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Using new technologies in energy efficiency. Q&A with Navi Singh

What if you could see an image of your home pinpointing exactly where you're losing energy, and, as a consequence, money?

Essess, a software company specializing in thermal imaging, can do just that. They assess (yes, their name is a clever play on words) energy efficiency and use data to tell utility companies which utility customers are leaking heat so they can then tell their customers where exactly the issue is and what fixes are available. Essess has gained a lot of media attention lately and has been featured everywhere from the New York Times to Popular Science. Ecotech Institute had the chance to chat with Navi Singh, a founding team member of the company.

Can you tell us a little bit about Essess and your role at the company?

Essess started out at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as a research project. It was led by a group in the mechanical engineering department under Professor Sanjay Sarma, whose previous work was all about remote sensing.

The goal of this project was to find a way to efficiently and cost-effectively assess energy leakage for buildings. I am part of the founding team that created Essess. Currently I head up corporate strategy and solutions delivery.

Can you tell us about the technology Essess uses?

Essess has invested millions of dollars to develop technology that can overcome some of the limitations seen in traditional handheld thermal imaging technology. Specifically, the project was designed to figure out how we could gather data for not hundreds or thousands but millions of buildings while overcoming problems like low resolution and motion blur observed in current thermal cameras.

As a result, we developed a hardware device, a rig that sits on top of customized vehicles, and we use that vehicle to drive around, similar to Google Street View. We use short- and long-wave infrared cameras along with several other sensors to capture thermal signatures of structure.

We extract the data, clean it up, combine it with GIS data and run it through our automated processing pipeline - which allows us to automatically detect building envelope inefficiencies. This is where we can say, 'here is a leaky window,' and make recommendations for energy efficiency upgrades.

What has been the biggest lesson you've learned in working in energy efficiency?

The biggest lesson we've learned is that it's really important to make the conversation relevant for each and every building-owner. People have a tendency to talk about energy efficiency at the 20,000-foot level. It's difficult to fix a problem when you don't know where or what that problem is so we wanted to take energy efficiency from a 20,000-foot conversation to a ''here's your leaky home'' conversation.

What skills do you think are going to be most important for students who want to work in energy efficiency?

They need analytical thinking skills and the ability to work through a problem both at the macro and micro levels. To be able to dissect a problem and find a better or different answer.

What is the best advice you would give a student who is interested in pursuing a green career?

Although it's important to be passionate, it's just as important to be informed. You need to have the right data and figures and know the true value of energy efficiency, or whatever green career you choose.

Individuals who are choosing the green path are on the cutting edge—these are not traditional jobs—so you are defining the future and it's your job to be able to explain that in layman's terms to someone who is not in your field. Make the conversation real.