It’s one of the most common complaints in any office: The office is too cold or too hot (or both, simultaneously, in different areas). For women, who are especially likely to huddle in sweaters as the air conditioning blasts in July or August, one recent study suggests that freezing rooms might even impact job performance. Traditional HVAC systems fail miserably at keeping employees comfortable—and because they waste so much energy in the process, they’re also one reason why buildings cause a massive 39% of global carbon emissions.
Better tech can help. One company working on solving the problem, called 75F, makes simple-to-install smart building automation technology that uses sensors and machine learning to make offices more comfortable while cutting energy use by 30% to 50%. The company announced today that it raised $18 million in a series A round led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the Bill Gates-led fund founded to support climate solutions, and the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, a climate-focused fund backed by the fossil fuel industry as it tries to reckon with its own massive footprint.
“I believe most people would love to conserve energy, but they find it unpalatable,” says Deepinder Singh, the company’s CEO. “That’s a key thing that we’re trying to work on—make sure that people are more comfortable and productive, but at the same time, let the energy conservation occur in the background.” The company has calculated that if its technology was deployed nationally, it would save an equivalent amount of emissions as closing 90 coal plants or saving 827 million barrels of oil.
The system uses multiple sensors in different zones throughout a building, so if a particular area is overheated or too cold, the system can adjust. It also continually monitors the weather forecast and predicts how the building will respond to changing temperatures outside. The sensors also monitor air quality, so the system can bring in fresh air when needed.
Most commercial buildings still don’t have automated systems to control heating and cooling, and for those that do, traditional systems don’t work particularly well and require expertise to install and run. 75F wanted to design something that could be used anywhere without any custom programming, saving costs so that it can be adopted by more offices. “Basically, what we’ve done is we made a solution that works out of the box,” says Singh. When the company sold a system to an elementary school, third-grade students installed the system as part of a science class; at other buildings, regular HVAC installers can install it instead of specialists. 75F remotely monitors the system to determine if was installed correctly.
Even in offices that already have building management systems, Singh says, companies have cut energy use by 30% by using the system. “It’s really hard to compete with machine learning,” he says. “You could perhaps make the same building work as well, but you would need a dedicated engineer making tweaks each and every minute of the day.”
It’s one of a group of companies, like Nest and Comfy (another startup tackling office comfort), that is making energy efficiency a little sexier. “Clean energy and renewables have gotten a lot of press,” says Singh. “But the cheapest form of energy generation is actually energy conservation.”