After a full year of offering residential efficiency and demand response services to customers in Nevada, EcoFactor is releasing third-party results showing very strong savings that appear to beat or rival other leading competitors.
EcoFactor is a home energy management startup based in Redwood City, California that uses smart thermostats, HVAC automation and monitoring software to cut residential energy use for utilities. The company has been working within NV Energy territory in Nevada since 2010, but has only deployed at scale in the state since 2012, when it won a contract to serve thousands of customers through NV Energy's mPowered program.
Throughout 2013, EcoFactor helped NV Energy dispatch 28 residential demand response events for 14,500 customers. It also managed thermostats for 21,000 customers and used its software service to help them identify savings opportunities beyond demand response events.
In order to track the program's results, NV Energy hired an independent firm, ADM Associates, to verify if consumers were actually responding to demand response signals and saving energy over time based on smart meter data. The results show that EcoFactor's offering was highly successful in the state.
According to the data, EcoFactor achieved reductions of 3.45 kilowatts per home and a high-end reductions of 2.37 kilowatts during demand response events -- putting average peak cuts at 1.45 kilowatts. That's well within the industry average range of 1 to 1.5 kilowatts.
EcoFactor also realized ongoing reductions of 0.6 kilowatts per home and 0.4 kilowatts per thermostat, while cutting residential AC usage by 11 percent.
"We're getting to the point when we can move beyond unverified vendor claims," said John Steinberg, EcoFactor's EVP of business development. "We now have the formal third-party data to show our numbers."
In comparing that data to similar offerings, EcoFactor says it is showing far better savings than either Nest or Opower. The reality is far less clear. But it does show that EcoFactor is competitive.
In May, Nest reported that its smart thermostats were dropping load by 1.18 kilowatts per device during demand response events and cutting average AC runtime by 4.7 percent. Opower, which has developed a device-free behavioral demand response offering, has reported a 0.2-kilowatt reduction per home, resulting in 5 percent total savings among participating customers.
While the comparison is relevant, there are a host of other contextual factors that need to be considered.
EcoFactor has been working primarily in Nevada. Although it is continually adding new customers with NV Energy, Opower and Nest have a far broader reach across the country.
Opower now has more than 1 million customers enrolled in residential demand response programs, and the company claims it can cut the per-kilowatt cost of reducing peak demand 40 percent by avoiding the installation of equipment. It also has 93 utility partners and has reached 32 million households around the world. Although it realizes smaller savings per home, it offers much larger (and potentially cheaper) portfolio-wide savings across its utility base.
Although Nest hasn't penetrated the utility sector in the same way, the company is shipping tens of thousands of thermostats per month and has partnerships with 20 utilities in the U.S. And in response to the ADM report, Nest said the numbers EcoFactor uses don't tell the whole story.
Nest's 1.18 kilowatt number came from averaging both 4-hour events and 2-hour events. When only looking at 2-hour events like those run by NV Energy and EcoFactor, Nest hit a 1.3-kilowatt reduction at the thermostat level. In addition, EcoFactor's study is based on whole-home data, while Nest's is only based on thermostat data.
Another competitor, EnergyHub, which has 900,000 customers, saw 6 percent whole-home savings in Southern California last year and permanent load shift during peak hours of 0.26 kilowatts.
The reality is more nuanced than EcoFactor portrays. But the results are certainly a boost for the company as it seeks to expand its hardware-centric approach to more utilities. The company's CEO, Roy Johnson, said that it has a "whole host" of other utility clients in the works that could be announced soon.
"We've put most of our investments on the technology side and figured out how to deliver results. It's going to be much easier for utilities to go with us now," said Johnson.
In 2012, EcoFactor teamed up with Comcast to help the cable provider expand into home energy management, which may also help EcoFactor expand into more homes. Steinberg said that Comcast has been cautious about discussing its offerings publicly, but he did say that consumers will "see a lot more" from the company in the not-too-distant future.
"Their vision of the future of home automation is very consistent with ours," said Steinberg.
By 2017, GTM Research projects the U.S. home energy management market will reach $4 billion in value. If EcoFactor can show results in other markets like it did in Nevada, the company likely has a good shot at taking a sizeable share of that market.
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