Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to interview Scott Hackel and Dr. Xiaohui “Joe” Zhou from Slipstream, a non-profit organization with a mission to accelerate climate solutions for everyone. During our conversation, I asked Scott and Joe about Slipstream and their vision for tackling vexing challenges including accelerating decarbonization and growing the stock of Grid-interactive Efficient Buildings (GEBs).

We also explored the motivations behind Slipstream’s decision to partner with ACE IoT Solutions and deploy Eclipse VOLTTRON at their building in Madison, WI. Our conversation closed with a discussion of how Slipstream’s evaluation of technologies including VOLTTRON, Kinetic Buildings Synapse, and Prescriptive Data Nantum OS fits into the organization’s broader vision for advancing its mission.

What is Slipstream?

Scott Hackel (SH): Slipstream is an independent non-profit organization with a 40-year track record working on issues including climate, energy efficiency and equity. We have more than 150 employees, nearly $50 million in annual revenue and active projects in 21 states. While Dr. Zhou and I work in Slipstream’s applied research and development arm, other departments at Slipstream work on program implementation for utilities, financing for energy efficiency projects and tech transfer/education.

Can you provide an example or two of research and development projects that illustrate well the nature of your department’s work?

SH: I feel like you are asking me to pick a favorite child! Anyone who would like to learn more about our team’s research and innovation work related to smart buildings and/or GEBs can easily find links on our website. Shout-out to Slipstream’s website team and PR department – our website is searchable and full of great information. Because we are a non-profit organization, we prioritize sharing data and results with partner organizations and the community; it’s core to our mission. We can get into some examples of GEB testing work we’re doing as we go. One other example of the type of R&D we’re doing is field research of electrified heating and water heating systems in cold Midwest climates, both in homes and businesses. It’s important applied research to prove viability toward scaling electrification.

Does Slipstream have a vision for how the US will (or should) tackle vexing challenges related to smart buildings, for example, the integration of Distributed Energy Resources (DERs), expansion of GEBs, and other systemic challenges?

Joe Zhou (JZ): At Slipstream, we work closely with organizations including federal and state agencies and utilities that seek to incentivize the use of energy-efficient and carbon-reducing technologies. Through our research and demonstration work, we have seen the positive impact of advanced technologies and we want to promote the wider adoption by the industry. Nonetheless, we know that most buildings do not yet participate in incentive programs related to Demand Response, Automated Fault Detection and Diagnosis (AFDD), and/or model-based control. There are several reasons for this.

  1. Many jurisdictions do not offer programs to incentivize the use of technologies for deep carbon-reduction, and are instead focused on smaller low-cost measures.

  2. The industry has not made available to building owners sufficiently attractive, cost-effective technologies.

  3. Participation in Demand Response, AFDD, and other programs leveraging advanced smart building technologies is still complicated and often expensive.

You asked how the US will advance GEBs and other initiatives at scale? My answer is this: as deploying and using advanced technologies becomes more automated, we will see more and more building owners utilize advanced technologies. More automation = new opportunities. For example, one reason we are testing VOLTTRON is because it can enable two-way communication and interactions between buildings and utilities and support more automated grid service offerings from DR Providers.

Perhaps this is a good segue to the project that Slipstream and ACE IoT are doing to deploy VOLTTON in Slipstream’s building in Madison. Why is Slipstream deploying a VOLTTRON-enabled, cloud-based HVAC-controls solution?

JZ: Slipstream is self-funding the deployment of a VOLTTRON-based GEB platform in our headquarter office in Madison, WI for several reasons. We want the opportunity to test a cloud-based GEB solution, powered by the VOLTTRON platform. Through a project with GSA and U.S. DOE, we are working with Kinetic Buildings and Prescriptive Data in demonstrating their vendor-specific GEB software solutions. We want to provide an independent assessment of the non-vender-specific, free, and open-source VOLTTRON-based GEB platform.

So far, VOLTTRON has allowed us to trend data from our building HVAC system and power monitoring equipment quickly and easily. We are currently focused on using available drivers including OpenADR to conduct grid-interactive load-shedding and load-shifting tests using the platform. We intend to assess VOLTTRON’s capability to serve as an independent data layer that can facilitate the integration of various building energy systems, DERs, and other relevant systems into a single platform for smart building energy system integration and interaction with the smart grid.

How does a VOLTTRON-enabled cloud-based control solution fit into Slipstream’s vision for the future?

JZ: BACnet changed the building controls industry, providing a free and open protocol across different HVAC control systems. If the VOLTTRON technology can adequately - and securely - support cloud-based integration and control of building energy systems including HVAC, lighting, plug load, and other DERs, I think VOLTTRON could help migrate the industry into the cloud-based transactive energy era and have a more transformative impact on the industry. Sophisticated and automated smart building integration and control, including at the community level, can only be delivered by a solution that is supported by a cloud system – the storage, memory, and operating system available in a modern building controller is still too limited to support model-based control, for example. Migrating the brains of smart building solutions to a common platform will enable greater automation and – as I say – this will lead to greater interest among building owners in energy-efficient and carbon-reducing technologies. When building owners and their technology and utility partners have access to an inexpensive, adaptable, secure common platform that can accept data from any energy system, in any protocol, the industry will have taken a critical step forward.

To learn more about Eclipse VOLTTRON and ACE IoT Solutions, please visit www.aceiotsolutions.com.

Also, please check-out ACE IoT Co-Founder Andrew Rodgers’ recent interview on James Dice’s Nexus Podcast.

Follow ACE IoT on LinkedIN.