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President Towards 50 - Percent Building Energy Savings

In 2014 Matt Conway Founded Towards 50 – Percent Building Energy Savings ( Towards 50 brings angel investors and innovators together to develop game-changing new technologies at...

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The Most Important Energy Efficiency Program You've Never Heard Of

A building automation training instructor works with students on laptops programming wireless LED bulbs.

At the intersection of energy conservation and youth employment, a new career-training program is taking shape in urban high schools across the United States. The non-profit Stacks+Joules aims to build a strong new labor force of engineers and technicians skilled in the complex computerized systems that control equipment in modern buildings.

With pilots rolled out across the Boston area at Chelsea High School, Madison Park Technical Vocational High School and at the South End Tech Center, the program is slated for expansion to New York City and Los Angeles in advance of a national roll-out.

Why Concentrate on Training High School Students For Building Automation and Controls Jobs?

The 2014 Building Asset Rating (BAR) Study, sponsored by DOE and Massachusetts found that misconfigured building automation systems are a leading cause of poor energy performance in commercial buildings. In 50 facilities located throughout the Boston area the BAR study found near universal controls problems.

The facilities heated and cooled spaces at the same time, fan systems operated independent of schedules and large percentages of office lighting failed to take advantage of modern energy saving features. In buildings both large and small, building management system programming was to blame.

“The HVAC Controls Industry is experiencing a significant labor shortage and the future doesn’t look much different. ”
– Steve Feinberg, President, BCM Controls

Across the energy efficiency sector, as high as 80% of employers report consistent difficulty finding qualified job applicants, with over 40% finding it “very difficult.” Employers attributed hiring difficulty to lack of qualifications, education, training, experience, and/or technical skills.

This labor shortage is surprising, as salaries for controls professionals are at the top of many environmental and efficiency pay scales.

Two Underlying Causes of the Building Automation Labor Crisis

  1. The building controls industry is experiencing rapid change. Over the last five years the central players in the building controls industry have transitioned from large Fortune 100 corporations that can afford to subsidize training, to small regional firms that lack comprehensive staffing strategies.
  2. Companies are not succeeding in attracting young people to the rapidly expanding opportunities. Young people too often associate the industry with “dirty hands” mechanical trades instead of coding, programming and data aggregation and analysis.

Stacks+Joules Opens Up the Industry

Stacks+Joules is a collaborative effort with MIT-based BELLEDS Technologies. From day one, students are engaged in hands-on, career-focused learning. They master application programming indexes (API), develop their own lighting control APPs and learn the fundamentals of building controls.

Utilizing the six million colors available on the wireless BELLEDS LEDs engages students’ creativity to accelerate their understanding of the role controls play in realizing energy savings. For the capstone project, each student programs a complex, choreographed light show set to their favorite music.

No Net Cost and Future Proof

Much of the work that the Stacks+Joules students are being trained for can be completed at no net cost to building owners. The long-term savings these students will enable come with huge environmental and financial benefits.

A 2016 Department of Energy study found that re-tuning controls of more than 70 federal buildings achieved a median 15% energy savings. That benefit can be achieved anywhere enough workers can be trained to make and manage system optimizations.

At a time when so many well-paying careers are being outsourced, opportunities in building automation and controls standout for their growing importance and the fact that they are truly future proof.

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Jonathan Spooner's picture
Jonathan Spooner on Feb 14, 2018

Hello my name is Jonathan Spooner- I am one of the founders of Stacks+Joules and would welcome any questions or comments from the theenergycollective community.

thank you-

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 14, 2018

Companies are not succeeding in attracting young people to the rapidly expanding opportunities. Young people too often associate the industry with “dirty hands” mechanical trades instead of coding, programming and data aggregation and analysis.

Jonathan, much of attracting high school kids to a profession, like anything else, is how you frame it. Becoming a worker in the “HVAC Controls Industry” is less attractive than becoming a “Building Systems Analyst” or “Energy Optimization Specialist”.

Focus on attracting women to the program – if young women are involved you will have no problem attracting young men, whether they get their hands dirty or not.

Best of luck.

Jim King's picture
Jim King on Feb 14, 2018

We are doing some interesting and potentially ground breaking work in the area of improving building energy performance by improving the operation of the BAS. You can see some of our work on our website I am not sure if there is an opportunity to collaborate but it might be worth a conversation. You can reach me at

Jim King

Jonathan Spooner's picture
Jonathan Spooner on Feb 15, 2018

You are right, it is how you frame it, but we’ve found there has yet to be an established title for this field. We have struck upon “Building Automation Specialist” as a standard way of describing the job but I’d be interested in other’s opinions.

Jonathan Spooner's picture
Jonathan Spooner on Feb 15, 2018

Thank you Jim – we will check it out and be in touch.

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Feb 15, 2018

This is the kind of article I love to see on TEC, and I’ve been reading here for a long time.

I certainly don’t qualify as a kid, but I did get involved in early urban gentrification and internet advocacy in then abandoned downtown St. Paul, MN. in the 1970s and early 1980s. Then they exiled me to the wilderness booneys where I continue learning microcontroller stuff. If you don’t appreciate building energy systems in Minnesota you are likely dead. And hooray that you teach kids today’s amazing control systems technology.

BTW, dirty hands can be solved by wearing gloves. It’s the perpetually wet feet part that bothers me out here. Best of luck.

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