April 29, 2005 4:00 AM PDT
Warming up to climate control tech
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into e-commerce systems so that energy consumption can be connected, in real time, to the price of electricity, Healy said.
The people who have to pay for the systems are also finally receptive.
"The difference now is that they've learned to talk to utilities," said Nicholas Parker, CEO of the Cleantech Venture Network, which publishes reports and organizes conferences in the energy sector. "Most VCs will run a mile from a deal involving selling to utilities."In Utah, a $25 knockoff
Although started in 1992, Comverge has signed most of its large contracts for dynamic power management within the last two years. The company has raised around $32 million in venture capital.
The hardware produced by the companies varies by feature (unidirectional or bidirectional, cellular or radio), but typically contains a processor, embedded software and some sort of standard connectivity.
The scope of programs vary by utility. In Utah, a utility is offering eligible customers a $25 monthly rebate. In exchange, consumers have to let the utility throttle back 50 percent of the power consumed through temperature control for about 40 hours a season.
Generally, the utility throttles back consumption during peak hours between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. "The temperature might go up by a degree and a half, but the fan (on the air conditioner) is still running," said Chiste of Comverge, who, among other jobs, was one of the key figures in the independent power group at Enron from 1980 to 1986.
Gulf Power, a utility in Florida and a client of Comverge, charges its customers about $60 a year to participate in the program, which controls air conditioners and pools. These customers see about a 15 percent to 25 percent reduction in their bills, according to Chiste.
While direct cost comparisons are difficult to make, Chiste roughly estimated that installing one of the company's units might cost $150 to $175, depending on installation and customer acquisition costs. Building power plants to provide the same amount of energy saved through cycling back might cost $250 per household.
In a number of situations, Comverge owns and maintains the equipment, and charges the utility a fee, sort of like an outsourcing specialist.
EnerNoc, by contrast, started in 2001 and has raised $10 million so far from, among others, venture capital firm Draper, Fisher, Jurvetson. Revenues are in the several-million-dollar range and will likely climb because it's working on a recurring revenue model. The vast majority of its contacts requiring monthly fee payments are three to five years long, said Healy.
So far, EnerNoc has focused on landing clients in the United States but has just formed an international business development group.
Proponents admit that the technology isn't likely to inspire a generation of kids to enter engineering programs. But climbing and unpredictable energy costs--just try to decipher the numbers on the back of any utility bill--are prompting demand.
"You don't know what the wholesale rates for power will be at peak rates" because of deregulation, said Tim Woodward, a partner at Nth Power, a venture firm specializing in clean technology start-ups, including Comverge. "Energy efficiency has been a yawn in the eyes of the public, but there could be a more vibrant market in this area in the next 12 to 18 months."
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