Essess: Google Street View for building energy efficiency

A Cambridge, Mass.-based startup, Essess, has found a novel way to spot energy leaks for residential and commercial buildings: drive-by energy audits. Equipped with multi-spectral thermal cameras mounted on top of vehicles, the company captures high-speed images to build a database of energy consumption for buildings, neighborhoods and cities.

The company analyzes the thermal image data to identify energy leakages and provides energy efficiency reports for building owners without ever setting foot on the property. It's Google Street View meets Zillow for commercial and residential energy efficiency.

Essess CEO Storm Duncan sees "big data" as the great enabler to encourage energy efficiency for businesses and homeowners. "We can capture and zero-in on energy use for buildings down to individual windows and help building owners increase efficiency and reduce costs," says Duncan.

Similarly, another cleantech startup, Sungevity, has leveraged big data and Google Earth-like tools for remote energy assessments to identify potential residential solar installations instead of having to send technicians to customers’ homes.

Essess joins a growing number of "zero-touch" or remote monitoring energy audit startups. Namely, Retroficiency, which offers an automated audit platform and on-demand software solution for facility managers; and First Fuel which analyzes energy bills to drill-down on consumption patterns in specific areas.

Duncan says the company gathers 1-2 billion commercial and residental building images a month and has targeted high-density population centers in northern California (San Francisco, Sacramento, Palo Alto and Marin County) as well as parts of Chicago, Boston, New York City and others.

Essess (pronounced and spelled ēssess) plans to build an information marketplace and sell comparative analysis solutions to building owners, realtors, contractors, utilities, energy services companies, product retailer manufacturers and city governments.

Indeed, cities and regional governments make up an important market, says Duncan, as many cities are regulating commercial buildings' energy performance. That's driving a growing need for easy access to energy audits.

The technology behind the Essess's products was originally conceived at the MIT Field Intelligence Laboratory with the company spun out in April of 2011. Essess recently closed its $6 million Series A funding round from Vocap Ventures, with additional investment from DFJ Athena, Minder Cheng and Richard Tsai.

Duncan indicates this round of funding will be used to expand technology for commercial products, build operations and infrastructure, capture images in more geographical areas and engage customers. The company's first software-as-a-service product will be available to customers this summer.