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This Startup Uses Smart Home Devices to Help Utility Companies Save Energy

by Muriel Vega

The United States used more energy in 2018 than ever before. As the days get hotter and air conditioning demands more from the grid, some municipalities are having a hard time keeping up with demand.

“The hardest problem that any electric utility faces in the world is balancing the grid,” William Burke tells Hypepotamus. “They have to match their supply with the demand of their customers.”

After spending time studying and working with connected devices in Northern California, Burke moved back to his home state of Kentucky to work for GE with a focus on appliances and energy management.

Through his work, he saw how he could help close the knowledge gap in energy consumption through smart home applications.

Burke founded Virtual Peaker to move utility companies toward improved sustainability. Much of the issue that utilities face with supply and demand comes down to low transparency.

“They can’t control when the wind blows or the sun shines. They’re left with this effectively free energy resource that they can’t control and they can’t use to balance the grid in a very effective way,” says Burke.

“Utilities are effectively looking toward the demand side to do the balancing — and that’s where we come in.”

Virtual Peaker’s web-based platform uses customers’ smart home devices to track and control consumption, keep the grid stable, and allow utilities to bring in more renewable energy sources.

The customer opts-in into the program through their utility company, which integrates Virtual Peaker’s open API to control thermostats, air conditioner units, and other smart appliances.

Virtual Peaker connects securely through the device itself — through formal partnerships with 15 IoT manufacturers including Nest, Ecobee, Honeywell, GE, and more — to stream the data through the cloud.

The platform then uses the incoming data to balance the grid and adjust around peak energy times.

“We’re specifically targeting the sentient home — where the home understands the needs of the grid, understands the needs of the homeowner, and optimizes in bulk and in real-time to provide a comfortable living space,” says Burke.

Though the utility company is able to adjust energy usage to remotely balance the grid, the customer ultimately still has full control of their own device settings.

On the customer side, a white labeled app displays smart meter data, allows for control of the home devices, and offers direct messaging with the utility company.

“If they have a water heater from GE, they can engage with that device, control the device, see the data from the device, see how the data impacts their overall energy usage and costs,” says Burke.

Virtual Peaker already has municipality and cooperative clients across the country, “from New England to California with several thousand devices on the platform,” says Burke.

The team raised a $1.2 million seed round last January largely from angel investors and individuals. Burke shares that they will soon start their Series A raise to fuel product and sales growth.

“This is an absolutely enormous market. Utilities don’t yet understand the full power of what we could offer,” says Burke.

“On top of that, as renewables and IoT products continue to proliferate, the market grows like crazy.”

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