What Ecova’s Acquisition of Retroficiency Says about Disruptive Energy

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If every energy auditor worked around the clock, it would take 22 years to analyze all buildings.

If you’re wondering if there really is a business case for disruptive energy, look no further than Retroficiency’s story.

The small Boston-based energy analytics company announced last week that it has been acquired by Ecova, a major U.S. energy efficiency player that serves 50 utilities and has delivered 108 terawatt hours of energy savings over the past 11 years. Ecova is owned by global energy giant Engie (previously GDF Suez).

What’s interesting isn’t that a big company bought a little company, but that a conventional energy efficiency firm decided it’s time to incorporate the not-so-conventional approach of Retroficiency.

When EnergyEfficiencyMarkets.com first started reporting on Retroficiency in 2013, energy auditors were highly critical of the company. Retroficiency promised to use remote software and analytics — a virtual assessment — to take a deep look at a building’s energy profile in a fraction of the time of a conventional on-site audit

Retroficiency — and a similar company called FirstFuel — were intent on demonstrating that with a little bit of information about a building, the right algorithms and a computer, the industry could forego a lot of legwork. Critics of the practice said analytics couldn’t possibly achieve the level of detail of a conventional audit, such as what fan is malfunctioning in what piece of equipment.

Maybe not. But a virtual assessment can accomplish a lot using easily accessed data: utility bills, tax records and the like.

Ecova was attracted by Retroficiency’s “audacious world view.”

Retroficiency, for example can look  quickly over a large swath of buildings and isolate those that offer the greatest energy savings potential. This is important because 30 percent of US buildings account for 70 percent of the potential energy savings, according to Retroficiency. The company also likes to point out that the US faces a bit of a math problem in trying to bring efficiency to its buildings. If every energy auditor worked around the clock, it would take 22 years to analyze all buildings.

An interesting recent Retroficiency project required a look at 1,000 buildings for Consolidated Edison as part of New York’s reforming the energy vision.  Con Edison was considering how to defer construction of a 52-MW substation. The analysis revealed the utility could get about half way to the goal by making buildings more energy efficient.

The company also found that when it presented its findings to the New York building owners, they were intrigued by the details the virtual assessment revealed. They responded to the utility’s marketing campaign at four times the normal rate.

Diane Levin, who is Ecova’s director of utility solutions for commercial & industrial, said she had been watching Retroficiency since day one and was intrigued by the company’s “audacious world view,” the idea you can use data and analytics to do “things remotely that have always been done in a very hands on way” — and at a lower cost.

The acquisition (price not revealed) opens the door for Ecova to offer non-traditional digital intelligence to utilities and commercial & industrial customers. Using analytics, Ecova can better isolate where to focus its efforts. Meanwhile, Retroficiency gains Ecova’s ability to cultivate a relationship with the customer and bring the savings home.

Ryan Lambert, manager of business energy management at Puget Sound Energy, likes the pairing.

“Retroficiency’s platform gives us the ability to perform tailored energy assessments of commercial customers remotely, and Ecova has proven its comprehensive program delivery capabilities by successfully supporting our demand side management portfolio since 2002,” Lambert said.

Ecova is betting that other utilities will like the combo, too, as they try to navigate the new world of distributed energy resources, where saving kilowatts is as important as producing them.

Will data analytics radically change building energy assessments? Tell us your thoughts below or on our LinkedIn group, Energy Efficiency Markets.

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Elisa Wood About Elisa Wood

Elisa Wood is the chief editor of MicrogridKnowledge.com. She has been writing about energy for more than two decades for top industry publications. Her work also has been picked up by CNN, the New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal Online and the Washington Post.

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