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How Much Does A Resident Running A Bitcoin Mine Cost An Operator? This Company Can Tell You

Falk Bleyl

Last year, a student accommodation provider discovered that a student was running a bitcoin mine from their bedroom, using 48 kilowatt-hours a day of energy — as much as about five houses. Another group of students was operating a laundry service from their apartment. 

In a co-living property, one resident put a sign on the oven door asking other residents to keep it permanently running at 180 degrees Celsius so it was always ready to cook a pizza. In a build-to-rent block, a property manager accidentally left a tap running, which sent 126,000 litres of water down the drain before it was stopped. 

These are just a few of the findings uncovered by environmental, social and corporate governance technology company Utopi’s solutions, Chief Technology Officer and co-founder Falk Bleyl said. From warming a room to 35 degrees Celsius to heating an empty room for a month over Christmas, these scenarios add thousands of pounds to operators’ utility bills. 

“Operators know these horror stories are happening, but it’s a question of finding them and doing something,” Bleyl said. “The solution is to install technology that monitors energy consumption on a granular level. By providing data, we give operators what they need to educate residents about how to reduce consumption.”

Ahead of Bisnow’s UK Co-living Summit, we spoke to Bleyl about how Utopi’s technology is radically reducing energy consumption.

Bisnow: Why is knowledge of building performance so important?

Bleyl: Energy prices have clearly gone through the roof. They’re also variable, so it’s not easy to have direct control in terms of both usage and cost. 

Also, ESG has now come to the fore, so there’s a greater need for building owners to report on their buildings' environmental impact and reduce consumption of all utilities. In some cases, funding requirements say a property owner must show they can measure and reduce their impact on the environment. 

Regulations are going to get more stringent over the next few years, particularly in terms of carbon emissions. Energy use will be an ever-increasing priority for investors and asset managers, as well as for residents in these properties.

Bisnow: How are building owners and managers currently analysing utility use?

Bleyl: Currently, the main indication of building performance is an energy performance certificate rating. This considers aspects of the building fabric and systems but essentially works on the assumption that a building will use a certain amount of kilowatt-hours per square metre. 

This does not reflect any shape of reality. It doesn’t take into account the changing seasons or who is living there. Reality is how you actually use the building, which can only be measured by looking at consumption over time. 

Building regulations state that metres must be installed, but in many cases, no one looks at them. Also, there are rarely submetres that provide information on different rooms in student accommodation or co-living, for example. We connect or retrofit metres at a granular level. 

Bisnow: How aware are operators of how residents are using energy in their buildings? 

Bleyl: They’re increasingly aware, and we are seeing operators put more control mechanisms in place. However, even if you do this, students will find a way of bypassing it. I have been in rooms with an average temperature of 35 degrees Celsius. 

One particular operator confiscated a plug-in heater because it was in their tenancy agreement that they are prohibited, as they pose a fire risk. The next day, the student had bought another one. 

Our platform will clearly show this is the case. The next step is to educate residents about how and why to reduce energy consumption. This is ongoing work because next year you will have a different student in that room.

Bisnow: How does a co-living or student accommodation provider use the data provided by Utopi to educate residents?

Bleyl: Our data gives the operator the opportunity to instantly spot extreme outliers. Once we have collected data on each room, we create reports that show which rooms or apartments are above 25 degrees Celsius, for example. 

By providing the information, we give them a chance to educate residents on energy-saving measures, both to reduce consumption and reduce costs. Some of our clients run awareness campaigns, with rewards for residents that reduce their average consumption over a certain period. We’ve launched a resident app that can be used for gamification, engaging residents to opt in and compete with other residents in order to win a prize. 

When students and residents are able to understand their individual impact, they feel empowered to make a change. Many will engage with the platforms we use, such as the app and campaigns that reward the best behaviour. 

Bisnow: As well as to educate residents, how do operators use the data Utopi provides?

Bleyl: Our technology doesn’t just monitor and analyse energy use. We can show an operator details about all aspects of building performance. 

For example, we can show where a space is occupied when it shouldn’t be. In one property, we uncovered that a building manager had sublet supposedly empty space. We’ve come across people vaping in their rooms, as we install air quality sensors. Noise sensors can highlight excessive noise and corroborate complaints. 

The technology can also highlight design or mechanical defects. In one new building that had just been handed over to the operator, electric panel heaters had been installed that were supposed to have temperature limits. Using our technology it was obvious these limits hadn’t been put in place. The operator was able to solve the problem quickly. 

Bisnow: What would you say to an operator reluctant to invest in installing Utopi’s technology?

Bleyl: One client said they saw a tenfold return on investment in our technology. We have external validation that puts energy savings at 15%, which boosts asset value. 

Using our technology can also feed into longer-term design decisions. Operators can gather data and test processes or systems out on a small scale. They could see what impact installing new double glazing has on 10 rooms before rolling it out across a block, for example. 

By using Utopi’s monitors, one BTR operator decided to install one fewer lift at a new block. They monitored footfall and energy consumption of the lifts and determined that the design formula they previously used could be improved. They not only saved the cost of the lift but gained the space it would have taken. 

Bisnow: How is Utopi evolving its offering as the ESG and energy space changes?

Bleyl: We’re learning as we see how our clients use our technology evolves. We take on board feedback from clients about what works best when engaging residents. 

This all feeds into how we develop our offering. In the resident app, we have built-in automation, such as automatic temperature reduction, which reduces the work on-site teams need to do to communicate with residents and keep them engaged. 

At the moment, we’re working on providing smart electric panel heaters and thermostatic control thermostats. The first phase of Utopi’s offering was focused on data acquisition, and now we’re working on providing the controls operators need. 

This article was produced in collaboration between Utopi and Studio B. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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