You don't need as much original data as you think.
That is the operative principle behind Retroficiency, a startup that emerged today with $800,000 in backing. The company has developed a software-as-a-service application that can analyze the efficiency of commercial office buildings and determine the most cost-effective repairs and retrofits.
The system examines data and characteristics of the building in question -- general power loads, utility bills, etc. -- but it also runs the data through a comparative analysis of other, similarly situated buildings. You want to retrofit a 15-story building in Boston with gas heating built in the mid '70s? No problem, comparative data exists. Retroficiency has characterized over 2,000 structures.
"You mitigate the need to collect all that data," says CEO Bennett Fisher, who said that the service can eliminate 30 percent to 50 percent of the time spent on pre-retrofit building analysis.
The system can then be used to perform continuous commissioning services, i.e., examining subsequent building performance to determine whether air conditioners and carbon monoxide sensors function as they are supposed to. Retroficiency will largely sell its services to energy service providers and not directly to real estate investment trusts and property owners.
Recurve, which specializes in home energy retrofits, has come up with a similar tool for residential retrofits. While Recurve uses the software for its own retrofits, the larger opportunity is in licensing it to established national contractors. Scientific Conservation, meanwhile, has come up with a predictive analysis tool for improving the energy efficiency in commercial buildings. Scientific, which hopes to expand from 15 million to 100 million to 150 million square feet under its purview by the end of the year, concentrates mostly on continuous commissioning. Thus, Retroficiency, and its appropriately retrofitted name, looks like a hybrid.
The optimal business model in this industry -- software as a service, fees calculated as a portion of energy saved -- has yet to be determined. Expect to see quite a bit of experimentation. Even with the lull in construction, building efficiency should become a huge market. Forty percent of all of the energy in the U.S. gets consumed by buildings. Half of that energy gets consumed in commercial buildings and a large portion gets wasted. Lights get left on at night and heaters flip on on sunny days. In California, only one percent of lights in offices are even networked, according to PG&E data.
While some might scoff at the initial funding of $800,000, that could turn out to be a strength. Several companies are marketing these types of services and ultimately the winners will be acquired into large energy service companies, like Siemens, or software conglomerates like IBM. And when it comes to acquiring someone, the less VC backing a target has, sometimes the better. Serious Materials last year got into energy retrofits by acquiring Valence Energy, a startup out of Santa Clara University that had customers but not a lot of independent funding. Siemens last year also bought SureGrid at an early stage in that company's development: SureGrid had customers but not the baggage of several VC rounds.
The main investor is World Energy, which is mostly known for its carbon auctions. There's another trend for you: companies originally coined with the idea of carbon taxes coming to the U.S. -- ENXSuite, Serious Materials etc. -- expanding into general energy management.