Madhushan Tennakoon

Madhushan Tennakoon | 75F | Machine Learning Developer

When we first meet Madhu Tennakoon, he is very friendly, admittedly nervous -- but happy to chat with us about his role as a Machine Learning Developer at 75F.

Madhu is originally from Sri Lanka, he tells us, hailing from a small town called Kandy. He says his town received its electricity from hydropower. Unfortunately, his part of Sri Lanka experiences dry seasons, and that has an effect on the electricity source -- resulting in power cuts.

It was during these power cuts that Madhu tells us he learned to play chess with his mother.

These times of no power also got him thinking about energy efficiency. “I guess you could say I’ve been thinking about saving energy and stuff since I was a kid,” he tells us.

 "Conserving electricity was always on our mind, especially with a dad who was an engineer at the local electrical company. We would always be conscious about the little things like leaving lights turned for too long."

Little did he know, his childhood experiences would be a foreshadow to his job at 75F. Coupled with his two bachelor's degrees from the University of Minnesota -- one in physics, the other in electrical engineering -- the stars aligned when Madhu was participating in the IoT Fuse hackathon in which the CEO and founder of 75F, Deepinder Singh was a judge. A quick conversation, followed by an invitation to visit the space in Burnsville, turned into a job offer, which Madhu was happy to accept.

Madhu explains that his job as a machine learning developer is about teaching a computer to decipher thousands of different data sets so it can learn to find hidden patterns and relationships and offer crucial engineering insights into complex physical systems.

He says devices and apps we use every day are utilizing machine learning -- like Snapchat.

“Your smartphone, there's a bunch of apps in there that use machine learning. Siri for one. I mean, anything that uses voice assistance. If you have an Alexa at home, that’s my first go-to machine learning app. The fact that you can be in your kitchen cooking and talk to Alexa with all this noise going on, what's basically happening is Alexa is pretty smart. She can figure out what the noise is and what human speech is.”

Because 75F is at its core -- an energy efficiency company, Madhu spends his time teaching machines to understand how a building absorbs heat during the day, how it loses heat, how it responds to different heating and cooling loads, and so on. 

Madhu kindly takes us to one of 75F’s most recent clients just down the street in Eagan, Amazing Lash. It’s a building that enjoys direct south facing sun -- heating up the entryway and sitting room to toasty levels, but leaving the back application rooms where clients have eyelashes applied, cool. This commercial building’s temperature imbalance required the special attention and services of 75F.

75F has designed an energy management and building automation solution that works with existing HVAC infrastructure which immediately starts saving people money by reducing energy costs by up to 50 percent. It also increases indoor air quality and the comfort of every room in your building, with outside air optimization and dynamic airflow balancing. Essentially, the system uses fresh, cool, outdoor air for “free air cooling” instead of using energy to condition the inside air. The system also delivers fresh oxygen-rich air to keep CO2 levels low and healthy for the people inside the building.

And to top it all off, the system is easy to install -- so easy in fact, they advertise that it can be done by elementary students.

This smart node works so efficiently because of people like Madhu -- who have spent considerable time teaching it to respond to millions of different heating and cooling situations.

“You feel a sense of pride knowing that at the end of the day, you're doing something that's going to be helpful further down the road -- not just keeping your consumers happy by keeping them comfortable, but you’re also meeting the energy needs and helping people be more energy efficient,” he says.

Madhu’s passion is shared by nearly everyone at 75F. He tells us that passion was one of the first things he noticed after he started working here.

“If you really think about it, what we’re doing helps the environment and that’s really what matters,” he says. “I’m really happy that this is a sector that’s growing rapidly and I hope the number of people currently employed in the energy efficiency sector in Minnesota just continues to increase.”

Madhu is one of more than 49,000 Minnesotans working in the energy efficiency sector. Energy efficiency makes up 86 percent of the state’s clean energy workforce, according to the 2017 Clean Jobs Midwest Report.