Smart Grid, Smart Company
Company capitalizing on growing interest in smart grid solutions
May 17, 2012— Ottawa, Ontario
Energate Inc. is a rising star whose successes have their roots in technology that was first invented at the National Research Council of Canada (NRC).
Founded in 2004, Energate provides solutions to manage home energy consumption. Selling exclusively to utilities, the firm's Consumer Connected Demand Response (CCDR) platform gives consumers access to smart meter data and helps them monitor and control their home energy use via the internet. Using the information provided by the meter, consumers turn off appliances when power rates peak.
The resulting energy savings are great for consumers-but the main beneficiaries are the big utilities who are Energate's primary customers.
"Major utilities are looking for ways to shift their energy loads from peak to off-peak because there are significant economic rewards for doing so," says Niraj Bhargava, Energate, chief executive officer.
Typically, utilities buy Energate's smart thermostats and offer them to customers free of charge. Utilities can also use the information gleaned from smart meters to better forecast demand and reduce their generation of excess capacity.
"The cost of deploying our demand response technology solution is a fraction of the cost of building a new power plant," explains Bhargava.
A Canadian invention
Before Energate became the innovative, growth-oriented firm that it is today, it was preceded by Enerstat, a company that developed electronic programmable thermostats. These smart thermostats were developed based on research conducted some 30 years ago at NRC by Jerry Kathnelson.
Kathnelson and Jorge Deligiannis, both of whom are now executives at Energate, worked together at Enerstat first, commercializing the smart thermostat in the late 1970s with support from NRC. Enerstat was eventually sold, but the know-how resided with Kathnelson and Deligiannis, who brought it with them to Energate in 2004 as two of the company's original four co-founders.
"This is an example where government investment in research and development (R&D) is continuing to pay off decades later," notes Bhargava. "The smart thermostat wouldn't be where it is today without Jorge, but it wouldn't be here at all without Jerry."
Navigating support options
The firm benefited from a few angel investors in its early days, but funding from the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP) was very helpful in building the algorithms in Energate's smart thermostat and commercializing it in 2007, says Bhargava. Known as the Pioneer, Energate's first smart thermostat is still shipping in the tens of thousands to major utilities.
Several years after that first project, NRC-IRAP Industrial Technology Advisor (ITA) Jeff Linton helped the firm secure a second funded project that would transform it from a hardware to a solutions company.
"What we learned was that utilities don't buy thermostats, they buy a solution that helps reduce the overall demand," says Bhargava. "That second NRC-IRAP project let us develop the communications technology needed to do that."
Linton was instrumental in helping the firm understand how government programs could be helpful, adds Bhargava. "We had lots of ideas, and he made sure we didn't waste time going down avenues that were inappropriate. He also pushed us to make sure we did enough research not only to prove our technology, but to make it appropriate for government support."
Since NRC-IRAP's involvement with Energate in 2006, the company has commercialized a complete technology solution platform that has positioned it for considerable growth:
- Since 2006, Energate has grown to over 35 employees.
- It has established offices in Toronto, Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles.
- In terms of market share, the firm is now among the top five in its industry in North America.
- Building on the success of past IRAP projects, Energate tripled its revenues in 2010-2011.
- The company currently counts some 30 major utilities as clients.
Energate's growth potential seems tremendous: There are about 3,000 utilities in North America, and as Bhargava points out, "eventually all of them will have a peak power problem."
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