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OPOWER | Business

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OPOWER is an industry leader in Energy Efficiency and Smart Grid software. Through their patentpending approach, they have successfully converted large-scale customer engagement into a highly reliable energy efficiency program that delivers unprecedented energy savings to their utility partners. Modern DC Business recently sat down with OPOWER CEO Dan Yates and President Alex Lasky.

What does O stand for in OPOWER?
There’s no one answer: the O represents many different things to many different people, all of them positive. We love it for its openness, optimism, and limitless opportunity.

Your company provides a software solution in the cutting edge business of  Smart Grid. Please explain for non-industry experts why they should get excited about Smart  Grid? What does it mean to the average consumer?

The Smart Grid is a way for consumers to be better informed about their energy usage, and to take greater control of their energy usage and their relationship with their  electric utility. Traditionally, electric power has been a one-way channel through which customers purchased and received energy from utilities. With the Smart Grid, consumers and utilities will enjoy two-way communication as a result of newly interactive infrastructure. The nation’s expanding smart infrastructure will also allow us to support more sustainable and renewable energy sources, while providing consumers more useful, meaningful information about their energy usage: together, these represent opportunities for greater cost savings and energy efficiency.

Please briefly explain how your main product works.
The OPOWER platform analyzes consumer energy usage across a variety of metrics, enabling us to break down usage by time of day and source, like heating or cooling, while comparing individual energy usage to similarly sized and equipped homes nearby. We provide this information in an individualized, relevant, and easy-to-use manner through a full array of traditional and higher-tech channels. By empowering people with personalized energy usage information and simple changes they can make to save money and save energy, we’ve inspired unprecedented energy savings everywhere our platform has been deployed.

You have a scientific advisory board and both members have psychology backgrounds. Please explain why.
What’s unique about OPOWER’s approach is that we combine data analytics with behavioral science as a way of engaging customers about energy efficiency. Behavioral science allows us to provide insights and advice that motivates consumers to change the way they consume energy. Our scientific advisory board helps us craft our energy reporting and customer engagement platform in a way that inspires people to make immediate, and often permanent, changes in their way they consume energy.

For a utility company to use your software they have to be leveraging Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI). What percentage of all meters in the US is part of an AMI? What is the addressable market for your industry?
Our business doesn’t require AMI data; the OPOWER platform is built to work with any level of data granularity. When AMI data is available, we’re able to perform a deeper, more specific analysis of energy usage, but we inspire significant reductions in energy use by customers who don’t have any devices installed in their homes.

Currently, 7% of all meters in the US are smart meters; by 2020, 50% of all meters within the US will be smart meters. As more AMI data becomes available, we’ll be able to help customers save even more energy through more detailed reporting about energy usage, as well as more tailored recommendations for how they can be more efficient in the way they use energy. In terms of an addressable market, the answer isn’t simple: it depends on how the market is defined. In 2010, the US invested $4 billion in energy efficiency programs, $1.4 billion in demand response, and $609 million in smart meters (so, in total, the US dedicated nearly $6 billion to these initiatives). By 2020, we expect American investment in energy efficiency to grow to $30 or 40 billion per year.

Why start a business in Arlington? Wouldn’t Canada be a better place to start a business selling software for Smart Grids since they have a more advanced market than the US?
Our business is not geography dependent our more than 40 clients are dispersed across 16 states throughout the country. We find the DC Metro area to be a bourgeoning tech community, and its proximity to Washington, DC, where many of the energy industry’s influencers are based, has major pluses. It’s also a metropolitan area that fosters innovation and attracts talented professionals, both of which are factors that continue to benefit our growth and product development.

Is your business limited to the US?
Not at all. Our business is dedicated to fostering energy efficiency everywhere we can, and that can be anywhere in the world. Because our product is Software-as-a-Service, we have a huge amount of flexibility for expansion outside of US, and very few infrastructural constraints. We are in conversations with potential utility partners in Europe, South America and Australia, and see longer-term potential in the Asian market as well.

Your President and co-founder Alex Laskey was invited to the White House to meet with President Obama and discuss innovation and job creation in the green economy. What advice did he provide to the President and when will we see Solar Panels on the roof of White House?
It was an enormous honor for Alex to be invited to meet with President Obama, and it was even more exciting for all of us when the President came by our Arlington office and called OPOWER a company that’s “putting America on the path to a clean energy future.” We are not sure about the security implications of having solar panels on the White House roof, but what was clear from our interactions with the President and his staff is the administration’s strong commitment to building a green economy in US and protecting our environment. President Obama saw one of our reports and commented that it would be great if everyone in America had access to our personalized, easy-to-follow recommendations on how to become more energy efficient. Alex told the President that we’re doing our best to make that happen.

When one looks at your job openings, the top category in which you are hiring is engineering. We’ve heard that the United States suffers from a general lack of availability of engineers. How do you cope with this issue?
There are a lot of very talented and very creative engineers in the US, and we have a number of them on our staff! We have a lot of openings because we’re growing like gangbusters. That said, we do hope that students choosing a major today would look at a company like ours and see how a group of engineers, in our case software engineers, can literally help save the world and that more of them choose to become one.

Photography by Ray Ally


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