was able to do that and, you know, first exposure to all these huge United Nations type events. First exposure to like the terms adaptation and mitigation, which, you know, back at that time, I, I definitely didn't really know what was going on, just.

There's all these countries that get together every year and work on these big, [00:09:00] huge, large scale problems that are related to climate, related to energy and like very, very far away from the, the world of just like pure science and, and research. So that was really cool. So my year living there really got my wheels turning and thinking like doing a PhD in a very niche bio biology topic is, is probably not the best or biggest impact that I could make.

And, you know, I was young. I wasn't really thinking about a job or anything, you know, I was just exploring like what was interesting what, what felt like it was invigorating and, and worth putting time into. Um, So that actually led me to, rather than, you know, going into a PhD program doing a master's in environmental policy.

Cuz that felt like it, it, it fit a little bit better. It's, it, it seemed very broad. Again, I wasn't trying to end up in a particular job or anything. I was really looking to, to find something that felt right, felt [00:10:00] like a right fit. And a PhD program did no longer felt like the right fit after I kind of got this more broad and, and exciting exposure to the world.

So very impactful year for me. I think about that year, all the time. It was fun, again, fun to kind of see Qatar in the, in the global stage um, this year or last year after having spent, you know, a short amount of time, but I would say a, a significant amount of time for me in my life.

[00:10:26] James Dice: absolutely.

It sounds

[00:10:28] Cindy Zhu: So after that moved back to the States started a grad program in New York City.

Got an internship at Erta which stands for the New York State Energy Research Development and authority. So basically like New York State's D oe. That's when I was first introduced to really the concept of energy efficiency for buildings, the concept of incentive programs, trying to retrofit you know, these old, old apartment buildings to be slightly more energy and water efficient.

[00:11:00] Part of my, my first job in the industry was really going out to buildings that had gone through the retrofit programs, gotten money for incentives, and then they were getting QA to, you know, make sure that you know, they did the things that they did. So I would go out and, you know, sample apartments in these buildings and make sure they had the right, you know, fitting faucets and shower heads.

So, you know, very like everyday things that impact. Regular people, right? People's homes. People's lives. Which was cool. And, and, you know, never thought that I would get to go to Coney Island as part of my job and like, go into people's homes to like, look at their bathrooms. It's a pretty, pretty strange, strange part of the world.

Shortly after that, I got the opportunity to move to dc joined the Department of Energy, the Building Technologies Office. This was let's see, 2015. So the Paris Agreement was in negotiations and about to be signed that year. The [00:12:00] Iran Nuclear deal was also being negotiated. So, there was a lot of, like these big, again, these big global efforts of countries coming together trying to work towards something you know, to, to help the planet.

And it, it felt like a very exciting time to join the federal energy r d space. So, that was awesome. 2016, you know, things changed a little bit uh, in DC so, you know, I like to tell people I had one Obama year at DOE and three Trump years, and, you know, learned, learned tons and experienced tons through all of that.

But, you know, great four years at doe. Really, really being exposed to the smartest researchers, the most advanced industry leaders. Um, You know, being able to be in that mix. I definitely credit those years to helping me advance and, and be where I am in my career now. And then, you know, I felt ready to leave DOE after four years.

I really wanted [00:13:00] to kind of leave the advocacy of advanced technology space and move into a. More boots on the ground role like how do we actually implement new technologies in real estate or in the built environment. And joined a company called Prescriptive Data based out of New York City software company that came out of real estate that is really focused on machine learning ai advanced technologies to help automate and optimize energy use as well as carbon carbon emissions reductions.

So I've been there for a little bit over three years now. Again, started in a very boots on the ground project development role. How do we actually make this all happen? What are the, the real, you know, real challenges and barriers to implementing new technologies? Um, And then about about a year ago I moved into a different role standing up what we're calling the grid services team.

Um, [00:14:00] At prescriptive data which is all about gbs. How do we use our software to help buildings become grid interactive and have flexible loads? How do we make this happen in, you know, in the US where policies and regulatory rules are different across, across state lines? And as well as, you know, the challenges of just selling to real estate, selling to building owners and operators who are very unfamiliar with some of these terms, right?

Machine learning, ai, all the, the kind of scary stuff that you know, we as technologists feel can have huge, great impact. But people as people are always gonna come a little bit nervous, a little bit unsure. So it's all about helping, helping to educate the market, helping to you know, make people not afraid of change and, and and technology, but you know, really help, help them understand that.

Things are, things are changing and it, it shouldn't be scary and, you know, we're not [00:15:00] trying to end people's careers or take their jobs away, but really help and enhance what they already do.

[00:15:07] James Dice: Absolutely. Thank you for that background. That's

so cool. so cool. that uh, a basically biology nerd and I mean that

endearingly can end up here

making buildings more intelligent. That's awesome.

[00:15:21] Cindy Zhu: And there are some of us in this space. I've, I've, I've come across them before. Yeah.

[00:15:26] James Dice: That's great. You also told me that you do some volunteering for the Clean Energy Leadership

Institute. Can you tell me a little bit? I've never heard of that.

And I wanted to make sure people, people, heard about this.

[00:15:37] Cindy Zhu: yeah, so I am a volunteer participant, alumni participant in a organization called or Clean Energy Leadership Institute. It's a nonprofit whose primary mission is to. Train and provide tools for professionals that are in the clean energy space to become leaders and to [00:16:00] influence and impact you know, those around them, and really build strong coalitions to move the entire country and world into a clean energy forward space.

The, the organization originated out of Washington, DC and some of the first few cohorts of fellows that they trained really came from the hill. So, you know, legislative aids lawyers that worked for congressmen and women that had clean energy or, or, you know, energy efficiency focus.

As part of their legislative identity and, and focus. And so the goal was to really help some of these young people come up to speed on renewable energy finance, technology policy, you know, all that good stuff. It has since evolved into being way, way larger than, than just that. Right. I think the clean energy space is very unique in that it's not a single industry, right?

Climate action covers [00:17:00] finance, technology, law all, all, all different parts of our economy. So what CLI is really trying to do is like create that cross-sectional, cross-cutting interactions connections, training and, and uh, really help not just young people anymore. I think it's, it's, it's really advanced to.

Touch all, all aspects of, of people's careers. Bringing people together, providing them with the tools and information to understand the topics, but also you know, help help people feel that they, they can make an impact, they can help others and, and just generally help, help us move into that clean energy future.

So the fellowship is now in DC New York San Francisco, Chicago as the city cohorts as well as several virtual you know, online cohorts that people outside of those cities can participate in. We're actually gonna be selecting the next round of fellows uh, for this fall in a couple months.

So,[00:18:00] fellowship is annual. There's a huge group of of alumni that are still connected, still volunteer their time and. And their expertise now to really train up the next cohort. So I think for anyone that knows someone that, you know, would benefit from this type of program or wants to participate themselves please go take a look at the Clean, clean Energy Leadership Institute organization.

[00:18:21] James Dice: Great. And one of my, my goals is to like, there's a lot of energy right now behind clean energy, especially clean tech. One of my goals is to make like that bigger audience, right? Realize that there's a ton of work, good work to be done in building technologies, right?

It's kind of like a smaller subset

[00:18:41] Cindy Zhu: Yeah, for sure.

[00:18:42] James Dice: overall

umbrella.

[00:18:43] Cindy Zhu: Yeah. And I think that's another thing that has evolved with the organization, right? It started out as you know, what is renewable energy? How do we, how do we understand solar? And now, You know, renewable energy covers battery storage, it covers nuclear as well. The end user side perspective, energy [00:19:00] efficiency that is, is looped in there as well.

So, again, it's the industry impacts so many different parts parts of our economy and, and I think the fellowship has adapted to reflect that.

[00:19:11] James Dice: Great. I'd love to spend a few minutes talking about the work at doe. You're obviously not there anymore, but you spent four years there. Can you, just for people that don't know what, what role in the smart buildings industry does the d o E play? Can you kind of describe all the different ways um, that there's an overlap there and that the DOE benefits all the people that might be listening to this

[00:19:35] Cindy Zhu: Yeah, of course. Yeah, so the Department of Energy is first and foremost a research institution. So, um, DOE at the federal level manages I a whole, whole bunch of national labs. I don't know the exact, the exact number. 17. Yeah. And, you know, through the national labs is how they really advance research not only in energy topics, but [00:20:00] also in other science science topics as well.

And then in addition to the research element there is a lot of engagement with industry. So the real estate industry, the buildings industry manufacturing. I'm really engaging industry leaders to help inform r and d so that, you know, research is not happening in a vacuum. But also connect research teams to what's going out on in the real world, right?

So what are the challenges that need a research focus? What are potential, you know, barriers that on, you know, on the research perspective, you wouldn't think of what are the market strategies that are, you know, in play or could be you know, advanced. And my role when I arrived at at at doe was to work on a large public private partnership program called the Better Buildings Initiative.

So the Better Buildings Initiative at the time was to again, work [00:21:00] directly with industry leaders to challenge them to set very aggressive energy reduction. Water reduction waste management reduction goals. Have them set their goals publicly have them work on sharing best practices and solutions.

And then finally provide recognition that national rec recognition that, you know, if you're a big brand like home Depot or Whole Foods, that's the type of stuff that you can't really get anywhere else, right? That, that recognition at that federal level um, saying that, Hey, you're a leader.

You're hitting your goals, you're sharing your, your secrets, your solutions. And so working in this program you know, I was in my, my mid twenties was honestly amazing for my career, right? Like, where else are you gonna get to work with, you know, the industry leaders of all the biggest uh, biggest companies in the country, as well as all the smartest people doing science, doing r and d, and, and be able to sit in the middle of that and like marinate all in all of that.

It was super [00:22:00] cool. Great opportunity. The theory of change for that program is that if you work with leaders to share their success stories they, they're a role model for everyone else that's not in the program, right? And, and not not just the biggest, most well known companies are leaders, right?

You can find leadership in small local community, you know, local governments, mom and pop shop businesses. Similar theory of change for finding champions. So, there's usually a champion at every company and they might not know it yet. And if you help shine a light on them, right, that's gonna empower them.

It's gonna empower their role at their company and ultimately it's gonna benefit their company in general. So for us, we were always looking to find that energy champion. And I think that's something that I have taken away as, you know, something to apply to the rest of my career or, or Other endeavors, right?

Like everyone can be a champion for something. You just gotta find them and help them. So that was a, a really cool space to work in. Coming out of that [00:23:00] program, I feel like, you know, the, the great skill that I think I developed from, from working in that environment was to really help again, the, the business people and the engineers and scientists speak a similar language.

Cuz often that can be that can be a challenge, right? Business you know, business jargon is always gonna be different from engineering jargon and sometimes people are saying the same thing and they just need help navigating that translating that for each other. For me, I feel like, you know, my, my career to date thus far, you know, I'm not an engineer, I'm also not a business person per se.

But I have figured out how to kind of sit in the middle of that and, and, you know, kind of really work both of those angles and, and help both, both sides come, come towards common, common goals, common solutions which I think, you know, people always want.

[00:23:51] James Dice: Absolutely.

[00:23:52] Cindy Zhu: yeah.

[00:23:53] James Dice: teach this, what you're describing right now, we teach in our foundations course. It's important for smart buildings. It's also important for energy [00:24:00] management. Decarbonization, kind of like you're saying. We teach it as the champion mindset, right? So you just described like one aspect of the champion mindset, and it's super important.

And I feel like all, everyone, like we're doing this big exercise right now at Nexus to figure out like who are all the players in the ecosystem and what categories do they fit in, what roles do they play? But it's important to realize that all of us can like embody that mindset no matter where we sit.

Are you a vendor? Are you a service provider? Are you a building owner? Are you the intern? Are you the janitor? Right? It doesn't matter. We're all sort of trying to align

ourselves around this, this change, whatever that change may be. And yeah, I love that, that champion mindset.

[00:24:43] Cindy Zhu: Yeah. And actually now that you've mentioned janitors one really cool case study that one of the partners I worked with through this program was actually building out a green janitors like, like, awards program. Cuz they, they recognize that like janitors are like, [00:25:00] First people that interact with a building that are always there, that go to different parts of the building and can be an advocate or eyes on the ground for identifying, you know, green, green or energy efficient solutions.

And being able to recognize them for, for you know, going out of their way and doing that type of work was something that helped, helped that company you know, find energy savings.

[00:25:22] James Dice: Awesome. All right. This is all great context on who you are and your expertise. Let's dive into, Gabs. So let's maybe start with just what are they,

[00:25:34] Cindy Zhu: Yeah, for sure. Um, So maybe backing up a little bit I'm gonna just drop a couple more acronyms because, you know, it wouldn't be a conversation about federal or public sector without dropping a million acronyms. But I feel like your audience might already know about ems. Right. So energy management and information systems these are software usually software technologies that pull in a [00:26:00] whole bunch of different energy data and tries to make some sense of it.

So provide some analytics but basically helps you you know, the, the term in this industry is measure what you then can manage, right? So you gotta measure your energy use in order to manage it in some way. The next

[00:26:18] James Dice: you move on from that one, Cindy, I would be remiss not to mention my, my former n r colleagues would be mad at me if I didn't mention that. We wrote slash i, you know, wrote the Federal Energy Management Program's Guide to EISs. And we'll put that link in the show notes. So my, my team and I wrote, I should say,

[00:26:37] Cindy Zhu: Cool. Yeah. So from emi you've got some other kind of subcate. So the next one I'm gonna drop is aso, which means automated systems optimization. And that ASO is what prescriptive data's core product NASM OS falls under. So basically an ASO is an emmis that can then [00:27:00] do some automation to optimize building systems to reduce energy, right?

So, we're talking about you know, integrating to your building automation system being able to take some of those EMIS analytics to then run your building in a way that reduces energy reduces load demand, all that good stuff. So with Gabs, so Gabs are kind of like a supercharged version of Emmis and aso and the new piece that Gabs are bringing in, which you mentioned is the, the connectivity to the grid, right?

And that can happen couple different ways. My time at DOE is kind of, you know, when the road mapping for Gabs started and, and the acronym came out as well. So Gabs are pretty new, right? So everything that kind of comes out in the r and d world takes years to really hit industry and, and, and real, and the real world.

So because of that, there's not a, a common definition [00:28:00] of what makes up a GB right now. So, there are some characteristics of, of what gbs could be like. So I'll, I'll talk a little bit about what those characteristics. And then and then give some examples of how gabs are kind of coming to market right now.

Cuz again, you know, it's not like there's one type of gab and everything has to fit it. This is all very you know, driving the car while we're building it, type of type of space. So four characteristics for Gabs.

[00:28:30] James Dice: Can I pause you real quick?

When you were, when you were at DOE and this concept just started to come about, is there, is there like a defining like story around why, like what was the, what was the impetus for like why this

[00:28:47] Cindy Zhu: yeah, yeah. No, that's a

[00:28:49] James Dice: had to be.

[00:28:49] Cindy Zhu: good question. Yeah, I think a lot of it is just coming from renewable energy, right? Solar power becoming more prevalent. Batteries kind of starting but really solar, [00:29:00] solar and wind. So, you know, the, the intermittent of renewable energy. Creates challenges on the grid.

So, best example is California and California's duck curve. And what that means is California's estate was really successful in convincing homeowners and businesses to adopt rooftop solar. They were so successful that, you know, during the day all of their cust power customers are, are using renewable energy from their solar panels.

But then when the sun sets all at once, all at the same time, those homes and businesses powered by solar are gonna have to transition from their rooftop solar arrays to pulling energy from the grid. So the demand on the grid goes from zero to, you know, really high, very quickly. And that type of kind of, unreliability right, that really provides challenges for grid op grid operators.

So. happening [00:30:00] in California right now, I think starting to happen in Hawaii as well. Other states are, you know, able to kind of look, look towards those examples as well. We don't want that to happen over here, right? So how do we, how do we make sure that the, the demand on the grid is reliable at all times?

So that really, I think generated the, the, the, the big picture questions of well, how do we prevent that from happening at other states and also nationally, how do we anticipate all the other sources of renewable energy that are, are gonna come online? And are, you know, obviously starting to come online now.

batteries, ev charging fuel cells. All the stuff that, you know is happening as we speak has to be considered. When thinking about what the grid of, of, of the near future and the far future need to look like.

[00:30:49] James Dice: Love it. Yeah, that's a. Great explanation of of, I didn't want people to think like the doe just like made up this category and just decided it was a thing, but it's [00:31:00] actually really needed.

Yeah.

Thank you.

[00:31:02] Cindy Zhu: sure. Cool. So let's go back to uh, what are the characteristics of a grid, interactive or efficient building, gabs? So first and foremost uh, gabs are efficient, right? So, we want buildings that persistently have low energy use which will, you know, minimize overall overall impact. On, on the grid.

So these are buildings that have gone after all their low hanging fruit. They've done their l e D retrofits. They've, you know, commissioned their building. They've got up to date controls for that building. The next characteristic is that they're connected. So this is that two way connection with your utility grid.

And the build and the systems within your building. We can talk a little bit about the communications protocols that, that are, you know, also being developed and evolved to, to support Gabs. But uh, connection to the grid. It could be as simple as pricing, right? Real-time pricing signals having time of use rates you know, impacting how you're [00:32:00] operating the building.

The next uh, characteristic is that it's smart. So this is sort of where the smart buildings come into play. So, a smart building has lots of analytics in it. There are sensors throughout the building. There are controls in some sort of control system that can uh, uh, help you operate that building.

And that smart building will also hopefully consider occupants which is, you know, occupants are somehow usually the. The, the, the party that get gets left out when we talk about buildings, but they're, they're the most part, important part of the, of the building. And I think you know, throughout the past few pandemic years, we've kind of realized you know, how, how exactly occupants p play a big role in, in actual op operations.

And then the final characteristic of a gb GB is that it's flexible. So what that means is that it has energy loads that can be reduced. It could be shifted, it could be modulated. Whether [00:33:00] that's through integration to a onsite solar system or onsite battery system, or it's just got energy loads that can, that that can be reduced or, or flexed by itself.

That that's what that flexible load meaning is.

Um, So that, that's what the that's generally the concept of a gab. So as you can see, you know, a couple different ways that, that a building can can turn into a gab. Technology is a big part of that. And we are really just starting to see gabs really proliferate into the market, especially amongst market leaders.

So there's been a couple different funding opportunities that have come out of the doe as well as gsa, the General Services Administration to to you know, push gabs out into the market. The first that I'll talk about has come out of GS a's proving ground program. So this is a [00:34:00] program that really vets and evaluates new technologies that can ultimately.

Get adopted by by federal buildings. The GSA is the nation's largest landlord. So lot, huge, huge portfolio. Lots of opportunity to test technologies. And, you know, with federal buildings you know, federal buildings have been mandated to reduce energy and to now to reduce emissions in a, in a way that I would personally say has been more aggressive than on the private sector side.

Right. So, of, with this proving ground opportunity they went out to to seek software solutions that can fit that EMIS with ASO category that I mentioned earlier. Prescriptive data was selected as one of the companies to to demonstrate those capabilities. That is actually how I first heard of the company.

I was on. The, the review board, the review side to select an EMIS solution that could then be [00:35:00] tested in, in GSA sites. So that, that happened in about 2018. I'm happy to say that the white paper for those evaluation sites came out last fall. So 2022. So four years later, we've got results from that.

And I would encourage your listeners, if you're interested in, in, in that just Google GSA emis with aso and you'll find a really awesome one pager that summarizes all of it. But then, you know, the 30 page paper for, for the nerds that wanna get into the details. So out of that proving ground effort GSA decided to do a, another evaluation related evaluation looking at Gabs, right?

So they opened it up again, looked for technology vendors that could provide Gabs prescriptive data was selected for that. So. NATO right now is being evaluated at a courthouse in in, in Las Vegas under Nevada Energy Territory. And specifically we're being evaluated for our b our ability [00:36:00] to automate demand response with a utility signal as well as automate demand management.

So the demand management piece I wanna talk a little bit about because it's pretty cool. Um, So from from the first set of uh, uh, demonstrations en re who's,

who's the m and V lab for these projects found that ntm is able to predict a building's uh, uh, load as well as peak load out into the future, right?

So that's the load forecasting capabilities. And there's machine learning packages that take in, you know, a building's historical performance, localized weather forecasts As well as a bunch of other data to really predict that future forecast. So once you're able to predict future load, you can do all sorts of really cool analytics and, and predictive and, and prescriptive measures on top of that.

And so we are taking that five day forecast and and we're, we're gonna predict [00:37:00] another capability, which is based on your predictions of your energy use into the future, are you at risk of resetting your billing periods? P and this is important because if you've ever looked at a energy bill, especially for large commercial users peak demand charges are a big, big chunk of that.

Right? So you've got your energy use and then you've got your demand use. And those demand charges, depending on, you know, where you're, where you're getting your energy from, can be quite high. So California, Northeast Hawaii, very large peak demand charges. DC's about to ramp up their peak demand charges.

So anyone in the capital region this is relevant, Texas, pretty cheap. So, you know, just goes to show that this country is a, is a country of tiny countries Um, so with that peak demand prediction what NASM can then do is help you avoid resetting those peaks, right? So then we're, we're spitting out a [00:38:00] optimal demand limit which is a value that the building can then monitor keep track of.

And then if that building is coming close to surpassing their demand limit, it can go into some automated strategies to reduce load. So, peak demand management very utility cost focused, right? We can't leave costs out of the conversation for these, you know, new technologies because that is what real estate owners and operators do care about.

. So, so that's the GSA project. And then the next one that I'll mention which we are not currently involved in, but is, is a really cool effort for your listeners to stay up to date on is a D DOE funding award called Connected Communities. That came out in 2020 and I think nine projects were selected.

They're really just getting started on it. It's a, it's a long-term project which you know, DOE doesn't usually fund these long-term opportunities, but because Gabs is again, such a, a new concept and really just getting started into the [00:39:00] market that they are, they have funded these five-year awards.

But the concept there is to really think about how buildings can act as communi communities with, with each other and potentially share load with each other. Right. So imagine you've got a commercial building whose energy use peaks in the afternoon versus a residential building whose energy use peaks, you know, in the evening when people come home.

And then you've got other buildings that have DERs connected to it that can generate generate energy. How can these kind of combine with each other and really share energy, use and share load with each other? And what are the technologies, the integrations, the connections that need to happen in order to essentially, you know, create this, this connected community.

Other terms that I've heard are, you know, virtual power plant that can kind of maneuver these signals around. So that's something to definitely keep uh, keep up to date on. These project teams are usually technology vendors, paired with utilities, [00:40:00] paired with nonprofits, paired with local governments.

Cuz again, this, this all is gonna eventually manifest at the, at the local level. Which, you know, everything good that happens is localized. Right.

[00:40:11] James Dice: Absolut. So before we move on to utilities, I don't wanna kind wanna dive into that for people that don't really understand, what does it mean for them, the building to connect with the grid. I want to go into that side of things, but first can you kind of summarize, those are the sort of doe, gsa government, you know, funded. EB projects. I, I would love to get a sense for like what other projects are happening, you know, that you're a part of that are sort of outside of that ecosystem. Can you sort of summarize what's going on?

[00:40:43] Cindy Zhu: Yeah. Yeah. I think, um, Gabs as well as the, the ASO term that is starting to get out. Into the utility space. And so, you know, leaving the federal r and d, you know, heavily research funded world and getting implemented out [00:41:00] into the utility world or the, you know, state and local space that you know, might have funding for it, but is ready to kind of figure out how does this work in, in their environment.

Okay. So two examples for this that prescriptive data is active in right now. So we've had some a couple years of collaboration and partnership with Salt River Project which is a electric utility in the Phoenix metro area in Arizona. They've got a really cool group uh, internal.

Called customer innovations that specifically looks at new technologies that can ultimately be turned into a customer program. Hopefully. So, that group, they'll take technologies and then they'll, they'll run pilots within their own portfolio of buildings that their employees um, uh, work in as well as pilot at a customer partner partner up there.

So I think that's a really cool model for utilities to basically, you know, try to talk the talk and walk the walk with new technologies. And also make [00:42:00] sure, again, the whole concept of r and d not happening in a vacuum, but supporting you know, ultimate program goals utility goals. So we've been working with 'em on the automated demand response piece, as well as the automated demand management piece that I just talked about.

With the, you know, end goal of hopefully really scaling automated DR with them. The second thing I'll talk about which is very new for us is working within the New York City space. So our kind of home playground. But narta has run a program for many years called the Realtime Energy Management Program, rte.

And RTE has been very successful in the New York state, but particular the downstate, you know, Manhattan space in advancing technologies like ours. So software technologies, EISs, asos into the market. And so we will be working with Narta on a very very cool pilot related to Gabs.

And essentially proving out that a building can act like a [00:43:00] battery, right? So a building that has flexible loads. Can shift or shed those loads very quickly, just like a battery can be dispatched very quickly. So be, we will be working with our one of our big customers uh, rooted Management to prove out that, you know, if you are able to automate curtailment strategies using a software like naum and then using our ability to run fast demand response activities, you can actually send a signal to the building, have them shift or shed a significant amount of load in a very quick time span.

So Narta is interested in seeing this type of reaction within 15 minutes which essentially is, you know, how, how quickly a, a battery could respond.

Um, And then with the, the ultimate goal here is that, you know, there's a lot of utility incentives getting stood up right now to convince people to buy you know, storage for their buildings.

But in New York, there's space constraints, [00:44:00] right? You can't just put a big battery on a tiny little high-rise rooftop. There's a lot of F D N Y regulations around that. So instead of incentivizing batteries for building owners, what if you could just incentivize this very quick, you know, battery like flexible load strategy.

So we'll be working on, on that through this year with Urda and, you know, excited to hopefully share results and findings next year.

[00:44:23] James Dice: Yeah, we'll have to have you come back and talk about the results. Thank you. You know, GZ gets talking about a lot and it's more of a, this is what we need to do in the future sort of way. So I really appreciate you sort of coming on and talking about active projects that are happening

right now and then pinning it down.

Okay, this is an EMIS with ASO capability, and here are the capabilities that that sort of software product has. I think that was really, really valuable to sort of frame it in that way. So thank you. Before we move on to utilities, let me do a quick message from our second sponsor. So we, we had one of our most popular episodes ever which [00:45:00] was episode 44 with the legendary John Petsy who just retired in December.

So, uh, thank you to John for an awesome career. John founded our co-founded um, Skys Spark. They're our second sponsor for this episode. Sky Foundry created the product. Skys Spark. It's a comprehensive software platform for connecting, storing, analyzing, and visualizing data from smart devices and equipment systems.

So head over to sky founder.com. white papers, case studies, blog posts, and everything they have about their, their product that's been around for one of the longest products that's been around and, and they're still kicking. So thank you to Sky Foundry for supporting the show. So Cindy, let's jump into utility side.

So we don't talk about this very much. We talk about, we've talked about virtual power plants, we've talked about how utilities have a hard time sharing their data with their customers. I think back to the archive of episodes, we haven't talked about sort of, what's going on in the utility business space, [00:46:00] and particularly in context with, with gab.

Utilities want buildings to be flexible. But I'd love to just sort of, as a utility expert yourself, sort of pick your brain around why that is, sort of what's going on in the utility. Right now, and I wanna circle back definitely as part of this conversation into, you mentioned communication protocols.

I think that's an interesting piece to dive into around, okay, how exactly are buildings getting connected to the grid and what are the, what are the methodologies there? But let's just start broad, so, so where would you start in terms of describing to this audience, sort of what's going on in the utility space?

[00:46:36] Cindy Zhu: Cool. Yeah, and I'll, I'll definitely say I'm not a utilities expert. So, you know, I'm coming at my experience from the building owner and sort of operator perspective. So, learning all about how utilities how it run and operate has been a, a new endeavor for me. And you know, honestly, really eye-opening I think the, the highest level to understand is that, you know, utilities, their ultimate [00:47:00] goal is to balance the supply of energy that they have with the demand for energy from their customers.

Like that is the, the highest level golden rule to do that. And, and, you know, they need to ensure that reliability otherwise bad things happen. Like blackouts. But they also wanna maintain customer satisfaction, right? So that at the end of the day, they're selling power and they wanna keep those customers happy.

And if anything disrupts that balance of supply and demand that's, that's when bad things happen. So they can do this basically in two different ways, right? So if, if there's more demand than than supply they can get more supply, right? And that might mean building more infrastructure. So the, the poles and the wires that bring you know, electricity from primary sources of energy far away to city centers, urban areas where people actually use electricity.

Those are long term projects. Those are really expensive. You know, big, big dollars dollar projects. . [00:48:00] The other option is they can work on the demand side, right? So, one of the tools at play, or actually maybe let's talk about two of the tools at play. So one is running energy efficiency programs, right?

These are the incentive programs to retrofit equipment at buildings that will ultimately reduce end user energy use. Or there's the demand management play, right? So, we're thinking demand response programs which can offer financial incentives to customers for reducing energy load at certain times, usually the hottest days of the summer.

Their demand management programs that, you know, try to encourage buildings to reduce their everyday demand. I talked a little bit about that earlier. So these type of programs that utilities will set up to really engage customers. Usually there's incentives involved, right? So the utility may work with various implementers.

Payout incentives to encourage their customers to produce energy. These type of [00:49:00] programs are easier to easier and cheaper to build out than the supply side, right, where you're talking long term planning infrastructure projects. So, that demand side is really where you're, you're starting to see technology vendors like, like ours, like prescriptive data really try to embed into and kind of, work alongside utilities to, to figure out.

The other thing I think is worth mentioning is gabs, again, new concept lot of it's still in r and d, lot of it's still being figured out. Lot of it has to happen with utilities at the table. And that's a role that traditionally utilities are not used to that. Innovation role that you know, quick changing type role technology forward role.

So, that is a new type of of, of requirement. I would say it's kind of mandatory, right? Utilities, the utility business is over a hundred years old and [00:50:00] it's, it's not exactly a one that is that, that is modern and, and can evolve quickly. But utilities are being asked to, to do a lot that they're not used to,

[00:50:09] James Dice: And the status quo for, for gabs. Right now, the way that you talk about it is basically the owner. It's coming from the owner side and they're basically saying like, you know, right now, can I minimize my demand charge? Like you said, can I maybe respond to a signal that maybe comes from the utility or maybe comes from somewhere else to do demand response?

It's not necessarily like what people sort of project it to be in the future, which is this two way street of communication happening today. And I think mostly it is because there's limitations on, well, we have to set up the technology on the building side, but that's solvable easily. It doesn't feel like there's that same easily solvable problem on the utility side.

It sounds. Seems like that side of things has a lot more innovation that needs to happen.

[00:50:57] Cindy Zhu: Yeah. Yeah. And I think data [00:51:00] transparency is a key part of unlocking that, you know, stronger two-way communication. If you think about a smart building by itself, you know, a very smart, connected building, that operator, they can see what each subsystem is doing when, you know, what, what energy use patterns throughout the day.

Their central plan is doing, their airside systems are doing. If you think about the utility side, Usually the, the amount of data they have about where we, where and wet energy being is being used stops at the substation level, right? So they have no idea what these super smart, connected buildings that are downstream of that substation are even doing.

So you might have really cool, connected, smart buildings happening in a community somewhere, but from the utility perspective, they, they don't have any information about that. And without that you know, those, those smart analytics, they, they can't really use that data. Or, you [00:52:00] know, they don't have that data to make smarter decisions about reliability, planning, about you know, targeting customers for specific programs, all that all that good stuff that, you know, if, if we're able to kind of, pull the curtain back with, with that data, that flow of data you can imagine a lot, a lot better planning can be done.

[00:52:19] James Dice: Absolutely. So let's, let's circle back on the communications protocols. Can you talk about, maybe talk about open adr, but then also talk about how it's done without open ad.

[00:52:34] Cindy Zhu: Yeah, sure. So open a d r is a communication protocol. It's a standard. It, it a lot of it originated from LB and L actually. And so the, the protocol is really meant to help utilities and grid related technology companies have communication with each other. So similar to how the controls industry really stood up, backnet as the standard [00:53:00] for data flow and data architecture within the building control system.

Open ADR is trying to do that for the grid with. Things that couldn't connect to the grid. It, I would say it's, it's gotten, it's gotten pretty good adoption on the west coast because it came outta California. It's gotten decent adoption abroad actually. So Japan and some other global countries have adopted it.

It's starting to trickle out to the East coast and, you know, to the rest of the us. Open ADR also maintains a member alliance called I think, I think the Open ADR alliance. That is you know, trying to bring together utilities technologists to advance adoption of of, of adr as well as prove out case studies, you know, spread the word.

Open ADR is what can enable automated demand response programs, right. So there's uh, two terms that that are good to know. So the Open ADR enables a virtual top node. That's [00:54:00] basically any entity that can send a signal out, and then a virtual end node. So that's the end node that can receive that signal.

So that end node, it could be a building automation system, it could be a EB charging system. Essentially it's gonna take that signal and then it's gonna follow those instructions whenever the, the message tells it to do something. So, these two components essentially can enable shifting of loads, shedding of loads, modulation of loads.

So it's the, the communication or the glue that kind of holds all of that together. And, and really you know, you can imagine what, what can happen if, if we have free flowing communication happening between grid and, and, and new system.

[00:54:43] James Dice: Absolutely. Okay. Last thing I wanted to ask you about on the utility side is in order for gabs to take off, right, I've always kind of felt like there needs to be some sort of reflection of the value of flexibility in the rate, [00:55:00] right?

In other words, give me some sort of signal based on time of day, right?

There are time of use rates, right? They're not spread everywhere, but there isn't. there. There isn't a variable rate in most cases. Can you talk about like where that's at and where that kind of needs to go?

[00:55:17] Cindy Zhu: Yeah. Yeah. So, with rate planning rate planning and rate design is another tool or lever that utilities have in order to kind of affect that demand side of, of energy

[00:55:31] James Dice: right?

They could price in the value of flexibility. They could price in the value of carbon. They could price into anything. Right.

[00:55:38] Cindy Zhu: Yep, exactly. So, time of use rates is one example of how that's starting to happen. Time of use, use rates more prevalent on the west coast, I think, than on the east coast right now. There are also real-time rates that are, you know, taking the real price of energy from the supply side and filtering that down to to the customer end user side.

There's a lot of planning [00:56:00] going around with ev charging right now too, right? So when is the best time to charge how do you price those time periods so that it, it influences the behavior of ev charge charging owners as well. I think all of this is moving very quickly. As DERs are coming online very quickly, and again, this goes back to utilities just not moving very quickly or able to move very quickly.

Especially with rate planning and rate design, like those things are multi-step often have multiple rounds of like community review and and rape case making. They ultimately have to be approved by, you know, the public Utilities Commission commissioner if you're in a state that has that.

So it's a slow moving cycle. But it is, it is happening. It's happening as we speak. And I think all of those pieces have to work together in order to create the best environment to make or have gabs be as, as functional and, and as useful as we want them to be.

[00:56:58] James Dice: [00:57:00] Absolutely. Well, Cindy, this has been awesome. Thanks so much for, for coming on the show. You're a, you're a depth of knowledge on this topic. You, you said you aren't an expert, but you'd know more about utilities than 99.9% of

people. So I think you are. Let's end with some carve outs. I'd love to hear if there are any books, TV shows, documentaries, movies, et cetera, other media, right, that have had a, a big impact on you lately.

[00:57:28] Cindy Zhu: Cool. Yeah, I love this question. And, you know, coming from from this industry, from a biology perspective, I'm always inspired by authors and writing and movies that are more on the biodiversity and nature side. So one of my favorite authors is also one. The most favorite famous scientist of his time, EO Wilson.

he is a, an biologist, or he was, he recently [00:58:00] passed, I think last year. But he's written a number of books that really come from a perspective of hope for why we should protect our earth. Why you know, everything evolved to be, to work together, to, to, to be you know, in symbiosis with each other.

So whenever I'm feeling like really depressed about climate or where, where things are, I always go back to his readings to just get some little, you know, inspiration and hope. And he writes short essays, so, you know, you don't need to tackle whole book, whole book at at

[00:58:35] James Dice: Is there a particular book or essay?

[00:58:37] Cindy Zhu: So I have this one right next to me, but this is called The Future of Life.

So it's, it's really these short vignettes of, of why we need to protect nature and protect our earth and why it's worth doing so, and again, coming from a hopeful perspective. The other TV show that I loved, love, love last year is so [00:59:00] I, I'm sure everyone's familiar with Planet Earth and David Attenborough and Planet Earth too, and all the amazing camera work and like, you know, dances in videography that have happened between the first and second series.

But Apple tv, I think last year released Prehistoric Planet, which is also David Attenborough narrating, but it's all CGI and it's all dinosaurs and it looks absolutely amazing. There's maybe five or six episodes and they have finally figured out how to CGI dinosaurs with feathers, and it looks so good.

So I absolutely love, love those episodes and it's, you know, filmed in a way as if it looks like it's planet Earth which is really cool. And then my final piece that I think I'll leave you with is I mentioned I just moved to Seattle, so I am new to the Pacific Northwest after, you know, 10 years living in New York and DC and kind of grinding it out, on the east coast.

And I just continue to [01:00:00] be inspired just by the Pacific Northwest. And how, you know, just mountains, water, lakes, you know, the ocean, like it's all so close by and it's, it's so incredible. I never thought you could live in a city and that that's also still just so beautiful, you know, within, within the urban environment.

. And one really cool thing that I learned recently I don't know if you're on TikTok or not, but Seattle got this big ice freeze that the week bef around Christmas when like the whole country was in the polar vortex. And everything froze over and Seattle's very hilly. So there were all these like silly TikTok videos of people like sliding down the sidewalks and like car parked, cars just like sliding down.

Like for a brief, like half day. Seattle was like the, the main character of the internet, which is kind of funny . But there were a lot of people asking like, why didn't you guys [01:01:00] salt? Or, you know, like, why weren't you prepared for this winter weather? And the reason why they can't salt out here is because all of the runoff here goes into tributary streams.

Or directly into the ocean that supports, you know, all the salmon that, that really are critical to the environment out here. So, I had never thought of that of that before. Right. Because, you know, I come from New York where they salt very well, but there's also just salt everywhere and, you know, ruins your shoes and plants.

But just thinking about like the, the connection between what humans do to the the world that we live in, right? We're all connected. So, kind of goes back to, you know, all the things that I care about is, you know, we, we as a species, we as a population, we, we impact our surroundings and, you know, we need to be careful about that.

[01:01:52] James Dice: I love that and I love the three that you shared. Such a great collection of

different media. [01:02:00] Even you're the first person that's brought TikTok into the carve out. So thank you. I'm feeling compelled. I don't always share a carve out, but I'm feeling compelled to share. Cause you talked about Metaverses earlier

or

[01:02:11] Cindy Zhu: your, what's your metaverse? James

[01:02:14] James Dice: It's not necessarily a metaverse recommendation, but it's more of a multiverse recommendation where you mentioned earlier when you were talking about your career, Choosing to go one way, and then, you know, you're, it splits off into a different version of yourself in a different different, whatever you want to call it, domain multiverse, whatever you wanna call it.

But everything everywhere, all at once. It's a movie that I

[01:02:37] Cindy Zhu: Love that movie.

[01:02:39] James Dice: Okay. It's so good. It's so, so good. I could probably do without some of the quirky, quirky details, but it's endearing in that

way

[01:02:47] Cindy Zhu: you didn't like the hotdog fingers.

[01:02:49] James Dice: dog fingers or just, I could do without every of, every one of the scenes with hot dog

fingers.

But it's a great, it's a really, really great movie. My wife and I watched it twice in a row in the same [01:03:00] day because we just like, there's so much going on and

[01:03:02] Cindy Zhu: I love it.

Yeah.

[01:03:04] James Dice: really feel it.

[01:03:05] Cindy Zhu: through it.

[01:03:06] James Dice: Yeah. Yeah. So we'll put that in the shed notes for people that want to check all four of those carve outs out.

It's

a bonus episode of four carve outs. So again, Cindy, thanks so much for coming on the show. I hope to see you soon at a conference near us.

[01:03:22] Cindy Zhu: Great. And I actually have I have one dad joke that I'm gonna leave you with because

whenever I educate people on these, you know, kind of dry topics, I usually like to pepper in some dorky jokes. Alright. So why are wireless appliances bad at music?

[01:03:42] James Dice: I don't know why

[01:03:44] Cindy Zhu: They don't know any chords.

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