With ever increasing requirements to maximise efficient energy use, a recent Knowledge Transfer Partnership between Glasgow-based software specialist, arbnco, and the University of Strathclyde, sought to close buildings’ “energy performance gap”.

This refers to a disparity between the expected energy performance of a building, informed by the design expectations, and the actual energy performance. This gap can have several unfortunate consequences, including unnecessary energy consumption, increased energy costs, and unhappy clients. It also creates confusion with regards to the valuation of real estate assets, as operational costs are disconnected from predicted performance. 

The challenge

Current efforts to investigate such gaps tend to rely on dynamic building performance simulation tools to analyse remedial actions and upgrades. The capability of these simulation models is often compromised, however, by the lack of prior calibration to match prediction to performance. 

The response

arbnco – a Glasgow-based software company specialising in managing energy and environmental performance in the built environment – sought to design a software tool to diagnose and undertake these calibrations automatically, constructing a simulated model more representative of a building’s operation. Along with allowing building and facilities managers to better analyse and adjust operational energy use, such models are immensely valuable in efforts to retrofit or change operation for increased energy efficiency. 

Lacking the resources at the time to carry out such an ambitious technical undertaking, arbnco entered into a KTP – funded by EPSRC and Scottish Funding Council – partnering with the Energy Systems Research Unit (ESRU) at the University of Strathclyde to develop a cloud-based building energy model calibration service. 

Gerry Black, Senior Knowledge Transfer Adviser at the KTN, who helped put the partnership together commented that “arbnco is a very exciting high growth company developing state-of-the-art tools for property portfolio management. To help link them with the world class researchers at the Energy Systems Research Unit at the University of Strathclyde was a privilege and has led to the adoption by industry of emerging research in predicting real rather than theoretical building performance”.

The impact 

The cloud-based energy model calibration software that resulted from the KTP uses real building data to create a simulation that is much more accurate to a building’s operational reality than other services. The software provides building managers with the necessary knowledge to properly understand and control their energy usage, and install sustainable retrofits with clarity and certainty. 

The KTP arrangement was mutually beneficial for all three parties involved: 

  • The University provided arbnco with the necessary technical and expert professional support to succeed in their ambition. The KTP coincided with significant growth for arbnco, from 5 employees at its beginning to over 30 by its conclusion. The KTP introduced new talent to the company, and allowed arbnco to significantly accelerate its research, and the knowledge gained from the partnership has informed the development of further products by arbnco
  • arbnco’s valuation in 2019 (when the KTP completed) was 12.4 times higher than what it was in 2016 (before the KTP)
  • arbnco was named as Scotland’s fastest growing business in a recent report released by Syndicate Room/Beauhurst. It ranked 46th in the top 100 fastest growing companies and was one of only two Scottish firms
  • arbnco provided the University with the ability to see its research applied in a commercial context through pilot partnerships 
  • The KTP Associate, Loic Jacob, is now employed by arbnco as its Building Energy Simulation Engineer, having also undertaken a PhD at the university
  • The KTP received the highest possible grade of “Outstanding”, benefiting the University and reflecting well on all parties involved
  • Following the enormous success of the partnership, arbnco and the University of Strathclyde have entered into a second partnership, this time focusing on using IoT technology to improve building management and increase sustainability.  

Loic Jacob commented: “The KTP was genuinely transformative for arbnco. Our partnership gave us the opportunity to undertake something of a scale that we might not otherwise have been able to. Along with providing us with access to world class research, our KTP exposed us all to the valuable new perspectives that can only be gained through collaboration.”

Professor Joe Clarke, director of the ESRU at the University of Strathclyde, added: “KTPs are an exceptional knowledge transfer mechanism, allowing academics to convey research outcomes to a business via a recent graduate. In this way the business can accelerate the transformation of research to new commercial products and solutions.” 

If you think a KTP could help your organisation innovate for growth, please get in touch with one of our specialist Knowledge Transfer Advisers – they will be able to help you every step of the way, from assessing your project’s suitability for funding, completing the application process, and throughout the lifetime of the project. 

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