Wattblock . . . it all started with a three day blackout in a Sydney apartment tower, the resignation of the chair of the strata body corporate, and apartment owner and resident Brent Clark volunteering for the dubious honour of becoming the next chair.
From that position Brent looked through the building’s account and noticed a continual and substantial rise in the tower’s energy costs for common areas. As a former energy software consultant for AGL he had an interest in energy efficiency so developed and presented to his fellow body corporate members a plan for a number of potentially money-saving measures.
The result? A reduction in energy costs from AU$23,000 per year to AU$5,000 per year and the genesis of the idea that has become Wattblock.
“The idea is to rapidly use an online system to give the people in a building an energy audit for that building, which will give a return on investment analysis in a couple of minutes,” Brent said.
He enlisted Ross McIntyre, a mate from high school and a data scientist, as partner and the two began creating a website which does for free what a professional energy auditor might charge up to AU$40,000 to prepare.
“We have disrupted the energy audit industry . . . using data and analytics and the cloud”
“What we’ve done,” Brent said, “is we have disrupted the energy audit industry and using data analytics and the cloud we’re able to take a non-professional, who doesn’t understand electricity, who doesn’t necessarily understand how to crunch on Excel, and we allow them to create a simple report that can then drive energy efficiency in residential apartment buildings.”
Once a report is produced there is an option for Wattblock to be engaged to make the transition through measures like the installation of LED lighting and modern, more efficient fans and improvements to hot water systems. To date, 10 buildings have engaged Wattblock for proof of concept installation, with an average energy saving of 56 per cent.
Jim Hooke is an Owners’ Corporation Executive Committee member for a 12 unit apartment building in Sydney’s Macquarie Park, which was Wattblock’s first customer.
“Wattblock’s website was easy to use,” Jim said. “In a couple of minutes I was able to create an energy saving report for my apartment block. I then took the report to our committee meeting where we made the decision to proceed with energy saving. Our strata manager supported us through this process.
‘Wattblock made it simple by arranging an electrician to attend to our building. We have now saved energy in two areas: electricity and gas. On the electricity front we’ve installed infrared sensors, microwave sensors and 24 LED lighting products. We are on track to cut our electricity spend by 41%,” he said.
“Wattblock have told us they are now trialing solar analytics for strata buildings. Once they have that up and running we will use their service to work out the best solar configuration for our building. In the future we may install batteries to power the building as well.”
It is, as Brent acknowledged, a perfect example of Microsoft’s global CityNext initiative in action, which is why Microsoft became a supporting partner for Wattblock when the company successfully applied for an environmental innovation grant with the City of Sydney.
[Wattblock] is a perfect example of Microsoft’s global CityNext initiative in action.
Microsoft CityNext, recognises the economic and demographic dominance that cities have assumed in today’s society, is aimed at helping to build more modern, safer, healthier and educated cities by providing innovative solutions to help customers not only do more with less, but also to come up with new ways to transform using fewer resources while utilising the combined efforts of citizens.
For property developer Joe Sassine, the impressive results Wattblock achieved when upgrading an apartment building which he constructed in Sydney beachside suburb Maroubra has forced a rethink of the a new luxury apartment complex which his company, SASCO Developments, is currently building in Camperdown in Sydney’s inner west.
“Seeing what Wattblock has done on the property we built seven years ago, has helped me rethink the design of our next development from an energy perspective,” Joe said.
With 300,000 strata buildings in Australia, Brent has calculated potential energy savings of around AU$1 billion a year, along with a huge resultant reduction in carbon emissions.
Through its innovation grant with the City of Sydney,* Wattblock will provide energy efficiency reports to more than 100 residential apartment buildings, mobilising people to save both money and carbon emissions.
We’re showing the buildings that you don’t have to be green to move down this path of carbon emission reduction.
“We’re showing the buildings that you don’t have to be green to move down this path of carbon emission reduction,” Brent said. “In fact, the return on investment analysis we do for the buildings shows that a hardnosed accountant, who has got no interest in the environment, can still be fully supportive of the program of work inside the building because it makes financial sense.”
The Wattblock solution was built using Microsoft.NET infrastructure and while the site is currently hosted, it is planned to move it to Microsoft Azure.
“As we move to thousands and tens of thousands of buildings, the amount of data that we’re collecting will grow and that’s why we’ll need a scalable cloud-based solution moving forward,” Brent said. “The natural path for us to take, given that we build everything on Microsoft technology, is to use the Microsoft Cloud.”
Talk of tens of thousands of buildings is far from fanciful because Brent has already been on trips to China and the US to show off the innovative technology.
“Both those trips were sponsored. The Shenzhen government in China paid for me to go up and the idea is that we actually roll this type of virtual energy assessment technology across as city of, say, 25 million people in China. If you look at the impact that could have – 40 per cent of carbon emissions are coming from buildings in China and they have this huge air pollution crisis going on.”
Wattblock is already gaining benefits from the cloud, with software being developed in the Philippines, designers in Indonesia and graduates from the University of NSW and the Australian Graduate School of Management all working on the project through the cloud.
With a keen awareness of the capacity of their business to affect a real reduction in carbon emissions, Brent is a big supporter of initiatives like Microsoft CityNext.
“It’s a broader initiative than just energy. It covers healthcare, transportation, efficiencies in energy and water, traffic control and solutions like that,” he said. “Microsoft CityNext is aggregating a whole lot of technologies in order to make cities truly smart, to create the smart city of the future.”
In the two year’s since its introduction, the Microsoft CityNext initiative has been particularly well-received throughout the world, with cities like New York, Sao Paulo, Helsinki, Buenos Aires, Miami and Bangkok all collaborating with Microsoft and its partners to improve aspects of each city’s functioning.
In Auckland, for example, the city’s transport organisation – Auckland Transport – has employed Microsoft technology to develop solutions which allow passengers to report potholes and problems as well as refill their bus passes online. Through those measures Auckland Transport has boosted efficiency and increased patronage.
And with Wattblock, the bright spark that resulted from three nights in the dark, it is lighting the way to a brighter future.
*The City of Sydney is funding the Virtual Energy Assessments project. A goal of the Virtual Energy Assessments project is to “assist in creating benchmarks for energy efficient residential apartment buildings.
This story was first published on the Microsoft Australia News Center on July 15, 2015.