How much is your home water bill?
Peter Yolles of WaterSmart Software said the typical U.S. water bill is $600 per year for a single-family home. But that can be much higher in Southern California or Atlanta, Georgia, where Yolles quoted $1,600 per year as a benchmark.
About a year ago, Watersmart picked up its first funding round for its software-as-a-service (SaaS) with a focus on utility-customer engagement. In an exclusive to GTM, the firm announced that it just raised another $1 million, led by Physic Ventures, to grow the business. The investor roster includes previous investors Menlo Incubator, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Physic Ventures, and Sand Hill Angels. (Menlo Incubator is co-founded by Gary Kremen, founder of Match.com, Clean Power Finance and a Los Altos Hills, California water district board member.)
The bottom line is that the ten-employee WaterSmart can raise customer awareness of water usage and cut water bills by up to ten percent.
The firm is engaged in pilots with five water utilities and will soon announce the players and the results of the pilots. According to Yolles, the results of those pilots encouraged the new funding.
The founders of WaterSmart Software want to develop better water customer engagement and water conservation for utilities. Peter Yolles, a co-founder, said he uses half as much water as he did a few years ago through his own conservation efforts -- despite the addition of two children to his household. The other founder, Rob Steiner, has worked at a number of water-focused investors.
WaterSmart's cloud-based platform for water utilities allows the utility to educate residential customers about water use and take action to conserve the resource. WaterSmart uses "behavioral science techniques to increase customer engagement, elevate consumer interest in saving water and money, and increase participation in utility-sponsored efficiency programs," according to a release. If that sounds a bit like Opower's model for electric utilities, one can't argue with Opower's success and the potential to move the model into the water resource.
Savings in water can come to the homeowner in a few ways -- not just the cost of the water itself but also in the reduction of heating water and sewer costs. Yolles said that 19 percent of California's electricity is used for heating, moving, or treating water.
Note that the price of water and sewer is trending higher every year, at a rate that exceeds the price increase of electricity, gas, or telephone. (Chart below from Circle of Blue).
Circle of Blue also notes that "single-family residential water prices in 30 major U.S. cities have gone up an average of 7.3 percent during the last year and 17.9 percent since 2010."
Water bills, rates and usage vary widely from region to region, but here are some averages from Circle of Blue and the Leakbird website
- The average U.S. resident uses approximately 50 to 150 gallons of water per day (280 gallons per day in hot Sacramento, California).
- The average U.S. water bill for a household of four is $51 per month.
- Small town household water rates fall somewhere between $1.00 and $2.00 per 748 gallons of water or HCF (hundred cubic feet).
- Large city household water rates are from $2.00 to $3.00 per 748 gallons of water.
WaterSmart Software wants to strengthen the relationship between residential water users and the water utility, as well as to use the "water-use data narrative" to allow customers to compare themselves against neighbors and people with like-sized homes.
Half of residential water is used outdoors, according to Yolles, so improvements are about more intelligent outdoor irrigation. Indoor water users are the usual suspects: toilets, shower heads, dishwashers, washing machines and faucets. Through their SaaS platform, WaterSmart will provide consumers with customized water saving tips and neighbor comparisons.
It's easy to make comparisons to Opower but in the words of an anonymous greentech investor and water expert, "I’m not convinced about water savings taking off in the same way as energy efficiency. [... N]ot sure if the utilities have the same budgets, but also because they move slower." WaterSmart's pilot projects moving to full contracts could prove that premise wrong.
Still, water is gaining much more attention amongst greentech investors, and the WaterSmart's SaaS platform makes for a relatively capital-efficient operation in the usually capital-intensive water and energy market.