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Residential energy is becoming companies' business

Are businesses responsible for the home energy use of their employees? A look at five companies with updated offerings tailored to the COVID-19 era.

Electric meter

In this crazy upside-down world, the line between residential and commercial energy is getting fuzzy. 

Everything changed so quickly, it makes sense that climate and energy teams have yet to figure out how to account for the shift. But as companies such as Mastercard, Facebook and Twitter look at long-term remote work policies, working from home (WFH) is adding a new dimension to corporate carbon accounting. 

And it’s not too soon for climate-forward companies to think about how to incentivize employees to make their home (office) run off clean energy. 

It’s still early days for companies thinking about WFH energy usages as part of their own greenhouse gas footprint. Right now, commercial energy use is still high, and it’s not clear when or which workers will head back to the office. 

It’s not too soon for climate-forward companies to think about how to incentivize employees to make their home (office) run off clean energy.

According to Noah Goldstein, director of sustainability at Guidehouse, there also aren’t great calculations for what the GHG impact of working from home would be. The guidance is that the company is only responsible for "additional" energy use, but that is hard to determine without baseline calculations. 

"I can foresee some companies accounting for WFH in their 2020 or 2021 footprint, but very, very few in number," said Goldstein in an email. 

Five companies with residential energy programs for the COVID era

With people hunkering down at home as we enter a hotter than normal summer, residential demand response will be critical to keep energy affordable and clean(er). 

The pandemic began in a shoulder month — meaning a time of year where heating and cooling demands are low as most of the country experiences temperate weather. With restrictions on movement still in effect, grid operators are preparing for air conditioners alone to strain our energy infrastructure.

Demand response is a promising solution. According to an analysis by Wood Mackenzie, residential demand response would unlock more than 10 gigawatts of additional energy capacity. This would help utilities and states stay on track for clean energy goals and reduce energy bills at a time when households are struggling more than ever to make ends meet. 

Here are five companies with updated offerings tailored to the COVID-19 era, designed to make residential energy use smarter as our homes become our office (and bar and restaurant and concert venue and movie theater…)

1. Google Nest partners with utilities

Google recently announced its partnership with Consumers Energy to bring smart thermostats to up to 100,000 households in Michigan. According to its release, those who receive a thermostat will be enrolled in the utility’s Smart Thermostat Program, which shifts energy use to off-peak hours. 

The partnership is part of Consumers’ Clean Energy Plan, which is striving to reach net-zero carbon emissions. Shifting energy use during peak times is key to staying on track. 

This is just the first in a series of Google Nest’s partnerships. The company is expected to announce three more utility partnerships at the start of June. 

Google isn’t the only company teaming up with utilities to gamify demand response. Logical Buildings launched its GridRewards campaign last month to encourage residents to reduce energy usage at key times. Logical Buildings partnered with a consortium of municipalities in Westchester, New York. 

2. OhmConnect launches AutoOhms

Last week, OhmConnect announced AutoOhms, its newest program that offers cash incentives for "timely, smarter energy use."

AutoOhm will power down energy-intensive connected appliances in 15-minute increments during peak energy times. Customers will receive a text message when peak rates are about to kick in and can select appliances to power down through an app. Through this "gamified" experience, the customer can actively see their energy savings. 

The program is available for customers of California’s three big investor-owned utilities: Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric. 

3. Tesla Energy discusses Autobidder

Always a big dreamer, it comes as no surprise that Tesla’s energy division has its sights on becoming a distributed global utility. 

Tesla has been deploying distributed energy assets (think solar, electric vehicles, Powerwalls) while investing in grid-scale energy and storage projects. Now the company’s vision is to control these individual assets as one beast on its platform Autobidder. According to the website, Autobidder allows anyone with energy storage assets — be they EVs, solar plus storage, a home battery, anything — to engage in real-time trading and make additional money from the energy asset. 

Apparently, Autobidder already has been (quietly) around for a few years, operations at Tesla’s energy storage facility in South Australia. With Tesla talking about the software, the company is likely hoping for wider adoption. 

4. Leap Energy develops a demand response marketplace

Leap, a newer company in the world of demand response, is working to create a marketplace to better monetize energy resources. Its vision is to engage connected energy resources that aren’t currently participating in grid flexibility — which, according to its CEO Thomas Folker, is about 90 percent of energy assets.

"We are an aggregator of other aggregators," said Folker in a phone conversation last month. "We don't physically control any hardware, we don't acquire any customers. We just provide the software that allows for this all to happen."

The platform allows for end energy users to bid on resources and automatically facilitates the exchange. Its users are demand response companies — such as OhmConnect and Google Nest — and works to increase the value of distributed energy resources while providing flexibility to the grid. 

5. Span turns homes into microgrids

New on the scene with a fresh round of Series A finance, Span bills itself as a smart panel company that works to integrate a home’s solar, energy storage and electric vehicle. It’s kind of like using a home’s energy assets as a microgrid. 

Span’s selling point is energy resilience. The system works to keep power flowing to where customers need it in the event of a power outage, which, the company points out in a release, is of growing importance as California is looking at a future where shelter in place could overlap with planned power outages. (The company is initially focusing on California and Hawaii as key markets.)

This increased level of control and connected energy assets also means users can rely on their own resources when the grid has more dirty energy. 

This article is adapted from GreenBiz's newsletter Energy Weekly, running Thursdays. Subscribe here.

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