Staff at Hygge Power work in the energy efficiency and conservation space among startups in Boulder. Courtesy Hygge Power

Startups see growing market in the smart-home sector

The Opo plug can store energy in order to power whatever is plugged in. Courtesy Hygge Power

As smart home technology becomes more accessible, with Amazon Alexa able to check the weather and add items to grocery lists in every home, several Front Range tech companies are looking to go more niche with their smart-home technology and are looking at energy use.

One such company is Hygge Power, a startup that’s created a plug-in device called the Opo plug that can store energy, ideal for powering devices during a power outage or blackout.

A person can plug it into an outlet and plug a TV, mobile phone charger or even a refrigerator into it and run it for several hours. It can be ideal for plugging in items like a router. The Opo plug acts like a battery that lets the router run even during a power outage. It’s a more affordable option than buying a generator, said Caleb Scalf, CEO of Hygge.

“Smart home technology is a significantly large market,” Scalf said. “It’s going to grow in the next few years to a crazy figure beyond $55 billion. More are widely adopting to smart tech as it becomes convenient and it’s becoming cheaper. But it uses more energy and electricity, and Hygge is providing that smart storage to support all of the Internet of Things items.”

In fact, in addition to power storage, Scalf said the Opo plugs can make any item plugged into it smarter because the plugs are wifi-enabled and collect data. They can save money by cycling power so it’s being used at the best time when rates are most affordable. Hygge is also partnering with utilities to take that data collected and send it back to the utility. It operates as a smart meter to help utilities be more efficient and pass that efficiency back to the consumer.

Hygge isn’t the only company looking at the home energy space. Boulder-based Tendril is an energy software company that has developed solutions that utilize smart home technology, such as its cloud-based Orchestrated Energy software, which helps utilities better serve connected homes.

Orchestrated Energy is sold to the utilities, and utility customers are incentivized to participate in the program, which overall through data collection can lead to grid optimization. Homes with connected devices like thermostats, water heaters and solar power systems can have their data stream back to the utility using the cloud-based Orchestrated Energy software. In turn, customers can allow Orchestrated Energy to autonomously make subtle changes like change the temperature in the house from 74 degrees to 72 degrees, which can lead to a big shift in energy use from the homeowner and the utility.

Companies like Tendril and Hygge are looking to partner not just with homeowners but with utilities because of the large scale impact changing a utility’s energy practices can have on a community.

“The person who benefits the most from managing energy use is the utility,” said Marissa Hummon, project lead on Orchestrated Energy for Tendril. “They have a lot of hidden costs in their operating system that aren’t reflected in the bill a customer pays.”

Hummon said that when utilities can manage demand, that is, ensure that customers aren’t being high-energy users during peak usage hours when the cost of energy is most expensive, utilities can get more value and pass that back to the customer. Hummon said that many utilities, including Xcel Energy, are investing in demand management programs, like Orchestrated Energy.

While several companies are looking at the smart home energy management space, Hummon said Tendril is differentiating itself by providing “optimized demand management.”

“We have a unique skill set of people who understand grid operations and how utilities work,” she said. “We understand how energy use works in the home. We have a 10-year background in behavioral energy efficiency. All that research in behavioral science comes through in how our tech solution is implemented. Many might just think about the consumer experience or only about the utility grid operation. Our advantage is we balance both those things.”

Tendril and Hygge aren’t alone in the space. Simuwatt is another Boulder-based company that provides energy management for commercial buildings. The company recently opened an office in New York, where several buildings are using its software to audit their energy use.

As Front Range companies look at smart home energy management by providing hardware and software for solutions, others are looking at growing the space by investing in it.

Borealis Ventures, a New England-based venture firm looking to invest in Colorado, is focused on investing in the built environment space. Tom Wyman, an operating partner for Borealis Ventures based in Boulder, said that the firm is interested in companies that are improving urban living, as more than 50 percent of the world lives in cities. Energy management and smart homes are two methods Borealis believes can help cities grow more efficiently.

“Right now, other than knowing the heat is turned to 68 degrees, we don’t have a great measure of what that means. Through sensors and the Internet of Things, buildings can be a whole lot smarter. They can measure water, waste, energy and carbon and through machine learning we can figure out ways to use less of some of those resources to have a more efficient home or building. It’s great for the environment and also great for spending less money on operating your home.”

Looking at the bigger picture, Wyman said that companies that are providing smart home technology in the energy management space could be integral in improving urban living.

“Energy monitoring is something I see as key to a better city,” he said. “Buildings account for 39 percent of CO2 emissions in the U.S. This tech is great from a sustainability perspective. And it’s also becoming very important from a financial perspective. As soon as something like that is tied to the bottom line, we see a much larger shift in behavior. And a high-performing building that’s less expensive to operate is worth more to the property owner.”

As more area startups look to the smart home energy management space, Wyman said Borealis plans to invest in the area.

“It’s very clear there’s a lot of activity out here,” he said. “It made sense to specifically focus on Colorado startups, there’s a lot in this built environment space looking at smart energy usage for homes and buildings. We recognized that and when looking at where it made sense to grow, Colorado was at the top of the list.”

The Opo plug can store energy in order to power whatever is plugged in. Courtesy Hygge Power

As smart home technology becomes more accessible, with Amazon Alexa able to check the weather and add items to grocery lists in every home, several Front Range tech companies are looking to go more niche with their smart-home technology and are looking at energy use.

One such company is Hygge Power, a startup that’s created a plug-in device called the Opo plug that can store energy, ideal for powering devices during a power outage or blackout.

A person can plug it into an outlet and plug a TV, mobile phone charger or even a refrigerator into it and run it for several hours. It can be ideal for plugging in items like a router. The Opo plug acts like a battery that lets the router run even during a power outage. It’s a more affordable option than buying a generator, said Caleb Scalf, CEO of Hygge.

“Smart home technology is a significantly large market,” Scalf said. “It’s going to grow in the next few years to a crazy figure beyond $55 billion. More are widely adopting to smart tech as it becomes convenient and it’s becoming cheaper. But it uses more energy and electricity, and Hygge is providing that smart storage to support all of the Internet…