People Power

has its head in the clouds with new mobile apps, a powerstrip and hub to get people -- and original equipment manufacturers -- excited about saving energy. Behavioral techniques? Check. Social media and competition? Check. Open reference design? Check. 

When you talk to CEO and startup veteran Gene Wang, People Power is thinking about big OEMs as much as it is about people. “Our strategy is to have this connect to as many devices as possible,” he said. That includes white goods, office equipment, set-top boxes and any consumer electronics.

Although the mobile apps are part of a suite of products that look a lot like what other home area network companies have on the market, People Power has a hardware reference design that it’s ready to license wholly or in bits and pieces.

The apps are really just a stepping stone to get people more engaged and thinking about energy more than six minutes a year, but the real value comes when their technology is integrated into a computer, for instance. Instead of a smart plug blindly shutting down power to your computer while it’s running, People Power’s technology could safely have the computer shut itself down with a command from your iPad or Android device.

Wang said his company is talking to every major tier one manufacturer in consumer electronics and already counts General Electric and Panasonic amongst its customers. “The strategy is to ride the back of these big brands; almost all of them have big green initiatives,” he said. “But they don’t have whole solutions -- and they do have Apple envy.”

That strategy, however, doesn’t bypass utilities. The company also announced a small pilot with the city of Palo Alto, which will test 20 homes for three months. But in the long run, don’t expect to see a People Power logo on your in-home display (that is, if you’d ever even pay for one). Instead, the company hopes its architecture will be sitting inside half the stuff you own someday. 

In other news:

-- Scientific Conservation paid $12.9 million in cash for Servidyne, an Atlanta-based company that provides energy efficiency, demand response, commercial energy audits and other sustainability programs for commercial buildings.

In a change from the bevy of big players snatching up startups, Servidyne is a company that’s been around since 1925. Scientific Conservation is the new guy in this transaction, and says it will use the acquisition to beef up its expertise in retro-commissioning and better its relationship with USGBC for LEED points. USGBC is looking to add demand response as an option to earn LEED credit points -- something that Scientific Conservation will want fluency in when it becomes official.

SCI has been on a roll this year, closing $19 million in Series B funding and proclaiming its bold plans of controlling 100 million square feet by the end of this year. 

 -- Energate, another home area player, has released some initial results from pilots with Oklahoma Gas and Electric and Ontario Power Authority. At OG&E, Energate’s programmable thermostat was paired with Silver Spring Networks’ CustomerIQ for residential demand response. Homes that received price signals saw a peak reduction of more than 50 percent more than the 1.3-kilowatt goal. 

The full results of the multi-year pilot are still ongoing, but Silver Spring Networks seemed confident last month when Greentech Media spoke to them that this pilot, unlike any other we’ve ever seen, would lead to a full or near-full deployment. Wishful thinking? Depends how much OG&E really wants to shave that peak load.

Energate also had a successful pilot with OPA for residential demand response. The company reported that most of the participants held onto their smart thermostats after the pilot was over, although since it was funded by the utility, it’s not surprising. Energate is certainly not alone in the wireless thermostat realm.

Clearly, the ability to control one’s thermostat from an iPhone or website is easier than fiddling with a wall-mounted unit in a dark hallway. The question remains whether these products -- and there are many -- will hit the shelves of Home Depot or die a slow death by pilot.