Tendril and Simple Energy, two Colorado-based startups focused on utility customer data analytics and energy engagement, have merged into a one-stop-shop for utilities’ customer-facing software needs. 

Uplight, the name of the newly merged company, counts around 75 North American utilities as customers, including Duke Energy, National Grid, Exelon, Southern Co., PSEG, AEP and Consumers Energy, serving a combined 100 million customers. 

Tendril’s business lines have grown substantially in the six months since its long-running venture investors were bought out through an undisclosed majority investment by private equity investor Rubicon Technology Partners.

Since then, Tendril has been on an acquisition spree, buying EEme, an energy disaggregation technology startup; EnergySavvy, a startup with about 45 utilities and public agencies using its residential customer engagement software; and FirstFuel Software, a startup with about 35 utilities using its energy-efficiency data analytics and management software for commercial and industrial customers. 

Rubicon Technology Partners will remain Uplight's majority investor, with an undisclosed additional investment as part of the merger. But international energy company (and big energy storage player) AES Corp., which made an undisclosed majority investment in Simple Energy in March 2018, will also be a significant shareholder, with a $53 million strategic investment as part of the merger.

In an interview, Tendril CEO Adrian Tuck declined to discuss financial details of the merger, but said Uplight will be a profitable company, based on the financial status of its constituent companies as well as the “synergies that come when you put companies together.”

Uplight does not plan any layoffs as a result of the merger, and has roughly 350 employees, he said.

Three-step process between utilities and customers

Uplight’s combined lines of business comprise a broad-ranging set of capabilities, from teasing out customers’ individual loads (lighting, HVAC, appliance) via power-meter data, to presenting customers with an easy and personal data-driven way to sign up for new rate plans or demand management programs.

In the simplest terms, these capabilities amount to a “three-step” process between utilities and their customers, said Tuck — “engage, activate and orchestrate.”

“Historically, Tendril has been very good in No. 1 and No. 3 of those steps,” Tuck told GTM.

The first step of engagement includes Tendril’s existing line of customer home energy reports and online interactions, a set of capabilities it shares with competitors like Oracle’s Opower, Alarm.com’s EnergyHub and Silicon Valley startup Bidgely.

And the third step of orchestration includes the data analytics capabilities that Tendril has built in detail for its smart-meter-enabled customers, but has also developed for the U.S. housing stock. 

But in the second step of “activating” utility customers, “Simple Energy has been the undisputed leader,” Tuck added.

Simple Energy got its start running energy-efficiency contests and giveaways via its online and mobile applications for utilities in California and Texas, but has since grown to support a broad set of online customer marketplaces, rate plan and program signup and management platforms, and other key software tools that allow utilities to convert passive customers into active participants. 

As Simple Energy CEO and co-founder Yoav Lurie described it in an interview, “If you think about all the transactions that utilities in North American have gotten their customers to take — I’m talking about buying a product, singing up for a program or new rate, or a home energy audit, when they have to opt in, when they have to do something — the vast majority of those transactions have been on Simple Energy’s platform.”

The term “opt-in” is key here, since most utilities struggle to get their normally passive bill-paying customers to actively sign up for new offerings. 

Some of Simple Energy’s showcase deployments include its work for New York utilities under the state’s Reforming the Energy Vision initiative. The online energy marketplace built and managed by it and partner EnergyHub has expanded over the past year to include novel features, such as allowing bring-your-own-thermostat programs that allow customers to sign up for a utility demand response program at the moment they buy a rebated thermostat from a choice of vendors.

Simple Energy has also been working alongside Tendril from some of its earliest “gamification” programs with early customer San Diego Gas & Electric. The two are co-deployed at a number of utilities, including Consumers Energy in Michigan, which is in the midst of implementing a host of changes like time-of-use residential rates and smart thermostat rollouts to support an ambitious push toward renewable energy, Tuck said. 

“They use Simple’s solutions to help customers figure out which tariff they should be on, help them get into the time-of-use world,” he said.

Those choices are in turn integrated with Tendril’s Orchestrated Energy platform, to allow thermostats to come preconfigured to optimize customers’ energy bills based on their newly chosen rates —  one example of the kind of data synergies that Uplight hopes to enable from its constituent businesses. 

AES, please

AES, the world leader in utility-scale battery energy storage via its legacy projects and its Fluence joint venture with Siemens, has also been using the Simple Energy platform at its utilities Indianapolis Power & Light and Dayton Power & Light since last year.

“AES and Uplight are now working together on community solar, e-mobility and advanced commercial and industrial offerings, with plans for future deployment of the Uplight platform in Latin America,” AES noted in a Monday announcement. 

As for the new name, Tuck said that they “chose Uplight because it’s all about us putting the utility in the spotlight. Utilities have a critical role to play in helping us transition to a clean energy future.”

Tendril, which almost went under as a home energy management hardware player before pivoting to software and data analytics early this decade, has received significant support from its utility partners, including an undisclosed debt financing last year by utility-backed investment fund Energy Impact Partners. 

Uplight sees itself as a new type of software provider for the utility sector, positioned between two less-than-optimal choices they have today, Tuck said.

On one side are startups with innovative technology, but lacking the track record so important for full-scale utility deployments. On the other are giant enterprise software providers like Oracle, Microsoft or SAP, which come with strong reputations and products, but lack the focus on the utility sector as their primary customer, he said.