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Startup CEO has vision to revolutionize energy systems for schools and public agencies: 'The same issue kept coming up'

"On a purely economic basis, it makes total sense to all the folks that we talk to."

"On a purely economic basis, it makes total sense to all the folks that we talk to."

Photo Credit: iStock

Tanya Barham is on a mission to make public buildings smarter and more sustainable.

As the CEO of Community Energy Labs, she's using innovative technology to revolutionize how schools and public agencies manage their energy use, according to an interview with Dave Miller of OPB.

Growing up as an environmentalist in the Pacific Northwest, Barham's path led to the intersection of buildings and the electrical grid. She realized that buildings are the main driver of peak energy demand. They are also the source of about 42% of annual global carbon pollution, according to Architecture 2030.

While many sustainability efforts target areas like vehicle electrification, Barham saw an unmet need and opportunity in tackling energy waste in public buildings, according to the OPB interview.

The key challenge? Balancing energy efficiency and decarbonization goals with occupant comfort and limited public sector budgets.

"I was talking to a lot of different people in commercial and residential applications: homeowners, businesses, schools, public buildings. And the same issue kept coming up over and over again," Barham recalled to OPB.

The need for a solution that could guarantee comfort while reducing energy consumption was clear.

Enter Community Energy Labs' groundbreaking solution: a low-cost, quickly deployable control system that makes any building "smart" and energy-efficient. Using advanced physics modeling and machine learning, their technology continuously optimizes heating and cooling to maintain comfort while minimizing energy use and carbon pollution.

"We like to say that our technology enables clean, all electric, self-driving buildings," explained Barham. No matter if the building uses gas or electric systems; the smart controls can cut energy consumption by up to 23% without sacrificing occupant comfort, according to Barham.

It's the perfect job for artificial intelligence that never gets tired.

This intelligent energy management system is a game-changer for budget-constrained schools and public agencies. Even small rural school districts can implement state-of-the-art efficiency solutions without expensive capital projects.

It's a financial win-win — saving taxpayer dollars through reduced utility bills while fighting rising global temperatures.

"What we do is very, very different," notes Barham. While traditional building controls rely on fixed set points and rules, Community Energy Labs' algorithms actually learn and predict the thermodynamics of the building itself. This allows the system to optimize energy use in real-time based on factors like occupancy patterns and weather forecasts.

So far, Community Energy Labs has partnered with the U.S. Departments of Energy and Agriculture as well as major utilities on pilot projects. But Barham believes spreading greater awareness is key to scaling up the adoption of smart building solutions.

"On a purely economic basis, it makes total sense to all the folks that we talk to," Barham shared. Innovations like these prove that fighting atmospheric pollution can be cost-effective, not costly.

Barham and Community Energy Labs are making sustainability in buildings simple, affordable, and impactful. Their work exemplifies how human ingenuity, paired with technology, can empower us all to take climate action into our own hands — one smart and efficient building at a time.

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