While the U.S. is known around the world for innovative companies like Google and Facebook, there is a new vanguard of American companies creating and exporting clean energy technologies,” said Jim Kapsis. His company, OPower, an information-enabled energy efficiency company, is one of them. Opower is transforming the relationship between consumers and how they use energy in their homes. According to Kapsis, Opower is on track to save households more than $100 million next year and enough energy to take the equivalent of more than 100,000 households off the grid.
Founded in 2007 by two college buddies, the company started out with a simple idea: utility bills are too difficult to understand. The friends, co-founders, Dan Yates and Alex Laskey, bet that if people had better information about their energy usage, they would use less of it, save money, and improve the environment. “It was an innovative business idea, but given the complexity of the energy market, they weren’t sure at first that it was going to work,” said Kapsis. By working with utility companies to deliver better information to their customers, OPower not only helps people understand how they are consuming energy, but how they are doing relative to other similar homes in their neighborhood. By coupling this context with personalized energy saving advice, Opower is giving households the tools to make more informed choices about their energy use.
The company now has utility clients in 25 states and is providing 10 million U.S. households with home energy information through its multi-channel platform, which includes paper-based reports, emails, text messages, and an interactive web portal. The company also recently acquired its first global client in the UK and has an ambitious plan to expand globally. OPower has been working closely with the Commerce Department’s foreign commercial services, the International Trade Administration and the Trade Development Agency to establish contacts with potential foreign clients and governments by participating in trade missions and meeting with foreign delegations in the U.S.
Aside from its innovative business model, OPower’s corporate culture is another reason for its success. Kapsis described this culture as “double bottom line”, where it is not enough to just make a profit: the company must also make good on the larger goals of saving energy and money for households, which is good for people’s pocketbooks and for the planet. “The great thing about working at OPower is that you don’t have to pick between making money and doing good for society; they are one and the same here,” said Kapsis. Because of this commitment, OPower has been able to attract many bright, capable people, including Kapsis who was motivated to move his career into clean energy after working on Middle East policy at the State and Defense Departments.
Kapsis attributes a lot of Opower’s success to smart government policies in more than 20 U.S. states that set standards for energy efficiency and give utilities an incentive to want their customers to use less power. “When the right policy is in place, it creates a market for companies like us provide households with the cleanest and cheapest form of energy there is -- the energy they don’t use.” Indeed, OPower has grown to over 200 employees from just 60 a year ago and expects to open its first international office later this year. “Without smart policy,” says Kapsis, “we would still just be an idea. Instead, we’re creating jobs, giving families relief on their energy bills, and exporting our product overseas.”
Ari Matusiak is Executive Director of the White House Business Council