Key Takeaways 

  • The energy sector is responsible for around 25% of emissions. Increasing energy efficiency is amongst the most significant ways building owners can improve their sustainability. 
  • Companies like Maalka and 75F are helping companies manage their energy use to achieve maximum efficiency by using the latest advancements in sensors and the Internet of Things (IoT).
  • To tackle the high energy and fuel use of HVAC, heat pumps provide an electrified solution. Startups Thermolift and Darcy Solutions are bringing this solution to you. 

Relevance of Energy and Data

Did you know that energy use is the second-largest source of GHG emissions in the world, accounting for 25% of global emissions (EPA)? This is because most of the world still relies heavily on dirty energy.  In 2021, coal, natural gas, and oil produced 61% of the world’s energy. And although clean energy sources are growing, much of the world still has a long way to go until we can rely wholly on clean energy to meet the growing energy demand. Since around 49% of a commercial building’s energy use comes from  HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) and refrigeration, there is a need for increased efficiency and reduced energy consumption in that sector (EIA).

The UN has recognized the value and relevance of increasing energy efficiency as an added measure to reduce emissions. It is estimated that around 75% of the energy that enters a building is wasted due to inefficient systems. This can happen for many reasons but is mainly due to heating and cooling inefficiencies. Most appliances, such as lightbulbs, blenders, toasters, and TVs, have become increasingly efficient, using less and less energy as they continue to evolve. Heating and cooling are a whole other beast, primarily for two reasons: 1) housing has not historically been built to be efficient, and 2)Heating and air conditioning units have not evolved much since the 70s. Electric resistance heaters are incredibly inefficient, and fuel-based heaters (e.g., furnaces) are still emitting GHGs. The following are four companies that are disrupting the energy sector through sustainable technologies. 

Wells Fargo Partnership

As a part of the bank’s sustainability mission, Wells Fargo funds various climate technology startups via their Innovation Incubator. From agriculture to mobility and energy efficiency, Wells Fargo’s Innovation Incubator supports the advancement of technologies that boost our environment and the economy.  

Maalka

One of the companies partly funded by Wells Fargo is Maalka, a tech company helping companies and cities better understand their array of sustainability data, including energy, water, waste and carbon. Maalka provides tools to accelerate the adoption of sustainable practices for companies and cities that manage hundreds or thousands of buildings through their 3 programs: Performance Targets, Scorecard, and Benchmark Compliance. Performance Targets educate clients on their sustainability patterns, so companies can better tailor their goals and measures to have the most impact. Scorecard allows companies to track qualitative aspects of their operations across their multiple buildings through tailored surveys. Companies and cities can use the information provided to improve policies and practices. Benchmark Compliance was designed with local governments in mind. Maalka’s latest tool simplifies the energy benchmarking process of a city or state’s buildings through document audits, contact tracking, and Energy Star integration. 

Recently Green School Alliance, the largest sustainability network of K-12 schools in the world, started using Maalka’s Scorecard to scale their Sustainability Tracking & Roadmap Tool (START). 

Although Maalka currently focuses more on the environmental side of sustainability metrics, it is expanding its scope and tools to better account for social sustainability. 

75F

Similar to Maalka, 75F focuses on energy efficiency data. However, in contrast to Maalka, 75F also sells hardware and sensors. Using the Internet of Things(IoT), their software can track live energy performance to identify hotspots of energy waste and report them on a user-friendly dashboard. Besides providing detailed data-analysis services, 75F also offers energy strategizing to help clients plan where the best intervention points are. 

Both Maalka and 75F analyze pre-existing heating, cooling, and energy systems to make them more efficient. However, these companies can only make a building as energy-efficient as their hardware allows, and there is a limit. Overall, heating and cooling consume half of all energy use. According to the Department of Energy, heating accounts for 29% of your energy bill, so there is significant potential for savings in more efficient buildings, heating and cooling systems, and ways to manage energy use. 

Heating up Pumps with ThermoLift

The heat pump is a new, up-and-coming technology that can make heating (and cooling) a lot more energy-efficient and cheaper. At its core, a heat pump transfers heat from one place to another. Instead of making new heat, which takes considerable amounts of energy, a heat pump takes existing heat and moves it where it needs to be. In cooling mode, the heat pump takes the heat from inside your house and pumps it outside, cooling your home in the process. Similarly, while in heating mode, the heat pump takes heat from outside your house and brings it in. Because they require heat outside, heat pumps don’t function that well in freezing temperatures; however, advancements in technology are expected to change this. In the meantime, ThermoLift has developed a fuel-dependent heat pump that can help expand heat pump adoption in those colder locations. Although fuel use will entail some emissions, these are still significantly lower than traditional heating units such as furnaces or resistance heaters. 

Darcy Solutions

An alternative to ThermoLifts heat pump is Darcy Solutions’ geothermal HVAC system. Geothermal heat pumps function practically the same as other heat pumps: in the summer, they take heat from inside a building and put it underground, which maintains a stable temperature year-long; this also works in the winter, making this technology more applicable in colder climates. Darcy Solutions’ heat pumps can use Earth’s heat or large bodies of water as heat sources, allowing for large-scale heat pumping. This can be very beneficial for municipalities or large industrial settings that require large HVAC systems. Additionally, emissions and costs are reduced by about 70% compared to conventional HVAC systems by using existing heat. 

Now What?

As the decarbonization movement progresses, we see more innovative technologies come from groups such as Wells Fargo’s Innovation Incubator. These new technologies can increase efficiency, lower emissions, and reduce unnecessary costs. Finding what system is best for you greatly depends on your company’s operations, location, and energy-use mix. Make sure to look at all of these companies to learn how you can get started on saving costs while helping save the planet.