People take for granted that buildings with Energy Star equipment and LEED certification – Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design – are the most energy efficient structures around.
But even green buildings can waste energy, said Joe Hirl. Energy Star Portfolio Manager, an online tool that benchmarks a building’s energy use against other commercial properties, only measures a building once a month, he explains. Hirl’s startup Agilis Energy has software that can get 3,000 more times more data measurements that provide a more complete assessment of a building’s energy performance.
“LEED and Energy Star is fine but you can do so much better,” Hirl said.
Agilis didn’t start as a software company. When Hirl formed Agilis In 2003, the company worked with companies to help them manage how they purchased power. Much of this work was in unregulated states, such as Texas, where customers have choices in providers and the markets can be volatile. Agilis helped customers with their hedging strategies.
The emergence of smart meters presented new opportunities. These devices produce volumes of information on a building’s energy usage. Customers weren’t doing much of anything with the data but Hirl saw it as a tool make better energy decisions. He calls it “big data on the energy side.”
In 2009, Agilis started developing software to take advantage of the energy data produced by smart meters. Hirl likens the software to a medical test used to diagnose a patient. Using historical energy usage data provided by a smart meter, Agilis’ software can “diagnose” what’s wrong with a building. The software can show patterns of energy use from night to day and from season to season. A building can be benchmarked against itself or even matched up against comparable buildings.
Given a picture of how a building uses and wastes energy, a building owner can then make decisions about how to improve the structure’s energy efficiency – even LEED-certified buildings. Those changes don’t necessarily involve capital expenditures. For example, the temperatures in a building might be too high or too low at times when the building is unoccupied, a situation remedied by simply adjusting the temperature settings for certain times of the day. Hirl says Agilis can typically find between 10 and 25 percent in annual energy savings in a building.
Agilis has more than 300 customers in North America and Europe representing more than 1,000 buildings analyzed by the company’s software. In the Triangle, Agilis’ customers include Ravenscroft School. Agilis has built most of its customer base by working directly with customers. But the company also works with larger partners, such as Trane and Constellation, which provide energy equipment or services to customers. In many instances, these partners already have the building’s data from smart meters. They use Agilis’ software to do the energy diagnosis before making changes or upgrades.
Agilis is not the only company playing in the energy analytics space. Boston-area startup FirstFuel, which recently raised $8.5 million in a series B round, has developed software that analyzes the energy performance of a building. Retroficiency, based in Boston, has developed energy audit software for commercial buildings. And Hirl readily admits that big companies like Siemens, Honeywell and Johnson Controls could have their own offerings in the works.
But Hirl said that when Agilis filed its patent in 2010, none of those companies were in this analytics space. Agilis was recently awarded a patent for its diagnostic tool. The software is very visual – images show customers the energy usage patterns.
“It makes the invisible, visible,” Hirl said. “We submitted our patents in color because it’s a very important dimension to understanding what you’re seeing.”
Agilis is completely self funded. Hirl is an energy industry veteran who got his start in energy as a U.S. Navy Nuclear Power Officer and later worked in Enron’s energy marketing and trading businesses in Scandinavia, Australia and Japan. Before founding Agilis in 2003, Hirl worked at Progress Energy as the senior vice president for energy marketing and trading. Agilis is completely separate from the former Progress Energy and the utility had no role in the company or its technology.
Now as Hirl prepares to scale the company to reach more customers, he’s laying the groundwork for the company’s first round of outside investment. Besides boosting the business development efforts of the company, Hirl said the financing would also support new hires at Agilis, which currently employs five. CEO Hirl wears a second hat as chief technology officer. But Hirl said that the technology, based on the computational software program Mathematica, has already been built out and the company does not need more software development. Agilis will need some back-end IT support as well as sales staff. Hirl projects Agilis could grow to between 10 to 15 employees next year.
As for the financing itself, Hirl has had informal talks with potential investors and he says a series A round of financing could come together in early 2014. He estimates the company would be targeting a round of “$5 million or so.”