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Here’s a new mission for Starbucks: make coffee in a more energy-efficient way. The retailer plans to launch on Wednesday a competition that will pit 10 of its stores against one another to see who can cut electricity use the most in 30 days.
The competition is part of a 1-year project by the coffee retailer and Snohomish County Public Utility District in Washington State to use energy data and the contest to influence behaviors and reduce energy consumption. The goal is to figure out what triggers can successfully prompt actions and whether people will continue to be mindful of conserving energy long after the competition is over, said Andrew deCoriolis, director of marketing and engagement at Lucid Design Group, an Oakland, Calif., startup that is providing the technology for the project. The utility is working with Portland Energy Conservation, a nonprofit in Oregon that designs energy efficiency programs, to run the project.
Each store will have a tablet display behind the counter that shows the electricity use of the store throughout the day. The energy data will come from smart meters and will be updated every one to five minutes, deCoriolis said. Lucid also will be collecting gas and water consumption data, but their use won’t determine who wins the competition. The prize will be some sort of a party for the winning Starbucks shop.
A busy coffee house requires a lot of energy to run. Aside from all the espresso and smoothy making equipment, it has refrigeration boxes for the food at the counter, as well as heating and cooling systems, dishwashers and lighting. And how about all those laptop computers from patrons who hog tables (and wall sockets) for hours at a time?
Competitions and rewards are old-fashioned means to motivate people to change their behaviors, and they have become popular tools in energy conservation programs. Utilities want their customers to cut energy use – particularly in the summer when electricity use shoots up – in order to avoid blackouts or the expense of having to turn on power plants only for a short period time to meet the high demand. Software company Opower launched a Facebook app in April that seeks to foster competition among people and their friends to see who can lower their energy use, and 16 utilities signed up at the time. The idea is that people are more likely to take action and stick with a goal if they compete against people they know.
After the 30-day competition at the 10 Starbucks outlets, Lucid will send the data to the utility and Portland Energy Conservation for analyses. A significant portion of the roughly $125,800 grant for the project from the Bonneville Power Administration will be spent on quantifying and verifying energy savings, taking stock of the steps taken by each store to reduce energy, and figuring out how to get employees to remain committed to save energy over long term. Results of the project will be made public since it’s publicly funded.
While energy conservation competitions aren’t new, they are more likely to take place in office buildings, college campuses and among the customers of a utility. Previous competitions hosted by Lucid saw average electricity savings of 5-15 percent, deCoriolis said. There were times when the reduction hit as high as 40-50 percent for a particular competitor during the contest.
Founded in 2004, Lucid supplies its customers with tablet displays it buys from retailers such as Best Buy and makes its money largely in the software for collecting and analyzing energy data. At one point, the company had envisioned selling a bundle of display and software for about $200 through retailers and charge a monthly subscription fee. That was in early 2009. The business plan didn’t pan out.
In fact, many other companies that had dreamed of selling energy monitoring systems with expensive display gear also abandoned that idea after it became apparent that neither utilities nor consumers thought spending that much money on energy monitoring equipment was worth it. They could just use smart phones or an iPad to view energy data instead.
Running energy conservation competitions appears to be a good line of business for Lucid, which recently secured a patent for “collecting, visualizing and displaying resource data for the purpose of hosting competitions,” deCoriolis said. But wait, aren’t there already many companies doing just that? Yes, and Lucid hasn’t decided if it will defend its patent in court, or try to collect royalties from companies that run those competitions.
The last round of private equity raised by Lucid was a $1.5 million A round led by Dry Creek Ventures and announced in early 2010. Lucid is generating enough revenues to be cash positive. It has 30 employees.
Images courtesy of Lucid Design Group and Yehohanan92 via flickr