With the hardware side of the smart grid in the doldrums, the action is moving to the “soft grid” -- that is, all the software that will enable the smart meters, grid sensors and other gear to be put out into the field.
The latest move on that front comes from Simple Energy, the software startup that connects utility customers to energy savings via social media and contests. On Monday, the Boulder, Colo.-based startup announced that Bud Vos, former CTO of Comverge, was joining as COO and senior vice president of utility sales.
Vos has a long track record as the head of Comverge’s effort to convert its commercial and residential demand response programs to next-generation software platforms that allow them to connect to the greater smart grid. He’s also got the utility relationships from Comverge’s longstanding demand response contracts.
Comverge, of course, has been less than successful in making the transition from the old-school, pager-and-radio-operated direct load control model to the new smart meter-enabled, customer-behavior-driven paths to energy efficiency. In March, Comverge sold itself to private equity firm H.I.G. Capital for $49 million, a fraction of the market share it commanded from its 2007 IPO until just last year.
Part of Comverge’s problem stemmed from a 2010 smart thermostat recall in Texas that stifled its residential demand response business growth. Even without recall problems, though, the number of smart grid-connected thermostats out in the market hasn’t grown nearly as fast as backers of the technology have hoped it might, although we’ve seen some sizable pilots emerge.
But Simple Energy’s approach to homeowner energy efficiency needs only a home internet connection and a utility data feed -- and while smart meters help, they aren’t necessary. Opower, Efficiency 2.0 and Tendril are some other startups with similar approaches to getting utility customers involved in their energy use. The first two have shied away from pricey in-home gadgets, while Tendril has backed away from its attempts to get them adopted by utilities, for the most part.
Some other noteworthy green jobs news of last week:
- MEMC, maker of polysilicon and silicon wafers for the chip andsolarindustries and owner of SunEdison, announced Thursday that CFO Mark Murphy had resigned to return to his previous employer, Praxair. Murphy will be replaced by Brian Wuebbels, a five-year veteran of MEMC who formerly worked at Honeywell and General Electric.
MEMC had reported disappointing first-quarter results the previous week, and news of Murphy’s departure drove down its already-sagging share price even further late last week. He’s not the first MEMC executive to leave: Ken Hannah, president of the firm's solar energy business, left the company on May 6 to become the CFO of J.C. Penney. In April, the company had to issue a statement to refute rumors that CEO Ahmad Chatila was leaving.
- Pythagoras Solar, the Israeli startup with a transparent solar module technology, last week hired Andrew Jensen as president of North American operations. Jensen, who previously spent a decade with Cardinal Glass, will be working with partners such as Guardian Industries, which wants to get the solar window product into building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) markets.
- Oree, the planar LED lighting company, has put board chairman Peter van Strijp in the CEO position, replacing founder and CEO Eran Fine. The Israel-based maker of super-thin “LightCell” materials has been seeking channel partners for its technology, and presumably van Strijp, a former CEO of Philips Solid State Lighting business group, can offer entrée to those potential partners.
- Biofuel startup ZeaChem announced Tuesday that it had hired Peter Cheesbrough as its new CEO, replacing Andy Victor, who stepped down to become vice president of finance. Cheesbrough previously served as CFO of Denver-based IT consulting services company Ciber. The Lakewood, Colo.-based company hasn’t made much news lately on its plans to bring its genetically modified organism, derived from microbes from termite guts, to converting cellulosic materials like wood and straw into precursors for biofuels. While it’s on a short list of companies the U.S. government is hoping will ramp up production to meet its 2012 cellulosic biofuel mandates, nobody’s holding their breath waiting for that figure to be reached.
- EnerG2, maker of carbon nanomaterials for energy storage applications, landed a high-profile board member earlier this month. That’s Bob Lutz, the former executive vice chairman of General Motors, who introduced the Chevy Volt as the first mass-manufactured plug-in hybrid car in the United States.
Lutz said in a prepared statement that he’s looking to EnerG2 to provide the breakthroughs the automotive industry needs to lower the costs and improve the performance of energy storage systems that can make the electric car a future mass-market reality. EnerG2 recently opened its first factory in Albany, Ore., though it hasn’t named customers for its materials yet.
- One final note comes from the crossover between the green technology space and the information technology space. Gary Bloom, the former CEO of eMeter who led the San Mateo, Calif.-based startup’s sale to Siemens last year, has been named CEO of MarkLogic, a big data applications firm. Bloom is also the former CEO of Veritas Software and a high-level executive at Oracle and Symantec, so he’s returning to his roots after his 20-month stint bringing eMeter to the point of sale.