Ecofactor Smart Thermostat System Wins Cleantech Open


eco-factor-logo-lgA maker of thermostat data systems that claims to be able to reduce heating and cooling costs for buildings by 20-30 percent won Grand Prize at this year’s Cleantech Open, one of the leading environmental technology competitions in the country.

Ecofactor makes integrated systems that calibrate a residential or commercial thermostat for maximum energy efficiency without having any noticeable effect on comfort. The system uses information from 24,000 data points, such as local weather, typical customer behavior and the design characteristics of a home or business to control the thermostat, which is connected to the Internet via a broadband connection.

As National Prize winner, Ecofactor took home $250,000, including $100,000 in seed capital. This is in addition to $100,000 the company won as California regional finalist in October. Started in 2006, Ecofactor has raised angel funding, and currently in negotiations for its Series A round, according to Earth2Tech.

Cleantech Open runners up were: Alphabet Energy (waste-heat recapture); and MicroMidas (transforms raw sewage into biodegradable plastic). Earlier in the day, audience members at the Awards Gala voted Alphabet Energy as the People’s Choice business competition winner.

One More Neuron in the Smart Grid

Ecofactor’s products dovetail with increased attention to the smart grid, a plan to revamp of the nation’s electric grid to increase efficiency, that will also require increased communication between utilities and consumers.

Buildings currently account for nearly half of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, and most experts agree that efficiency measures, rather than shifts to new technologies like renewable energy or electric cars, is the easiest and quickest means to begin pulling down emissions.

Partnering With Utilities to Reduce Load

Ecofactor announced earlier this month that is partnering with Oncor, a Texas power utility to set up systems in homes. The start-up has promised the utility that its technology installed in a “handful” of homes will lower peak-power usage by 3 megawatts. According to the New York Times, one way Ecofactor might decrease usage is by “pre-cooling” a house before the owners return from work, eliminating the need for them to crank up up the A/C right when everyone else is.

No Choosing Between Savings and Comfort

Currently, utilities run programs known as “demand-response,” which require customers who sign up, mostly businesses, to reduce electricity consumption when the utility asks them to, by turning down the A/C, for example. D and R only kicks in however when demand is at its greatest.

For residences, usually the only immediate way to save money on your heating and cooling bill is by turning off the A/C or, if you have it, pressing the “Energy Saver” button on your thermostat.

The (award-winning) brilliance of the Ecofactor system is that it is constantly perfecting home HVAC (heating and cooling system) energy use, 365 days a year. In the slightly technical language the company uses:

EcoFactor’s HVAC EKG solution detects degradations in HVAC systems as well as any change in the structure’s thermal performance over time and compares those results between like houses to offer best practices to the homeowner. These diagnostics also help energy service providers reduce operating costs and provide key insights to increase customer value.

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.

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