It’s common to associate the term “big data” with targeted advertising and invasions of privacy, but for New York City-based commercial real estate management company Rudin, the massive sets of numbers can help save the world.
In response to requests from utility companies and government entities to reduce emissions and prevent catastrophes like the northeast blackout in the summer of 2003, the firm launched a tech startup, Prescriptive Data, to find a way to use big data sets, technically referred to as silos, to answer these calls.
The startup combines data from Rudin’s buildings with numbers from utility companies into an operating system they call Nantum, which regulates heat, elevators and other property machinery. The results, Rudin found, include more comfortable conditions for its tenants, along with a massive reduction in carbon emissions. At the end of 2018, the 19 properties using Nantum together achieved a 44% reduction in emissions, more than half of the 80%- by year 2050-goal established under the New York City Carbon Challenge.
However, since data collection is still a relatively new science, and a confusing one for many, I asked Rudin’s executive vice president and COO John Gilbert to explain how Nantum used it to achieve the recent sustainability milestone.
How did you get the idea for a data tech startup?
In 2009, President Obama put together a stimulus package following the recession of 2008, and a chunk of that money was to go to utilities to create some innate intelligence within the grid. It was really to prevent the big blackout in August of 2003, when 55 million people in the northeast and southern Canada lost power, from ever happening again. We were reached out to by Con Edison and they said, “Listen, we got this chunk of [money] and we want to talk to some smart customers of ours. You, Rudin, have had a history of integrating very innovative technology within your portfolio, will you act as the smart technology petri dish for us?” And we said sure.
What did Con Ed ask you to do?
So, we went to our first meeting and they put up on the screen what was happening to the Manhattan Con Ed grid right before the lights went out in August of 2003. Then they asked us a very interesting question, which was: If we at Con Ed had a 30 second-warning that something bad was going to happen, would you, Rudin, and your friendly and unfriendly [laughs] competitors want it? And we were like, “yea, we want it.” We could program our elevators to go to the nearest floor and let people out, so nobody gets stuck in any of our buildings right before a blackout, which is a huge issue. I have to use a very scarce resource of emergency generator capacity to access one of those elevators.
But first you needed to organize and combine various silos of real estate data. How did you do that?
Before Nantum, you didn’t have the ability. Every building in New York collects an enormous amount of data – temperature, humidity, consumption, you name it, we collect it. That’s all interior data. The problem is, in non-Nantum buildings, that data is buried in an engine room somewhere with a user experience that is totally disorganized.
If that’s interior data, are Con Ed’s numbers exterior?
Yes. Con Ed was saying to us, “we want to send you electrical data,” but I didn’t have a catcher’s mitt to catch it and I didn’t have an arm to throw it to a base.
What is one of the most useful sets of numbers for Nantum?
Occupancy data. We never counted the number of people who are actually coming into our building and leaving in a real-time basis before, Nantum does that. So, people are starting to leave a building for lunch, you can start reducing your fan speed until people start to come back. We shrink our operations by measuring how fast a building heat up or cool down. It’s in the real dead of winter or height of summer where we really have to either heat the space or cool the space. I could show you a curve from 2005, when we weren’t counting people, and an energy consumption of today, and the savings … yesterday we hit 25%, the day before that we hit 22% [compared to 2005]. So these are huge numbers. On average, in our portfolio, we save $.55 a foot in energy by utilizing Nanta. That’s $5.5 million per year, in 10 million square feet.
Do you anticipate other property owners following suit with Nantum-style technology?
What’s interesting is, every property owner in New York and every property owner in the world is looking at themselves in the mirror and asking these same questions: Do I want to continue solving my issues on a point-by-point basis and die a death of multiple dashboards? Or do I want a single integrated platform that grabs all of my data, blows up the silos; that allows data sets to talk to each other that never talked to each other before, and truly gives me not only standardized data but real-time situational awareness?
Have you seen more interest in sustainability among your tenants in Nantum buildings?
A very large customer, a big company that occupies 16 floors, came to us and said, “We love what you’re doing on a building-by-building basis, but we want to do this on a floor-by-floor basis.” So we put sensors on every floor, and now we’re seeing an additional 14% reduction on those floors. These companies are now using it to recruit talent, retain talent and send a message to their stockholders saying, “Hey, we’re the greenest company in New York.”