Business efficiency IS the business

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Smarter buildings mean lower emissions. Josh Scott spoke to start-ups that aim to lower how much energy buildings waste

Ryerson graduate Nima Alibabaei wants to help tackle city buildings emissions of greenhouse gases without compromising a tenant’s comfort.

Alibabaei’s company, BKR Energy, is one of nine start-ups in the Clean Energy Zone (CEZ). Based in the Centre for Urban Energy building, the CEZ is an incubator focused on developing “clean, sustainable energy innovations.” This development works by bringing together researchers, students with sustainability-focused start-ups and industry partners to get business on the right track. 

BKR Energy’s main focus is improving the efficiency of residential heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems through the use of smart fuel switching controller (SFSC) technology, which they are currently developing. 

Alibabaei says the tech has the potential to “significantly reduce HVAC systems’ greenhouse gas emissions.” 

According to a 2019 federal government report, buildings accounted for 12 per cent of Canada’s total emissions in 2015. The largest source of these building emissions is the burning of fossil fuels for heating up the building.

Alibabaei co-founded BKR Energy in 2016 and now serves as CEO.

As for the CEZ’s role in BKR Energy’s development to date, Alibabaei says he “cannot thank them enough.” CEZ start-ups have raised over $6.5 million in funding and created over 100 jobs. It was founded in 2012 and 26 enterprises have graduated from the incubator.

Argentum Electronics will soon join that list of CEZ graduates. Argentum CEO Bolis Ibrahim has clean and sustainable energy as his top priority as a business. He co-founded Argentum in 2014 as a Ryerson engineering student.

Ibrahim says most existing commercial buildings have automation systems that aren’t intelligent. Buildings have centralized control of heating—it means heat is pumped out of a single area to heat an entire floor or large part of the building. According to Ibrahim, centralized heating doesn’t allow for any adaptation or changes based on what tenants need, as some rooms or spaces might be empty and not in need of heating. 

Argentum will serve the commercial building market by providing them with an end-to-end building “internet of things” (IoT) platform. This system decentralizes controls of heating and lighting in a building. 

The IoT consists of two key components: building-wide sensors that collect heating and lighting data. It is then combined with a software that users can see where energy is being used across the building. This is a means empowering residents to vote on temperature and lighting conditions.

“Buildings waste way too much energy, so it’s no surprise that they are a leading source of emissions,” says Ibrahim. 

According to a 2017 Pacific Northwest National Laboratory report on possible cost and energy savings associated with a smarter system, the implementation of a smarter system could result in 29 per cent decrease emissions. 

Argentum’s partnership with Ryerson and the CEZ has led to Argentum’s growth. According to Ibrahim, the CEZ has an unparalleled ecosystem for a green start-up to gain the necessary traction to succeed.

Argentum plans to enter the market in 2020 “with a total building IoT solution.” Ibrahim has high hopes for the start-up: “We aspire to be one of the Canadian greats as far as technology companies go.”

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