Barghest wants to help buildings go green, and has more up its sleeve
By Benjamin Cher August 24, 2016
- Adds a layer of intelligence to HVAC systems; less energy for same output
- Aims to develop more data-driven products and enter more sectors
GOING green can be a challenge for building owners, with their central heating, ventilation and airconditioning (HVAC) systems being a drain on energy – a challenge that is even greater with older buildings.
While consultants and vendors might just propose buying new HVAC equipment, Singapore-based energy startup Barghest Building Performance is proposing an alternative.
“We add a layer of intelligence to existing HVAC systems – when you look at reducing your energy, you look at HVAC,” says cofounder and chief executive officer Poyan Rajamand, speaking to Digital News Asia (DNA) in Singapore recently.
The idea behind Barghest – not to be confused with the monstrous goblin-dog of northern English folklore, nor the Dungeons & Dragons monster based on it – came from its founders’ real estate background, where energy cost is not really a focus area, according to Poyan.
Yet “energy is a big chunk of the opex (operational expenditure), and HVAC takes up 60% of that,” he says.
Seeing a “lack of technology-driven operational excellence,” they founded Barghest Building Performance.
Barghest saves energy by changing the speed of the chiller equipment in HVAC systems. It first measures parameters such as temperature (inside and outside of the building) and power consumption.
Then the company’s algorithm determines at what speed each piece of equipment in the central chiller should run at, and sends a signal to the speed drives connected to that piece of equipment.
“We are delivering the same amount of cooling today with lower energy; the output remains exactly the same, but the input energy is reduced – this increases efficiency,” says Poyan.
“This is not on/off, and it is not about raising indoor temperatures – this is about delivering the same cooling with less energy, and this is what is unique and has not been seen in the market,” he claims.
Its revenue model is unique too: Barghest takes a portion of the savings its customers get on their energy cost.
“You can measure how much value we are creating down to the dollars and cents, and then it’s easier to define how much should come to us,” says Poyan.
“Clients can fund this through opex savings – the rule of thumb is, if the building is very new, we need to install less but may save slightly less; if the building is very old we need to install more but we save more.
“It kind of works out that we can offer our clients a fully-funded option,” he adds.
Optimise, don’t rip out
Barghest believes that optimising your current equipment will be more cost-effective than replacing it wholesale.
“Optimisation is an alternative to changing equipment, it is faster and you can do it independent of the system you have,” says Poyan (pic).
Furthermore, there is “no operational risk” in utilising sensors to optimise HVAC equipment, he argues.
And part of Barghest’s “no operational risk” value proposition comes from it having been accredited with the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) under its [email protected] scheme, which vets startups to prepare them to bid for government projects.
Poyan notes that HVAC is mission-critical equipment. For example, hotels cannot shut down their airconditioners, nor can manufacturers shut down their cooling systems, especially systems used in clean rooms.
This is why many organisations are wary about using new technologies in such systems, he adds.
Challenges, funding and plans
The startup has seen some barriers in its journey.
“The biggest challenge is that customers need a new way of thinking for a new technology to come and interact with a very critical piece of equipment – it just takes time,” says Poyan.
“One thing that has helped us is our track record,” he adds.
Barghest claims over 12 customers currently, including big names such as the Changi Airport Group, Resorts World Sentosa, and CapitaLand.
The energy startup has also raised US$6.4milion (S$8.7million), in addition to grants. Barghest has received S$150,000 (US$110,000) from Spring Singapore’s Capability Development grant, and S$100,000 (US$73,000) from IE Singapore to expand overseas.
“Right now we are well funded – our business model is very different, we are not an asset-heavy company,” says Poyan.
“We are not looking for funding – a company like ours needs to get more recognition and more clients,” he adds.
In that vein, it is looking at geographic expansion, beyond South-East Asia to Taiwan.
“We already have an office in Malaysia, but we’re also looking at Indonesia and even Taiwan, because of its wafer fabrication plants,” says Poyan.
Its home base of Singapore was a good place to launch, thanks to the work that the BCA (Building Construction Authority) and the NEA (National Environment Agency) have done in creating awareness around green buildings.
“The sector here is much more advanced than anywhere else in the region, so when we go outside Singapore, the interest for our programme is much higher, but it is up to us to make the market more aware,” says Poyan.
“Currently we are doing one site evaluation a week – that’s only 50 buildings a year, so can we double or triple that?” he adds.
The company has been successful in the commercial real estate sector, but is also seeking to break into the pharmaceutical, data centre and hospital sectors.
And it wants to take its technology to the next level. It now has access to clean data from its customers, and aims to improve its algorithm as well as develop new data-driven products.
One possible product is aimed at predictive maintenance of HVAC systems, according to Poyan.
By improving its algorithm, “we can start doing maintenance; we need to start detecting anomalies – that is the next step for us,” he adds.
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