More energy efficient air conditioning? How machine learning can help


4 Minute read

Exergenics' journey started in 2016, when cofounder Iain Stewart was an intern in the buildings energy efficiency sector, as part of the internship subject as part of his Master of Engineering (Environmental) at the University of Melbourne.

“The internship program provided a great opportunity to apply the skills that we had been learning in real world settings” explains Iain Stewart, CEO of Exergenics.

“What I didn’t know at the time is that a conference paper based on an idea from this experience would eventually evolve into a company which now employs five people. Given my positive experience during the program, we are now industry participants in the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology’s internship program and have employed people through it.”

Exergenics was founded mid-2019 and uses machine learning algorithms combined with big data to optimise large scale commercial air conditioning and refrigeration systems. The chilled water plant room, which is responsible for delivering chilled water throughout the building for cooling, is very energy intensive, usually consuming around 25 per cent of a commercial building’s total energy.

Chillers, pumps and towers

Air conditioning systems are made up of chillers, pumps and cooling towers, all of which have unique efficiency curves based on temperatures, pressures and energy input. These systems are all interdependent, meaning they impact each others' efficiencies.

“Cooling systems are complex and difficult to control. Our optimisation engine works by first learning how each piece of equipment’s efficiency is impacted under different environmental conditions.

"Once the engine understands how the chilled water plant is operating, millions of simulations determine the most efficient way to control it. Importantly, the energy savings are achieved without any change to service delivery. The same amount of chilled water being generated, with lower energy consumption.”

This data-driven approach is disruptive to a market which until now has relied on the installation of expensive additional energy controllers, which often duplicate the functionality of existing controllers. Exergenics’ solution eliminates the need for additional controllers by recommending slight changes to the existing strategy, rather than taking over control of the plant and needing to duplicate much of the existing engineering.

“Typically, we are able to achieve energy savings of 5-15 per cent in most buildings, saving as much as $100,000 annually for building owners.”

The fight against climate change is a big driver for the Exergenics team, and the technology has significant potential for carbon reduction.

“The buildings that we live and work in everyday account for around 40 per cent of global emissions, we’re on a mission to reduce this number on our journey to net zero emissions.”

“Recently, we simulated the savings potential for Queensland Children’s Hospital and found that our technology could reduce their emissions by 350tCO2 annually, the equivalent of taking 75 petroleum cars off the road each year!”

In 2020, Exergenics was accepted into EnergyLab and the Melbourne Accelerator Program, providing access to mentors and guidance to help commercialise their technology. These programs are aimed at providing budding technology entrepreneurs with the business skills to run a successful start-up.

“These programs have been integral in the success of Exergenics to date, providing the skills and network to drive the business forward.”

Attention-grabbing tech

For a young start-up, Exergenics has managed to grab the attention of some of the nation’s largest energy users. Currently, they are deploying pilots across multiple supermarkets, shopping centres, office buildings and hospitals. The University of Melbourne is another customer, with an Exergenics’ strategy currently controlling the air-conditioning in the Law Building on the Parkville Campus.

“It’s been fantastic to have the University support us the whole way through the journey from research to commercialisation and now in implementation as an active user of the product.”

From Master of Engineering (Environmental) to burgeoning start-up success in a matter of years, there’s no telling where your degree could take you.

In 2020, Exergenics cofounder Iain Stewart was named one of Australia’s Most Innovative Engineers by Engineers Australia, and in April 2021 he and Exergenics cofounder/identical twin brother Tim Stewart were both named on the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list for 2021. In May 2021, they also won the “Start-up Proptech of the Year” from the Proptech Association of Australia. The team is currently raising capital to accelerate growth, develop more innovative products and expand their reach internationally.

First published by the Faculty of Engineering and IT at the University of Melbourne.

First published on 5 November 2021.

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