The smiling face of energy
Opower was founded in 2007 by Dan Yates and Alex Laskey as a software company that offers people much better information about their energy use. Distributed through utility companies, the Opower platform makes home energy users more aware of their usage and consequently motivates them to reduce their energy consumption.
The same could be said of creative leaders in business. By using behavioural- science principles, Opower’s software reveals patterns of which energy customers may have been unaware, and personalises the information they receive about their energy use so that it is highly relevant (and engaging). Reports can compare usage with neighbours and offer energy-saving tips, with a web portal, email and mobile alerts, and a WiFi thermostat providing more detailed analysis and further information.
Dan and Alex were featured in Fortune magazine’s ‘40 under 40’ list in 2011, and in 2010 Barack Obama visited Opower’s home office, commending them on their rapid growth and “green” job creation. The company’s stated purpose is ‘to engage the millions of people who are in the dark about their energy use.’
Opower’s business model takes into account that both utilities and their customers are their “clients”. Utilities pay for the service, but end—consumers ultimately modify their behaviour based on engagement with Opower’s products.
We spoke to Jeremy Faro, Senior Director of Brand, based in Opower’s Washington DC headquarters.
“We’re not the sort of company that is waiting for innovations to come out 10 to 15 years from now to help us save energy. We were founded because we recognise the environmental degradation going on around the world as a result of our appetite for energy, and because of our inefficient use of it. We have a software platform that is saving a tremendous amount of energy right now by motivating people to change their behaviour.
"Everywhere we are deployed, people with access to Opower’s platform from their utility are using between 2% and 3% less power just because of what we are doing: that’s very motivating to everyone who works at Opower, and it’s motivating to our clients too — everyone likes to feel good about what they are doing at work.”
We do this by giving everyone the information, motivation, and control that they need to save energy right now. Our entire business is based upon uncommon transparency: we take data that’s yours (available through your utility) and show you how to read it, understand it, and use it. We are transforming information that’s already available into something people can use — nothing could be more transparent than that. It’s the very nature of the entire business: we invest heavily in information design — we have great interaction designers and user experience specialists, who design and test everything we do with all sorts of people everywhere, so that all of this great information and advice is relevant to everyone, regardless of age, income level, or access to technology. Everyone can use power more efficiently because of what we offer. In competitive markets — where you get to choose who delivers your energy to you and who you pay for your utility bills — we are seeing that people exhibit greater goodwill and favourability towards energy companies that provide them with this type of information. They understand that the utility is trying to help them have more control of their usage, and ultimately to help them manage their household expenses better. Rather than a utility being merely a public monopoly or private moneymaking entity, it’s a partner helping you to run your household better than before.”
Today, Opower works with more than 75 utilities in 6 countries around the world. It reaches more than 15 million people, many of whom don’t even have Smart Metres installed. “By being friendly, engaging, clear, and honest, we set ourselves apart from our competitors. No one else sounds or looks like us. We have a brand that’s appealing to utility clients as well as the larger industry, press, and investment community because we embody qualities with which most people want to share space with. The utility sector never went through the personalisation and customisation revolution that other industries in the US and UK have. Banking and telecoms went through this revolution 10 to 15 years ago.
“Our products are much more engaging than energy customers are used to — people just haven’t ever had emotional relationships with their utilities before. Our new mobile app and thermostat are our new major channels; you will be able to control and understand how your house is using energy — and how that compares to similar homes around you — from anywhere using your smart phone.
By signing up for alerts and reminders, you’ll be able to have your house warmed to your preferred temperature when you get home from a business trip or vacation, all from your smartphone — allowing it to run on efficient settings in your absence with no discomfort to you. Others are bringing out software with this type of control, but they don’t have our critical behavioural component, which is what makes all the difference.
Internal culture plays a huge part in the Opower’s success: “We get to work every day with smart, talented, upbeat people: the concentration of motivated, talented staff is very high, level of employee satisfaction is very high in response to that. People are given responsibilities, and allowed to figure out how best to do things, without being micromanaged. We also have a flexible working environment, many remote employees who use technology that allows them to work effectively from their homes or small offices; we don’t all have to be chained to desks all the time, and this obviously makes people happy.
For a small company growing fast in multiple locations, it can be difficult to solidify a culture and communicate company traditions; we’re not the sort of company that has a standard annual picnic, but we find other ways to come together. We hire primarily through referrals from people already working at Opower, and yet maintain a very high level of quality, which speaks volumes about the enthusiasm there is for the company.”
As President Obama said during his visit: “...We need to replicate the success of clean energy companies like Opower. We need to invest in the jobs of the future and in the industries of the future, because the country that leads in clean energy and energy efficiency today, I’m absolutely convinced, is going to lead the global economy tomorrow ... I want companies like Opower to be expanding and thriving all across America. It’s good for consumers. It’s good for our economy. It’s good for our environment.”
Quite an endorsement, and with plans for further expansion around the world, it’s well founded.