Clean Power Prospecting: 3TIER Builds Out Online Energy Tool


3TIER, a startup based in Seattle, Wash., has a deceptively simple goal: Help accelerate renewable energy projects by providing access to reliable information. To do that, the company has just launched a new online “prospecting” tool, which lets users dive deep into a mass of data that 3TIER has built up over a decade about wind and solar resources. It includes monthly historical averages, high resolution maps and charts showing the wind’s strength and direction, for example.

Like a gold prospector tracking down a general area likely to hold deposits of the precious metal, the idea with 3TIER’s tool is to help energy developers identify the strongest prospects for generating energy from solar or wind. An online dashboard lets subscribers explore and compare potential sites worldwide via satellite imagery, modeling and a simple point and click interface.

This comes as 3TIER’s latest attempt to extract value from its growing collection of data about wind, solar and hydro resources. Already a major provider of wind forecasting service, 3TIER showed off back in October 2008 a slick map of solar resources in the Western Hemisphere displayed using Google Maps. And by spring of last year, the company launched the FirstLook API, which lets customers (mostly commercial wind turbine and solar panel retailers) call up wind and solar data from the 3TIER servers for their own web applications.

According to 3TIER’s Christian Sarason, chief engineer for the prospecting tool, it holds particular value outside of the U.S. and Europe, which “have a really comprehensive data collection apparatus.” Elsewhere, he said, in developing countries in particular, “That’s not always available.” That can throw up a roadblock for financing. For a “banker figuring out if you want to fund project A or project B or project C,” said Sarason, 3TIER’s prospecting tool could offer an independent estimate of how much energy is likely to be generated at a given site in a certain time frame, and allow the investor to calculate “when he’s likely to get paid back.”

For large energy developers, Sarason said the tool can inform investment strategies as well, helping “bigger players” determine the most lucrative balance of assets in their portfolio. He said the tool will help them “hedge where they put their projects,” so they’re not all clustered in regions affected by El Nino, for example.

All of this data comes at significant cost to 3TIER, which is backed by venture capital firm Good Energies. Todd Stone, the startup’s marketing and communications director, told us last year that the data collection and mapping process, “represents a tremendous investment for an organization of our size.”

So if this new infrastructure gives the company the capability to slice and dice that data into packages and services for different markets and applications, with minimal additional investment, that could be an important step for the company’s growth. As Sarason put it, 3TIER now has a full “renewable energy information services platform,” which will enable the company to “roll out other products more quickly. The startup, he said, has made it “over the hump of developing that infrastructure.”

For the new prospecting dashboard and data set, he said customers can get a 24-hour pass for $150, or pay a subscription fee of $500 per month.” I’d love to say this is going to clean house,” he said. But it’s really just one more piece of a business that’s continuing to seek ways to squeeze value out of energy information.

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