Tech Companies Use Energy Data to Fuel Innovations

July 8, 2014 By Karen Henry

nest-thermostat-energy-manageIn May, the US Environmental Protection Agency released its Clean Power Plan, which pushes states to increase energy efficiency by businesses and residential power users 1.5 percent each year. As a result, investment in energy efficiency technology, programs and products is predicted to increase.

This trend is being mirrored worldwide. Spending on energy-efficiency technologies and programs reached $250 billion worldwide last year, and that amount is expected to more than double by 2035, according to an article in the Seattle Times.

Power companies are tapping databases to profile the energy use of their customers the way that big-box retail companies track customer product choices, and tech companies are seizing on the opportunity to use multi-billion-dollar state and national programs to fuel energy-efficiency products and technologies.

Google, for example, recently purchased Palo Alto, Calif.-based smart-thermostat manufacturer Nest Labs for $3.2 billion. Homeowners receive cash rebates from Southern California Edison for purchasing the thermostats, and the thermostats allow the utility to precool the homes of customers before the evening rush so that it does not need to fire up extra power plants.

Arlington, Va.-based OPower, a data-mining firm that encourages homeowners to make better energy choices by alerting them when their neighbors are being more efficient, has grown from a small pilot project partnered with a single power company to being a publicly held company that does business with 90 utilities.

And while this type of data mining has some privacy advocates concerned, so far, energy technology startups are banking on consumers being more enamored with the technology and cost savings than they are concerned about the related privacy issues.

FirstFuel, for instance, mines the 36,000 data points of consumption a modern smart meter generates for a building each year and checks it against other data, such as weather histories and images of the building to generate a deep energy-use profile that reveals specific areas of waste, including lights left on all night, air conditioning running when workers are not in the building and poorly insulated windows.

The average customer can use the report to cut consumption more than 18 percent, FirstFuel estimates.

Photography courtesy of Nest Labs.

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