When it comes to greener buildings, Ysael Desage has a plan

These pieces in their own words are told to Patricia Lane and co-edited with input from the interviewee for the sake of brevity.

Ysael Desage teaches buildings to be team players in saving energy.

The 26-year-old Montreal-based doctoral student at McGill University works at BrainBox AI, which uses artificial intelligence to help buildings use energy efficiently. Desage’s research enables groups of buildings to flatten collective peak demand, optimize the use of renewable energy and reduce overall demand, increasing opportunities for cost savings and energy reduction. use of fossil fuels.

Ysael and his grandmother Françoise on obtaining his master’s degree. Photo courtesy of André St-Amand

Tell us about your project.

Buildings account for 30% of global fossil fuel consumption. BrainBox AI installs a box the size of a shoebox in each building to analyze when cooling, heating, ventilation, gas and electricity are used and how the building itself reacts to temperature changes, precipitation and wind. Cloud-based artificial intelligence then taps into external data sources, such as weather forecasts and utility costs, and “teaches” building energy management systems how to maintain or improve human comfort. while optimizing energy consumption. This means that each building draws less from the grid during peak periods, often reducing fossil fuel consumption. The technology also increases the proportionate use of renewable energy and reduces costs by reducing overall demand.

Since our launch in 2019, we have applied our technology to over 100 million square feet of retail space in 70 cities around the world, often with multiple locations. For example, Sleep Country Canada has our “brain boxes” in each of its 214 stores. A California-based pharmaceutical company is working with us to reduce its carbon footprint and achieve other sustainability goals at its Los Angeles campus. While every building is different, we are often able to facilitate cost savings of 25% and carbon emission reductions of up to 40%.

My work takes this to the next level by linking the AI ​​agents in each individual building and connecting them together so that multiple buildings can cooperate. For example, if one building is in the shade while another is in the sun, linking their energy systems can reduce the demand for both buildings. If users in one building stop working 10 minutes earlier than in another, the resulting differences in their energy needs can benefit both. I am also working to enable the grid to benefit from aggregated unused battery capacity in electric vehicles and other sites.

Ysael and his colleague Nicolas approach the icebreaker CCGS Amundsen. Photo courtesy of Amélie Bentler

How did you get into this job?

The 26-year-old Montreal-based doctoral student at McGill University works at BrainBox AI, which uses artificial intelligence to help buildings use energy efficiently. #YouthClimateAction

I studied physics as an undergraduate and computer science seemed to fit naturally into my abilities. I am actively involved with the Canadian Coast Guard and I take great satisfaction in knowing that I am helping people. When a professor in my master’s program told me about BrainBox AI, it seemed like a great way to support people in the energy transition while using my skills and giving me research opportunities.

Tell us about your journey.

I was raised by my grandparents who took me with them as they brought humanitarian aid to places like Rwanda, Mali, Mexico and Madagascar. One of my earliest memories is of being shocked to realize that the only sources of water for many poor people are contaminated and muddy. I returned to Quebec for my last year of high school. As a child, I learned to deal well with being out of my comfort zone and to adapt. I was also taught to see the changes in the environment around us caused by climate change and to respect the world more than human. There was no doubt that I would earn my living trying to make the world a better place.

Ysael and his colleague Nicolas during the Free Electron challenge in Chicago. Photo courtesy of Filipe Cordeiro

What makes your job difficult?

This has never been done before.

What worries you?

The world has gone through energy transitions before, but never with the passage of time like now. We need to scale, go faster and we need to do it right as well. The responsibility can seem overwhelming.

What gives you hope?

Private and public investors and governments seem eager and ready to support the transition. Investors are often risk averse, but in my work, as we innovate, we rely on proven technology.

Ysael and his colleagues from BrainBox AI walking in Montreal for Earth Day. Photo courtesy of Sam Ramadori

What do you see if we succeed?

We will deliver on our commitment to reach net zero by 2050.

What advice would you give to other young people?

Be bold. Your dreams may come true faster than you think, but it will only happen if you dare to tell others about them.

What would you like to say to older readers?

Trust the young people around you to teach you about technology. We cannot reach net zero by 2050 without it.

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