Saikrishnan Ranganathan, co-founder and CEO of SensorFlow, shares how his startup is cooling hotels with sustainability in mind.
You’re finally on vacation, relaxing in a five-star hotel room with 1,200-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets. You peer out of the balcony at the sprawling pool below and make a snap decision to take a dip in the waters. You put on your swimwear and sunglasses and dash out of the hotel room—in the process, forgetting to turn off the air conditioner.
It turns out that you are not alone in this: less than ten percent of hotel guests turn off the air conditioner when leaving their rooms, according to a study conducted by Singapore-based energy management startup SensorFlow. “Our studies have found that guests aren’t even in their rooms 50 percent of the time after check-in. They’re out visiting theme parks, having a glass of Amarone by the water’s edge or elsewhere,” said Mr Saikrishnan Ranganathan, SensorFlow’s co-founder and CEO.
Using data collected from over 100 hotel air-conditioning units, the study also found that guests often crank the air conditioning down much lower than they need it, believing that their preferred temperature will be reached more quickly that way.
“What happens is that it leaves an air-conditioning unit striving to reach 19°C—far too cold for the average hotel guest. In a best-case scenario, the guest gets cold and turns the temperature up to a more realistic level. At worst, the air-conditioner runs in an inefficient manner and never automatically shuts off,” he added.
Designing Intelligent Hotels
One major energy guzzler that hoteliers can focus on is the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems that help to cool all buildings. A 2014 study by Green Hotelier on a fully-metered 300-room hotel in Germany showed that HVAC systems were responsible for about 22 percent of energy consumption. Hence, by tackling the biggest energy consumer directly, hotels can see immediate energy savings and have a positive impact on the environment.
Here’s where SensorFlow’s wireless sensors and big data analytics capabilities come into play. Using the Internet of Things (IoT)—a system of interconnected devices that exchange data—real-time data from within hotel rooms is sent to the cloud for analysis. By monitoring real-time data on guest behaviour and energy consumption, SensorFlow can then provide hoteliers with insights to automate decision making and optimise energy efficiency.
“SensorFlow was founded by Max Pagel and I in 2016, and our company has evolved from the clear and pressing need for energy optimisation worldwide,” said Mr Ranganathan. “We recognised that hotels were one of the biggest victims of poor energy efficiency, and we realised that they face large barriers in adopting existing solutions, given their limited operating expenditure budgets. To make matters worse, the currently available solutions are not only costly, but also massively disruptive to install.”
Instead of a complete rehaul of a hotel’s heating system, SensorFlow provides a retrofit solution with little downtime. It automates the adjustment of air-conditioning systems when guests are outside their rooms, and turns them off when doors or balcony windows are left open. As a bonus, it provides predictive maintenance alerts and system failure detection, creating an intelligent hotel that allows staff to respond to issues before their guests even notice.
“With our solution, hotels can easily monitor the energy usage of their buildings, rooms and appliances such as split unit compressors, variable refrigerant volumes HVAC systems or chillers, and be alerted if there is a need for maintenance. All of this improves the air-conditioning energy efficiency of hotels by up to 30 percent,” Mr Ranganathan said.
Empowering Hotel Guests in Their Decisions
Across Asia, industry professionals in the hospitality sector are starting to champion the adoption of green hotel technology in their hotels. In one such example, Mr Ranganathan described how a hotel group in Hong Kong wanted to encourage its guests to participate actively in energy conservation.
“Our solution has inspired them to take a step forward in their evolution as a smart eco-hotel,” he shared. Via the hotel’s smart app, guests are given access to energy data provided by SensorFlow, which provides them real-time information on their room’s energy consumption. They are also able to control their room’s appliances.
“By giving them energy data, the guests can better manage their energy consumption. Subsequently, guests will only be charged for what they consume, encouraging them to make more sustainable decisions,” Mr Ranganathan said.
Not only does the data empower eco-conscious guests, he said, it also allows them to save on their hotel bill at the end of their stay—a win-win situation for both hotel and guest, and the environment.
A Meeting of Minds
Today, Mr Ranganathan continues to relish the challenge of helping hotels to make more sustainable and eco-friendly decisions, and he acknowledges that he could not have done it alone. He and his co-founder Max started SensorFlow after meeting each other as part of the first cohort of Entrepreneur First Singapore, a company builder programme based at SGInnovate’s office.
“SGInnovate’s support has been greatly helpful, especially during the early stages of our growth. They paved the way for us via numerous introductions to hotels, which proved fruitful, and even went so far as to attend prospect meetings with us,” Mr Ranganathan said.
SGInnovate also referred us to their wide network of investors across all stages of funding support as well as recommended us to banks for potential future debt financing. It would certainly be hard to imagine SensorFlow’s current rapid expansion if not for SGInnovate’s backing at crucial moments of our growth.
Mr Ranganathan is aware that growing pains await his two-year-old startup, some of which would be building up brand credibility and competing with larger companies in the hospitality industry. Thankfully, early adopters recognised SensorFlow’s potential and were willing to take the risk by installing their solution, he said.
“To ensure that we could more than live up to expectations, we have worked very closely with each client to address the needs brought up to us, while at the same time, provide complete transparency about how we calculate and demonstrate the savings achieved with our solution,” Mr Ranganathan said.
At SGInnovate, we work with entrepreneurial scientists to build and scale their companies. SensorFlow’s technology helps to maximise energy efficiency, reduce carbon footprint to make the world a greener place. This echoes our belief in working towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
SensorFlow is one of our portfolio companies.