Thursday Dec 08, 2022

How two college friends launched a company that has helped save 32 terawatt hours of energy and more than $3 billion in energy bills – CNBC


The founders of Opower, Daniel Yates and Alex Laskey.

Brooks Kraft | Corbis News | Getty Images

In this weekly series, CNBC takes a look at companies that made the inaugural Disruptor 50 list, 10 years later.

Before Alex Laskey launched an energy efficiency company in 2007, he was primarily working on political campaigns, “almost exclusively losing campaigns,” he told CNBC in a phone conversation in June.

Towards the end of his early run in politics, in 2006, Laskey worked in public opinion research and political polling about voter sentiment on, mostly, environmental and energy issues, and that work catalyzed Laskey’s awareness of and sense of urgent desire to respond to climate change.

The political opinion polling also taught Laskey that while “climate change” was a highly politicized issue in 2006 (and still is, according to Pew Research Center), that even back in 2006, almost all American voters agreed with the idea of “saving energy” and not being wasteful, Laskey told CNBC.

As these learnings were percolating for Laskey, he reconnected with his college friend Dan Yates, who had in 2004 sold his education software company Edusoft to Houghton Mifflin for $40 million. The two decided to work together on an effort related to the environment and responding to climate change. In January 2007, Laskey and Yates committed to spend a few months testing out some ideas and seeing how compatible they would be working together.

The startup that Laskey and Yates would go on to launch was Opower, which shared energy efficiency recommendations with customers through the utility companies that serve them. In 2014, the energy efficiency company went public. Two years later, it was acquired for $532 million by software giant Oracle. Today, Opower is still operating within Oracle as a part of its utilities-focused business, and is still being run by an early hire, Matt O’Keefe.

For Opower, which appeared on the inaugural CNBC Disruptor 50 list in 2013, being acquired helped the company accelerate its impact, building on the back of Oracle’s software strength. Since 2016, Opower has tripled the amount of energy the company has been able to help customers save. Households that get energy from a utility company that uses Opower’s energy efficiency recommendations have saved more than 32 terawatt hours of energy savings. Before Oracle bought Opower, the company had been able to save 11 terawatt hours of energy.

The 32 terawatt hours of energy can be an abstract number that’s hard to contextualize, but here are some real world constructs: a terawatt is a trillion watts or a thousand times bigger than a gigawatt. A gigawatt can power 3.125 million solar panels or 110 million LED lights, so a terawatt is a thousand times that: 3.125 billion solar panels or 110 billion LED lights. That 32 terawatt hours of energy savings Opower has been responsible for translates to saving customers $3.3 billion on their bills.

That 32 terawatt hours of energy saved means 16 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions have been avoided. That too can be hard to grasp in any tangible way, but for context, a metric ton is 2,204.6 pounds and a metric ton of carbon dioxide would be held in a cube 27 feet on all sides, which is about the length of a telephone pole, according to Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s database of global warming information.

How the idea for Opower came together

A few “aha moments” helped coalesce and guide the creation of Opower.

First, Laskey had a “pretty old, beaten up Honda Civic” and Yates had a much …….


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