Forty percent of the energy in the U.S. is consumed by buildings -- and billions of dollars of that energy goes out the window, wall and door, or from uncaulked air seal leaks. The current approach for detecting leaks in the building is the blower door test, which is time-consuming, inconvenient and certainly doesn't scale the way it must in order to become cheap and ubiquitous. And it doesn't scale the way the venture community requires of its portfolio companies.
Essess is a startup that's trying to change that. (The company's name is pronounced and spelled ēssess.)
The startup plans to send cars past every building in the U.S. – residential and commercial and take high-speed thermal scans, build a library of thermal signatures, and assign an energy score to every home. That's the Google Street View and Zillow mash-up idea.
The scans need to be performed in cold weather as well as hot weather and will cost the firm approximately $1.00 per building.
Armed with that data, the plan is to identify every weak link and thermal problem with the building and then "provide a tangible ROI-based solution to the building owners," according to CEO Storm Duncan.
The company is able to individuate each window on the building and place a price on the energy lost and the cost to repair each window. Here's an example of the data that could be provided to a client:
The firm is made up of a team of PhDs and professors from MIT and has a goal of having ten percent of the U.S. imaged by the end of this year.
Note that the company does not necessarily intend to sell the images or the action plan directly to the building owner. Instead they can be purchased for the owner through:
- Realtors, home buyers and sellers
- Inspectors, appraisers, auditors
- Contractors and architects
- Insurance companies
- Home product retailers manufacturers
- Mortgage companies
- Government regulators
Essess, to some extent, does away with the need for a utility worker, an energy auditor or a contractor to spend a significant amount of time inspecting the leaks and insulation in a building and then talking the owners through the audit process. Instead, the client is presented with a detailed report card and a potential action plan.
This "light-touch" style of analyzing data for efficiency insights is part of the claims of companies like Opower, Tendril, EnergyHub, EcoFactor and many others in the home energy management space. FirstFuel does the same in the commercial energy market. Despite the "light touch" analysis of the structure, building shell improvements like insulation and windows are not cheap.
There is potential for Essess to collaborate in some fashion with a data analytics firm like Opower or FirstFuel to improve the data set delivered to the customer. The firm still has to prove the effectiveness of its technology at scale and fine-tune its business model.
Essess presented at the Cleantech Forum, which provides a platform for early and growth-stage startups to pitch their ideas to the venture capital community en masse. As the cleantech market has become more competitive over the years, the quality of the firms pitching at this event has markedly improved -- and Essess definitely falls into that category.
The firm has already raised $6 million from DFJ Athena, Vocap Ventures, and the founders of BlackRock.