Most commercial building owners or property managers would love to uncover operational changes that could save them on water, electricity, natural gas or other energy costs. But on-site audits can be lengthy and costly.
That’s why companies like FirstFuel Software, which provides detailed utility analytics and consumption information through remote monitoring services accessible via the Internet, are capturing investors’ attention. The company this week raised $8.5 million in Series B financing from several sources, including one of the world’s largest investor-owned utilities, E.ON E.ON SE, and existing backers Battery Ventures, Rockport Capital, and Nth Power. That brings the Lexington, Mass.-based company’s funding so far to approximately $20.9 million.
“More and more, success in our energy business requires technology that drives greater customer engagement and value-added services at mass scale,” said Urban Keussen, senior vice president for technology and innovation at E.ON. “FirstFuel has emerged as an industry-defining information source that enables utilities, governments and property owners to deliver meaningful and persistent demand-side management outcomes under cost and time constraints.”
One of the most compelling examples of what FirstFuel’s technology can do comes from the General Services Administration (GSA), which has so far uncovered roughly $6.5 million in electricity savings across the first 26 buildings it has analyzed with the FirstFuel Software platform, called Remote Building Analytics. The agency wants to cut energy usage by 2 percent across its entire portfolio, and it is using FirstFuel to analyze a total of 300 building over the next fours years. (Collectively, that represent about 20 percent of the office space in Manhattan.) The initial assessment took about six weeks and cost about one-eighth of an onsite audit, saving the government about $1 million, according to FirstFuel. Through November 2013, FirstFuel’s technology has been used to analyze more than 700 million square feet of office space.
Another company that a similar, in many ways simpler, service developed explicitly for multifamily apartment buildings is WegoWise, which hails from Boston. (“Wego” is an acronym for water, electricity, gas and oil.) So far, it has raised about $4.9 million, all from Boston Community Capital. The service (which costs $6 per building per month) works by analyzing data that’s already being collected by utility companies, and allowing building owners or managers to compare properties across their portfolio. One customer, Corcoran Properties, used WegoWise to identify retrofit opportunities that have helped it save approximately 32 percent on its water bills (about $10,000 annually). The startup also counts the $7 billion REIT Liberty Property Trust as a recent customer. “You can see the cost, and you can see it per square foot, and you can immediately see the outliers,” said Barun Singh, CEO and cofounder of WegoWise.
Apparently, there’s a massive difference between how much it costs to heat, cool or provide water for the most inefficient buildings versus those that have been considered for retrofits or, sometimes, just behavioral changes. The utility bills for the least efficient of the 17,000 properties tracked by WegoWise are in some cases up to eight times more than buildings that are using efficiency measures, the data show. “Building retrofits and related intelligent controls can often lower energy consumption by up to 20 percent to 30 percent,” said Cleantech Group analyst Natalie Volpe, in a statement about the WegoWise data. “Those savings can be even greater during winter months due to heightened use in heating and lighting, some of the largest loads in buildings. The difficulty is in convincing building operators and property managers to invest in these projects in order to achieve those energy reductions. Innovators like WegoWise are needed both to prove the business case of those potential savings, and unlock those opportunities for building owners and managers.”