Spotlight on NYU's Urban Future Lab

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” Felix Lipov, the lead software engineer for Enertiv, says. His company, which is responsible for the eye-catching display hanging at the entrance to the Urban Future Lab (UFL), designs and manufactures meters and sensors that work with proprietary software to give a granular picture of a building’s energy consumption from the circuit-box level—and to provide targeted recommendations about reducing waste—a vital service when by some estimates almost a third of the energy used in commercial buildings is squandered. “If a tenant in an office building has all the lights on at 3 a.m., when no one is working, or if the air conditioning is on and it’s 40 degrees out,” Lipov explains, “that kind of wasteful behavior can be automatically addressed and corrected.”

Based in a New York City borough, with thousands of high-rise structures as possible test beds, Enertiv has a distinct advantage in addition to an NYU affiliation. Besides providing a great pool of interns—School of Engineering senior Sarah Scott is currently working on hardware for the company—NYU is lending its own buildings to the Enertiv mission. “We are going to be installing units across Third North to monitor individual suites for all 950 students,” Lipov says enthusiastically. “We think that students will be motivated to compete with those in other suites to change their behavior and reduce their energy consumption.”

Tech companies around the world are hearing about the benefits conferred by being in Brooklyn, and the UFL’s first in- ternational firm, Smarter Grid Solutions, made the move this year. The company had been founded in the United King- dom to help utility distributors better manage their grids. ”We have a strong position in our home market, where we work with five out of the U.K.’s six power distribution companies, and this success is now extend- ing into mainland Europe. We knew that the next big market for our technology was North America,” Colin Gault, one of Smarter Grid’s principal consul- tants, says. “We read about work being done at the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering by Professor Francisco De Leon and heard about the Urban Future Lab and its close relationships with the main players in New York’s energy sector and knew that it would be a great base of operations.” Like Enertiv, Smarter Grid Solutions has hired an intern from the NYU School of Engineering, Tianlin Liu, who is earning a master’s degree in electrical engineering and enjoys working with her jovial and outgoing supervisors.

The company, whose headquarters are in Glasgow, recently won a contract to create technologies for ConEd that will help increase the resiliency of its electrical grid during emergencies and weather-related power outages—a particularly pressing concern in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. Their project, undertaken with the help of NYSERDA and the NYU Center for Urban Science and Progress, involves investigating how Distributed Energy Resources (DERs), like privately owned microgrids, could be integrated into the wider system, thereby creating better smart-grid and smart-city infrastructures in the future. Bob Currie, a co-founder of Smarter Grid Solutions and its chief technology officer, explains that NYU maintains a microgrid in Washington Square, and during Sandy, when the surrounding area was plunged into darkness, the lights in key university buildings continued to work thanks to the school’s 13.4-megawatt combined heat and power plant, housed below Mercer Street. “The resilience of the power grid is of utmost importance, particularly during an Currie says. “And incorporating more microgrids and DERs is a solution that, with our technology, utilities can realize today.”