FirstFuel Aims to Deliver 'Zero-Touch' Building Energy Audits

Imagine having the energy efficiency of your building assessed without an auditor ever setting foot in the place and getting the results -- along with customized recommendations on how your company can cut waste -- in a fraction of the standard turnaround time.

That vision of a "zero-touch" audit is what FirstFuel Software CEO Swapnil Shah and his colleagues are trying to deliver to the market with their Rapid Building Assessment Platform.

They announced Thursday that their startup landed $2.4 million in an initial round of financing led by Battery Ventures and Nth Power, which were joined by individual investors.

The money will be used to scale up the business and move it from pilots to broader distribution. The Massachusetts-based company has been conducting pilots with two of the largest utilities in the U.S. as well as government agencies and is looking to add a third utility to its list of pilot partners, said Shah.

The power of the system lies in its "ability to analyze the consumption patterns of a building remotely," said Shah, who gave me a rundown on how the platform works. Essentially, he said, it needs only two things from the customer -- the address of the building to be assessed and a year's worth of hourly electricity consumption data from the utility that serves the property.

The platform takes that information and applies hourly local weather data for the same year-long period and uses GIS mapping to capture building data about the structure. Then the platform's analytics take over to produce, in effect, a "CAT scan" of the building's energy performance, detecting pattern and anomalies. While that's happening, consumption areas -- such as heating, cooling, lighting, lighting, gas, ventilation, plugload and pumps -- are analyzed and compared to benchmarks that FirstFuel has developed for comparable buildings.

The result is a report that provides building owners with the big picture on their property's energy consumption and drill-down information on consumption in specific areas. Most important are the operational and retrofit recommendations that can increase efficiency and reduce costs.

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That all sounds great, I told Shah, but it also seems a bit too good be true. I asked whether the platform works in real-world applications.

"We can prove it and have independent studies that show it works," he said.

Next page: The first real-world returns