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Agilewaves: Knowledge is Power – Conservation through Information

| Tuesday June 24th, 2008 | 4 Comments

Agilewaves - Knowledge is PowerCollin Breakstone is passionate about the environment, positive change, and creating a sustainable world. He’s just the kind of guy you’d expect as VP of a startup like Agilewaves. I spent the better part of an hour on the phone with Collin last week discussing Agilewaves, energy efficiency, sustainability issues, climate change, and reasons to remain hopeful in a troubling world. Ostensibly our chat was about the company he represents, but it was clear that Collin’s job is his mission in life.

The idea of the triple bottom line lies at the heart of what drives Agilewaves. And in pursuit of “people, planet, and profit” is the Resource Monitor, an integrated system that helps energy consumers – businesses, building owners, even individual homeowners – understand their energy consumption and carbon footprint.  

It’s one thing to tell people about energy efficiency and ways to increase it. It’s quite another to actually show them. Mark Twain once said that the key to telling a good story is by not “telling” at all, but by showing: “Don’t say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.” 

The concept on weaving a compelling tale that Twain demonstrated so eloquently holds true today in changing behaviors – to paraphrase, “Don’t just tell people they can save energy and lighten their footprint, show them how”.  It’s a proven concept. Research shows a 10 to 15% reduction in energy consumption through behavioral change driven by feedback alone (for more read the pdf report The Effectiveness of Feedback on Energy Consumption). 

The Resource Monitor makes that concept a reality.

Three NASA Engineers Walk Into a Bar… (not really)

Agilewaves is the child of an epiphany. 

Founding partners David Brock, Peter Sharer, and Lan Lin all met while working as software engineers and developers for NASA. The trio had collectively spent years developing data acquisition systems, including the Common Data System, used in monitoring ozone depletion, astronomy, marine science, and a host of other high-level, data-intensive applications.

This led to an epiphany.

Agilewaves' Resource Monitor - Conservation Through InformationThey realized their technology had uses beyond what theretofore had been imagined – and that they just might be able to help change the world with it. In early 2006 they submitted an executive summary of their ideas to a California business-plan writing contest. They didn’t win, but that didn’t matter. The exercise gave the group the opportunity to hone their ideas. That fall Agilewaves was born.

Based on the Common Data System and years of experience, the Resource Monitor (pdf) analyses every water line, electrical circuit, and gas main in a building, including temperature at key locations throughout the installation.

The Resource Monitor consists of a network of sensors, the data acquisition system, software to process the acquired data, and an intuitive web-based touch screen display so it all makes sense for the user. The system processes that data and presents a current picture (3 pulses per second) of energy consumption, water use, and carbon footprint in a granular real-time level never before possible with any other resource monitoring system or device. The Resource Monitor delivers this information through the built-in touch screen interface or secure, password-protected web page. If you’re a real on-the-go type you can even have the information delivered to your cell phone. The user can also setup alerts when a particular metric reaches a set target, allowing an immediate response to a problem or a “bad habit” that is wasting resources.  

Far beyond the typical online carbon footprint calculator, the Resource Monitor delivers carbon footprint data automatically for your home or business. It can parse resource consumption data by floor, room, individual appliance, or specific utility.

Beyond the Basics

The Agilewaves Resource Monitor begins with carbon footprint and basic resource monitoring and feedback, but that’s just the start of its potential. Last April Agilewaves announced the installation (pdf) of the Resource Monitor at the Nueva School in Hillsborough, California. In addition to analyzing common resource consumption, the system monitors the “green” architectural features of the building, including a 30kW solar system and two living roofs.

The Nueva School installation was the first such monitoring system for a living roof, tracking metrics such as thermal insulation properties, reflectivity, storm water mitigation/retention, and storm water filtration. Use of the Resource Monitor alerted building managers of significant over-watering and saturation of the roofs, allowing them to immediately change their watering program, saving water and helping to ensure the health of the living roof. An added bonus for the Kindergarten through 8th grade school is the addition of the Resource Monitor to the science curriculum.

The ability of the Resource Monitor to monitor architectural aspects of a structure, provide trend/comparison analysis, and track new technology as it is implemented, gives users the key to “actionable feedback” – knowledge is power, conservation (of resources and money) through information.

A Social Revolution

In a recent article in Solar Today magazine, Getting Connected:Why sharing electrons, local produce and Radiohead makes for better communities, author Bill McKibben talks of how innovation helps foster social networking and local communities. In fact this concept isn’t new, perhaps just a bit forgotten by, as McKibben puts it, “the usual vested interests”. One might even equate aspects of the American Revolution with this idea, for it was only through a groundswell of community support that such a dubious undertaking had any chance at all of succeeding. With the technology of the printing press and the pamphleteer, Thomas Paine called for Common Sense upon which a social movement in support of a New Order took root, helping to galvanize the beleaguered colonies in the face of overwhelming odds.

We’re not talking of building a new nation here, but of building a new society, a new social consciousness; an essential part of the Triple Bottom Line and the evolution of business.

After talking with Collin Breakstone I had a glimpse from the inside of what happens when the “three P’s” intersect. That’s the point where talent and imagination are brought to bear, helping to make positive change for a sustainable society a reality – one idea, one bit of imagination, one person (or trio of NASA engineers) with a vision and the passion to pursue it at a time. Before you know it a whole world has changed for the better.

Odd and Ends

AgileWaves currently has 15 installations up and running, with orders for around 30 more. A base system, including hardware, software, touch screen interface, web access and alerts, starts at about $5,000. More complex system, such as the one at Nueva School, are obviously substantially more.  While not cheap, Agilewaves is in its infancy. As the cost of the technology decreases and its user-base expands, costs should come down. Even at current costs, users can expect a full return on their investment through energy and resource cost savings.

One final thought:
Energy efficiency is the big pink elephant in the room. By simply using energy more wisely we have it easily within our grasp to make huge inroads in our energy and climate problems. Sometimes energy efficiency seems like a somewhat vague or even “quaint” concept.

I am reminded of soon-no-longer-to-be vice president Dick Cheney’s assertion in 2001 that “Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis…for sound, comprehensive energy policy.”

In fact, it is. And we now stand nearly eight squandered years later with little accomplished – either in renewable energy development or overall improvements in energy efficiency – or any semblance of a sound energy policy. This is the siren song of the “usual vested interests”. Agilewaves takes a simple idea and makes it modern, sexy, and very doable – that of simply using our resources wisely. That is both a sign of personal virtue and the basis for a sound energy policy.


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  • Dave Shires

    Best triple pundit article in a long time! Really nicely done Tom. Will be passing this around.

  • http://www.globalwarmingisreal.com Tom

    Hey Dave, very nice of you. As I hoped to convey in the article, I was really impressed with my discussion of the company and the issues with Collen. It does help crystallize the notion that it comes down to a mindset at its core – business as usual or the ability to make a change. It’s rewarding to talk with the agents of change.

  • http://www.sustainableindustries.com Celeste

    Agilewaves’ Resource Monitor was named one of Sustainable Industries’ Top 10 Green Building Products of 2008. Check out our write-up, and download a 3-D model.

  • http://www.optimus-one.com Christian Grieco

    I WANT THIS MONITORING SYSTEM!
    I have searched the Internet for hours and only recently found this product. Information has the potential to change behavior. I know it has in my driving habits. The Toyota Prius, with its instant feedback has made me a more efficient driver with gas tank mpg averages usually at least 55mpg.

    I have renewable energy systems in the house (solar electric and solar hot water). Only the solar electric has a monitoring system. Not knowing the realtime usage of electricity or natural gas or water is frustrating. I have gotten to the point that I cant wait for the utility bill to come every month to determine the net usage of electricity that I read the electric meter every day to attempt to change family behavior. This is quite an arduous process.

    I also monitor temperature and humidity inside and outside the house so I don’t have to refrigerate (air condition) the house when it is cooler and dryer outside. A whole house fan is many many times more efficient than an air conditioner in cooling the house by drawing in outside air through the home then into the attic.

    Thanks for a great article Tom!