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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Discomfort degrades productivity
In my office at work, there are two ari ducts that blow diretly into my cubicle. Int he summer with the AC on, it gets rather COLD. We don't have control over this thing, and distracted attempts to improve comfort by redirecting airflow with wads of paper towels or sections of cardboard get removed and lectured about.

The other day a coworker needed my help with something. He sat in my guest chair for a minute, got too cold, and then stood outside my cube and we talked over the wall. Nearby cubicle dwellers wear jackets or sweaters in the heat of summer. After 5PM though, the AC often gets shut off completely and it then gets quite warm. People who otherwise would like to stay late and get things done get too hot and go home instead.

Being in it constantly and having grown up in a colder climate, I'm numb to it. Other people from warmer corners of the office sit there and literally shiver. It's silly to crank the AC up so high when people obviously don't want it and can't concentrate because of it.

Do managers really value some phantom savings they think they get from preventing people from being comfortable is more valuable than that of the lost productivity due to the resulting discomfort?
Posted by amigabill (93 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Your problems is unrelated...
I don't think your comment is related to this article. I work in an office environment too so I know all too well that temperature is often either too cold or too warm. This has happened in office buildings for years because companies (customers of energy companies) themselves try to save money.

This article, on the other hand, talks about utilities controlling the thermostat. Because electricity companies have many thousands of customers, they don't have to decrease/increase temperature by much to save power. I'm sure there's also a range on how much they can change temperature. For example, article mentioned 1.5 degrees -- most people won't be able to feel change of 1.5 degrees.
Posted by Rusdude (170 comments )
Link Flag
The idea is good... your office needs help.
No amount of utility control is going to help an office with a badly-installed system like yours to feel more comfortable. You need to have your office manager get on the stick and put in an efficient-running system, and they'd find they could save even more money on utilities than this article's program would manage. On the other hand, the progam in the article will barely register on anyone's personal comfort level, so it's akin to getting "money for nothing."

Personally, I think we'd be equally served by storing power in-house, instead of drawing it on-demand at all times. A battery- or capacitor-based storage system would allow users to draw power slowly, at non-peak times, and burn their own stored power first, evening out the high-demand periods that cause higher prices, and brownout/blackouts. But until we all have battery plants installed in our basements, this idea has serious merit.
Posted by Steve Jordan (126 comments )
Link Flag
Discomfort degrades productivity
In my office at work, there are two ari ducts that blow diretly into my cubicle. Int he summer with the AC on, it gets rather COLD. We don't have control over this thing, and distracted attempts to improve comfort by redirecting airflow with wads of paper towels or sections of cardboard get removed and lectured about.

The other day a coworker needed my help with something. He sat in my guest chair for a minute, got too cold, and then stood outside my cube and we talked over the wall. Nearby cubicle dwellers wear jackets or sweaters in the heat of summer. After 5PM though, the AC often gets shut off completely and it then gets quite warm. People who otherwise would like to stay late and get things done get too hot and go home instead.

Being in it constantly and having grown up in a colder climate, I'm numb to it. Other people from warmer corners of the office sit there and literally shiver. It's silly to crank the AC up so high when people obviously don't want it and can't concentrate because of it.

Do managers really value some phantom savings they think they get from preventing people from being comfortable is more valuable than that of the lost productivity due to the resulting discomfort?
Posted by amigabill (93 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Your problems is unrelated...
I don't think your comment is related to this article. I work in an office environment too so I know all too well that temperature is often either too cold or too warm. This has happened in office buildings for years because companies (customers of energy companies) themselves try to save money.

This article, on the other hand, talks about utilities controlling the thermostat. Because electricity companies have many thousands of customers, they don't have to decrease/increase temperature by much to save power. I'm sure there's also a range on how much they can change temperature. For example, article mentioned 1.5 degrees -- most people won't be able to feel change of 1.5 degrees.
Posted by Rusdude (170 comments )
Link Flag
The idea is good... your office needs help.
No amount of utility control is going to help an office with a badly-installed system like yours to feel more comfortable. You need to have your office manager get on the stick and put in an efficient-running system, and they'd find they could save even more money on utilities than this article's program would manage. On the other hand, the progam in the article will barely register on anyone's personal comfort level, so it's akin to getting "money for nothing."

Personally, I think we'd be equally served by storing power in-house, instead of drawing it on-demand at all times. A battery- or capacitor-based storage system would allow users to draw power slowly, at non-peak times, and burn their own stored power first, evening out the high-demand periods that cause higher prices, and brownout/blackouts. But until we all have battery plants installed in our basements, this idea has serious merit.
Posted by Steve Jordan (126 comments )
Link Flag
DIY
Why let some third party siphon off a portion of the energy costs a consumer is saving by setting the thermostat higher? Just adjust the temperature yourself and get a $30 programmable thermostat. People are excited about getting a $5 check, but they must have saved the electrical company a lot more, and would have saved more had they just turned down AC themselves. Oh yeah I totally trust some third party company to give back to me what I saved.
Posted by sanenazok (3449 comments )
Reply Link Flag
DIY
Why let some third party siphon off a portion of the energy costs a consumer is saving by setting the thermostat higher? Just adjust the temperature yourself and get a $30 programmable thermostat. People are excited about getting a $5 check, but they must have saved the electrical company a lot more, and would have saved more had they just turned down AC themselves. Oh yeah I totally trust some third party company to give back to me what I saved.
Posted by sanenazok (3449 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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