Smart City

These tech startups tackling great planet challenges: how Opower can change the game in energy efficiency?

The next United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP21, will be held in Paris, France in 2015. It promises to be a major milestone in the now quite long history of climate change negotiations (since 1992):

  1. The conference objective is to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world.
  2. For the first time there is hope that the U.S. will be in the position to commit. Indeed, in June this year, the Environment Protection Agency proposed a Clean Power Plan with clear measures and objectives to cut carbon pollution from power plants.
  3. If the US actually institutes effective measures, then leaders from China, India and other emerging economies such as Brazil and South Africa will also have to review their current inactivity.
  4. Europe is not aside. If European countries used to lead the thinking and engagements for fighting against climate change, they now fall short to put concrete actions in place to reach their ambitious targets.

paris

The coming year is thus going to be intense for climate change debates. Tech startups can clearly contribute to climate change discussions. This great challenge requires innovative ideas and solutions. And Silicon Valley / Boston-based Entrepreneurs and Ventures have not missed the opportunity. Angel List currently presents 279 startups in the Energy Efficiency field: from sensors to big data and 3D modeling of buildings, all major IT innovations have the potential to disrupt this sector.  The acquisition of Nest Labs by Google for $3.2 billion earlier this year has proved that energy efficiency can be as sexy as social networks or sharing economy success stories. But it is not about being sexy, it is about concrete results.

An interesting example is Opower. Opower combines a cloud-based platform, big data, and behavioral sciences to help utilities around the world reduce energy consumption. By providing insights about household energy use and personalized energy savings advice, Opower motivates customers to use less energy and save money on their bills. Opower currently partners with 93 utilities to deliver energy savings and insights to 32 million households and businesses in 9 countries leading to significant energy savings to date of more than 4 TWh. As the company is looking at European expansion, they found that deploying behavioral efficiency programs everywhere they’re cost-effective would save European utility customers 12 terawatt-hours (TWh) of energy, 3.3 million tons of carbon-dioxide equivalent (CO2e), and €2 .4 billion every year.

Spending on efficiency technologies and programs soared to $250 billion worldwide last year, according to the International Energy Agency. U.S. power companies have tripled their investment in efficiency programs since 2006, with California spending the most per customer. Now that the Obama administration has made energy efficiency a cornerstone of its plan to substantially cut greenhouse gas emissions, one can expect the growth to continue in this sector. Will Europe follow the same path? “A few forward-thinking utilities have piloted behavioural efficiency programs in the United Kingdom, France, and Scandinavia, but right now their potential in Europe is largely untapped. That could change soon” says John Webster Vice President of Marketing & Strategy, EMEA, fro Opower.

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