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Summary:

Are big data, analytics, and machine learning the answers to reducing the energy consumption of our homes? Yep, according to newly-emerged startup Bidgely that’s backed by Khosla Ventures. In an exclusive interview, Bidgely’s CEO gives GigaOM the details about what it’s been up to.

Bidgely

Utilities worldwide are installing smart meters on homes and businesses, which means there could be as much as 50 terabytes of energy data that can emerge from a million or so homes in a year. The problem has been that there haven’t been very many ways to make good use of all this data to benefit the average consumer. But a startup called Bidgely, which raised a series A round from Khosla Ventures, says it has created algorithms that can dig into real-time smart meter energy-consumption data, can reduce consumers’ home energy use by between 4 percent to 12 percent, and can also deliver other beneficial home services to consumers.

While other companies make similar claims, Bidgely’s big selling point is that the company says it can take smart meter data, utility data or energy data from a Zigbee-based router in the home, and be able to tell which appliances are consuming what amount of power in a home in real time without having extra hardware or sensors on each plug or appliance. Other companies that focus on this — which people in the industry call appliance-level “energy disaggregation” — need the consumer to buy smart plugs and stick them on every appliance and outlet. That makes these type of hardware-intensive options basically a non-starter for average consumers.

Bidgely says it is the first company out there that can detect appliance consumption patterns without additional hardware and sensors. For example, if the freezer is left open, or a pool pump is old and not running efficiently, it can determine that with its algorithms, explained Bidgely’s co-founder and CEO Abhay Gupta. Gupta previously worked at smart grid company Grid Net, energy company Echelon, and Sun Microsystems.

Gupta said Bidgely has been able to create these types of algorithms first partly because it was able to obtain a significant number of Google Power Meter users after Google shut down its Power Meter application in the summer of 2011. Some of these Power Meter users were using TED real time energy gadgets, and Google Power Meter had its own algorithms to discover when appliance were being used, so Bidgely was able to spend over a year crunching these detailed data sets and creating its own algorithms.

Data deluge

Bidgely gets its data from a few sources, each of which have their own limitations. Gupta told me that through the 8 years that he’s spent working on energy data companies, he knew what was available and wasn’t available from different data sets.

Utilities in some states are working on a Department of Energy-developed initiative called Green Button, which opens up smart meter energy consumption data to third party developers like Bidgely. That data is generally energy consumption data from 15-minute or 1-hour intervals. The problem though is that not all of the utilities in the U.S. are aggressively embracing the Green Button initiative (though California’s utilities are). Also, Green Button data is not always real time and can be a day-old — that makes it far less useful.

If a consumer is one of the few that has bought a router or gateway that connects to the smart meter via a Zigbee wireless connection, then Bidgely can use the data off the router or gateway in real time. Bidgely is working with hardware partners like Digi and Rainforest for this type of hardware (see gadget to the right). Utilities also have these types of Zigbee-connected device projects in the works, and a small number of them are starting to open up that Zigbee energy data to third parties.

Finally, utilities that aren’t opening up their energy data via Green Button or Zigbee device projects can connect with Bidgely directly. But then Bidgely has to connect with the individual utilities and convince them to trust Bidgely with their customers’ data. It’s not an impossible task, and Gupta said it has three trials that will start soon with utilities.

One reason utilities might want to work with Bidgely is that utilities are looking for ways that consumers can benefit from smart meters, as there’s been some backlash from consumer advocate groups — and consumers themselves — that smart meters are only benefiting the utilities. Startup Opower has managed to win over utility customers for its first generation of energy billing services.

But Opower’s service can reduce consumer energy consumption by 1.5 percent to 2 percent — compared with other services like Bidgely that are aiming for far higher reductions. Aggressive utilities are looking to move to the next-level of energy efficiency services.

The applications

Once Bidgely gets the energy data it needs, it has created a recommendation engine that uses the data to give its customers real-time advice and instructions for how to reduce their energy consumption. These could be energy-saving techniques — like get a new pool pump or close your fridge — but they could also be non-energy specific services about the home. For example, closing your fridge can be helpful just to save the food inside from thawing.

The recommendation engine uses cloud-based large machine learning techniques to deliver personalized recommendations, and also incorporates more big data sets into the engine like social, weather, and demographics. Bidgely uses No-SQL database techniques.

Other companies that are relying on algorithms, and big data to reduce consumer energy consumption include Nest Labs, C3, Opower, Silver Spring Networks, EnergyHub, Ecofactor and more.

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  1. But if we already know that the AC unit, fridge and washing machine are the main users of energy in a typical home, how will additional Data help the consumer reduce their usage? Deluging the consumer with data just turns into noise if there aren’t clear, actionable ‘things’ they can implement to lower their energy consumption.

    1. You are right. You will see soon that this company will pivot- meaning redoing the business plan again. $ wasted.

    2. Hi Todd, thanks for your comments. I am Prateek Chakravarty, VP Business Development at Bidgely. Your constructive critiques will help us drive toward our objective to realize the untapped potential of residential energy savings and enable consumers to take control of their energy spend. I agree with you that we shouldn’t flood the consumers with data; that’s not our intent. Our bill itemization technology helps them better understand where and how they are spending energy. Most other consumer services provide us itemized bills; why not receive the same from a utility bill?

      More importantly, we leverage our core technology to provide consumer facing applications (not a mere data dump) to help them identify inefficiencies, whether it’s appliance or behavioral. For example, our algorithms can tell a consumer if the second fridge in the basement is consuming 70% more electricity than it should, and by replacing it with an Energy Star rated appliance, s/he can save $X (at current utility rates) and breakeven in 2-3 years. We can also identify if the consumer ran 60 laundry loads this month, which is 50% more than the neighborhood average and quantify the exact savings if they were to change their behavior. A number of other consumer applications are a part of our product roadmap, which we would announce in the near future.

      Utilities are offering energy platform to consumers to help them better understand their energy spend. These platforms include very generic energy saving tips, such as turn off your lights, set your thermostat two degrees lower, etc. We can personalize these recommendations (as described above) and take the guesswork out savings. Research has shown that such direct feedback can unleash energy efficiency, thus helping utilities truly leverage their Smart Meter investment.

      I am more than happy to connect with you and receive any other suggestions you have to better engage residential consumers. You can reach me at prateek@bidgely.com

      Cheers,
      Prateek

      1. Hi Prateek – Great that you are keeping the focus on providing knowledge to consumers instead of data and information. We don’t want energy to be hard. And, most consumers are not as passionately interested in the details as we are!

    3. Within a few days of having a real-time energy meter installed in my parents home, it was giving them useful insight into their usage which allowed them to make choices to lower that usage with no additional research. When the AC was turned on, the real-time usage jumped from it’s baseline of 3-4 cents/hour to 33 cents/hour. Because of this, they now only use it on unbearably hot days and only enough to make it comfortable instead of noticeably cool. They no longer wash using hot water or use the heat dry cycle on their dishwasher because, again, they noticed the real-time usage leap upwards. Soon I’ll convince them to replace their incandescent with CFLs and LED lights and the baseline of 3-4 cents/hour will drop to less than half that.

      I didn’t anticipate real-time usage having that dramatic an effect but it did.

  2. This is like the razor business. The first company that gives away the best meter is going to own the market and will be able to charge a percentage of savings in perpetuity. There will always be savings against a baseline alternative. The challenge is two fold: a great meter
    with usable diagnostics that measure savings and adequate capital to give away the meters.

    If GE could escape its “not invented here” mentality and return to the consumer space that really built the company, GE could be the supernova company of the 21st century. Hey Jack — want to come back?

    1. Hi Andrew, I agree with one of your comments above – a meter with usable diagnostics. The best use of resources lies in embedding true data analytics (such as ours) inside the firmware of the meters and thusly have one integrated platform for both grid-side and consumer-side solutions (a much simpler and holistic solution to implement). This is indeed a big opportunity for the meter vendors and comm network providers to step up; well said. – Prateek

      1. In Ontario, utilities have been installing smart meters for years. Most homes and business now have one. The peak saver program installs a quality HVAC control module which the utility can affect under high load situations. For example, in the summer, they can turn your thermostat up a few degrees for a few hours. This is a great way to avoid costly upgrades, new power stations and outages. It’s also free to residents.

        At the same time, residents get a blue line power cost monitor (~$100) installed and programmed so they can see their real-time usage which updates by the second (also free). This devices uses an unobtrusive sensor attached to the smart meter and wireless connection to the reporting unit. The sensor can even read old analogue meters by looking and the spinning wheel.

        My point is that seamless integrated diagnostic firmware is not a part of this setup, but the result is still seamless and favorable. Integration is tidy but it’s implementation that matters.

  3. My God…. 1984 is finally here. I don’t want anyone being able to decide whether or not I am using my AC unit, whether my fridge is open – which doesn’t happen anyway. I don’t need to have access to data that isn’t relative to my every day life.

    This whole smart grid operation is a ruse. It only benefits the corporations. Get real!! If the utility needs to funnel more power to a corporation they will reduce our power consumption by arbitrarily turning off or down our appliance.

    This is so intrusive it scares the hell out of me. If they can identify which device is on, when it’s on and whether it is efficiently using power then they can also turn it off if they believe it is inefficient. Then you will have someone knocking at your door telling you to replace the unit at your cost. .

    Also, if you don’t have an appliance that communicates with the zigbe chip you will be obliged to purchase some device that you plug into the power outlet that communicates with the chip then plug your appliance into it.

    Wake up people. Soon they will be telling you when to eat, what to eat and where to buy it. Talk about a totalitarian state!!

    1. Really now! No one is going to turn off any appliances. Seriously, if a corporation needs more power, they an simply shut your entire block right now anyways. You have been watching too many Hollywood computer hacker movies.

    2. Try to think about the difference between “awareness” and “control”. Awareness comes from knowledge of something and empower YOU to make better choices. No one will tell when/what to eat and where to buy, but, I guess, you would LIKE to know what food is poisoning you and what is healthy, when is better for metabolism to eat and where to buy it at lowest price.
      People should learn to be AWARE so to make better choices for themselves (and not for the big corporate selling stuff and often thinking for the consumer).
      Sentences like “Talk about a totalitarian state!!” in this context sound more like paranoia than the result of a logical reasoning.

  4. Stay out of my fridge!

  5. Rudy Diedreck Friday, October 26, 2012

    What you are doing is good…I think most folks have NO idea what is costing them extra money for energy consumption.
    However, I have a timely idea, let’s take 50% of the super PAC money used for anti-Obama mud slinging ads, and use it instead to subsidize purchases of energy star appliances. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought of buying energy efficient products, but they were either too small, or too expensive. This includes: A/C units, furnaces, heaters, refrigerators, microwaves, dishwashers, stoves, LED lights ($40+ per bulb!), and although it’s not an appliance, hybrid, or fuel efficient cars as well.

  6. hi for my degree i have developed a thermal monitoring system for a house. is equipped with 6 sensors. those are linked to a hw PCand a sw database. this system aquire data of consumption in one house. the main ideea is if every house is equipped with this, then every block, then suburb and so on we can have a country system who can give a feedback of energy consumption and behaviour. is easy for improvment of gas electrical or diesel network in order to have minimum cost with maximum efficiency. for this efficiency we need to have a data network who link this each houses. is no bulshit if you have in your home such system you can adjust your costs . let’s say you buy a barrel of 500 litr diesel in the begining of year but you consumed only 450 litr. big deal you will consume next year. right but you have 50litr in $ blocked because of that. your 50 litres add your neighbours litres and so on it is a big sum. same in other energy types. think big the economy for a country and more impact on market price and enviroment. your inaccurate insolation can increse costs but a correct feedback of consumption can help you instead waste money in fuel you invest in improve of your home. same for your gouvernment to improve energy network and less taxes. such data network is a must for the future development of world.

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