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9 August 2019

Uplight acquisition spree continues, snags Ecotagious’ disaggregation

Three weeks after the merger of Tendril and Simple Energy brought five companies together as Uplight, the private equity backing has led the new firm to snap up Ecotagious. Perhaps the combined talents of six startups will prove enough for Rubicon Technology Partners, as Ecotagious’ abilities at spotting usage patterns in customer data will flesh out Uplight’s portfolio nicely.

Disaggregation is the term used to describe the process of spotting the consumption of individual appliances or processes within the aggregate energy signal pulled by the customer home. Using machine-learning powered pattern recognition, Ecotagious can spot which devices are being used in the home, which in turn provides data that can be used to provide energy optimization tips to customers.

Ecotagious is providing this service to utilities that are interested in reducing their base loads, in a SaaS model. The process spits out Home Energy Reports (HERs) that the customer can receive as a paper letter, email, or even through a smart home voice assistant. Ecotagious also provides this as an API that lets the utilities incorporate the system into their own applications.

“After achieving record growth in 2018 and delivering impressive results for our utility partners, we knew our data-driven approach to customer engagement was resonating,” said Bruce Townson, CEO of Ecotagious. “I am excited to continue that momentum as part of Uplight. Their focus on accelerating the clean energy transition by motivating and enabling energy users delivers significant benefits to the utility customers we have today, as well as those we will work together with in the future.”

Ecotagious has some 13 customers, mainly in North America, and says it achieves 3.2% average electricity savings and 2.1% average gas savings in winter. More importantly, it claims to be able to achieve a 70% improvement in Demand-Side Management program participation – that is, Demand Response (DR).

With Genesis Energy in New Zealand, Ecotagious was able to reduce customer churn by 14%, and Greater Sudbury Hydro used the system to better meet its conservation targets. The two are outlined in case studies on its website, and a deeper dive on disaggregation, if they are needed.

There are two distinct approaches to Residential DR, which Oracle’s Opower calls Behavioral DR and Automated DR (BDR and ADR). BDR is easier to implement, and can be done largely without additional technologies in the home. ADR is the much more complex element, and which requires smart home devices and controllers.

Ecotagious is involved in the BDR side of things, but there is huge potential in that sector. Some processes are as simple as finding out what local schemes a customer can take part in, such as government-backed insulation and home improvement offers, such as boiler replacement vouchers, which in turn can make the customer home more energy efficient.

The other part is gamification of sorts, where a customer is shown how their usage stacks up compared to neighbors or the average home. Once it is made clear that a customer is being wasteful, and paying too much because of this, they are often compelled to undertake behaviors that will reduce this wastage – turning off lights in empty rooms, not cranking the AC all the time, buying a few draught excluders, and so on.

Largely, BDR requires the customer to take these steps themselves, with the utilities pushing them in the right direction. Local government and regulatory bodies can assist in the process too, but the customer has to be motivated. With ADR, there is an opportunity to bypass the customer, but it is a move that will take some time.

Part of that process will be to implement many of the BDR-associated improvements first, as a foundation on which to build. After all, installing a fancy new HVAC system into a poorly insulated house is not going to do much good for the utility – as the benefits gained from being able to minutely control the HVAC system are likely going to be completely offset by the higher baseload draw. Fixing the BDR problem before progressing to ADR is imperative.

With the new offerings added to its portfolio, Uplight is going to continue to chase its dream of becoming the leading provider of customer-centric software to utilities in North America, and then to the rest of the world. After the creation of Uplight, it’s anyone’s guess whether the firm will be making more acquisitions to round-out or expand its offering, but given the multiples we’re seeing in the M&A world, now does seem to be a good time to buy.

“We are building something truly special at Uplight—a company purpose built to serve utilities as they transform their business in pursuit of better customer relationships and dramatic reductions in carbon,” said Adrian Tuck, CEO of Uplight. “Combining Ecotagious’ industry-leading smart meter disaggregation and energy savings with Uplight’s unified suite of energy action solutions significantly advances our ability to deliver the industry’s most effective and personalized energy experiences.”