Monitoring a building’s energy use yields valuable data, but it doesn’t necessarily lead to lower electricity bills. For that, you need to manage power use and adopt less power-hungry systems. With that in mind, Optimum Energy has developed technology that automatically optimizes a building’s major sources of energy consumption — heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) — and cuts the power they’re using in half. With more than $25 million in sales in the pipeline, the Seattle-based startup said this week that it raised $4.5 million in venture funding led by Columbia Pacific Advisors to expand its sales and engineering teams.
Optimum, like a host of other startups, is leveraging recent advancements in information technology to make buildings use energy more efficiently. Building operations account for more than 70 percent of total U.S. electricity consumption, and the HVAC drives more than 30 percent of the electricity bill in the commercial sector.
Optimum’s technology essentially piggybacks onto the automation system — which monitors and manages HVAC, lighting and more — used in most large commercial and public-sector buildings. The company’s software pulls data such as temperature and air flow from the network of sensors in the building and figures out how to optimize the power used by the electric motors, pumps and other equipment driving the ventilation and air conditioning systems. Building managers can sit back, relax and watch their electricity bills decline on the web-based portal that serves up the data streaming from Optimum’s solution.
The startup says its system usually pays for itself in 18-36 months through reduced energy bills. Optimum CEO Nathan Rothman told us that there are no competitors that have a similar “plug-and-play” solution. The giants of the building automation industry — Honeywell, Johnson Controls, and Siemens — and others might offer to build software that aims to achieve similar goals, but he said those companies do it by writing custom software for each individual building that is not, he claims, as effective as Optimum’s solution.
Building owners appear impressed. The company expects 300 percent growth in revenue in 2009, plans to nearly double its staff within the next 12 months, and has found interest in overseas markets, Rothman said. But other companies are leveraging IT to improve HVAC systems, such as Davis and Carlsbad, Calif.-based Octus Energy and Vancouver, Canada-based Smartcool Systems. Optimum isn’t the only player in town. And the building automation big boys likely will act more assertively if they see this emerging market slipping away from them.