Smart meters were supposed to free your energy data. Arcadia wants to finish the job

The community-solar stalwart makes a move into the utility software space.

(Landis+Gyr)
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Arcadia, one of the largest managers of community solar assets in the country, now also offers software that could give energy consumers and third parties better access to utility data. Providing consumers with more granular information about their energy use could spur innovation and speed up decarbonization by eliminating the utility middleman.

Energy innovation has been blocked by fossil fuel utility monopolies for more than 130 years,” Kiran Bhatraju, CEO and founder of Arcadia, told Canary Media. Every major industry has digitized data to innovate — health care, telecom, real estate financing all use data to digitize and innovate. But energy never got the memo.”

Arcadia is aiming to change that and is equipped with seven years of energy software experience, $100 million from a recent funding round and the intellectual firepower of the four companies it acquired last year: Genability, Real Simple Energy, Nanogrid and iSolar.

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Arcadia wants to provide sustainability as a software service” with Arc, its new product aimed at entrepreneurs and developers who are building tools that can help consumers use energy smartly. The company is not just a community solar aggregator anymore.

Getting useful energy information into people’s hands

Do you remember the flood of data from the 100 million smart meters that were rolled out in the aughts? And the smart grid transformation of the 2010s? And how, starting in 2012, Green Button allowed us easy access to utility information? Those programs ushered in a new golden age of customer awareness and control of energy usage. We can now easily use third-party apps to time our consumption to when power is cheaper or cleaner, and engage in demand-response schemes that lower our costs and support the grid at the same time. 

Oh wait, nope, none of that ever happened. 

Lots of bold claims were made about data enabling people to take charge of their energy consumption. But time-of-use programs are so complex that only a small fraction of consumers currently opt in to them. Most people remain in the dark about utility rates and the sources of their energy, and a cynical mind might conclude that utilities are just fine with that. 

The federal Green Button initiative, supported by many utilities, was supposed to give customers transparent access to their utility usage data and the ability to share that data with third-party companies that could take actions on customers’ behalf.

But not all utilities comply with the Green Button standard, and even if yours does, the process is difficult to navigate. While some consumers may be able to view information provided by the system, they aren’t practically empowered to do anything with the information,” according to Arcadia. 

Bhatraju’s view is that consumer-centric apps, data access and portability are just not [part of] the utilities’ business model.” 

Arcadia’s new Arc product is a software layer designed to fill that gap, containing energy data, analytics, billing/​payment customization and the ability to connect to renewable energy programs including community solar and renewable energy credits. The user interface provides access to energy data covering 125 utilities across 50 states and more than 80 percent of U.S. electric utility accounts. 

Revving up the EV-charging experience and simplifying billing

Arcadia claims that electric vehicle owners can save an average of 78 percent compared to the gasoline costs of internal-combustion cars if they optimize their charging time to take advantage of EV-specific electricity rates. Arcadia’s utility rate database (courtesy of the Genability acquisition) can make that easy — and even automate it. 

Charging could transform from a frustrating black box into an optimized experience,” according to the CEO.

For EV owners that have rooftop solar, a battery, or a subscription to a community solar project, it can be challenging to understand how much charging actually costs them. With access to the right data and application programming interfaces, known as APIs, third parties can take over the billing process, bundling disparate bills into one monthly payment and improving the customer experience.

This is something electric utilities are not now well-equipped to do. 

What’s the best way to make energy data more accessible?

Arcadia isn’t the only company trying to use consumer energy data to offer new services.

Google’s new Nest Renew program is intent on opening up a range of cleaner energy options for its 11 million-plus U.S. smart thermostat customers. These include shifting home energy use to times when more clean power is available and enrolling in a $10-per-month program that supports building new wind and solar projects and maximizing the use of clean power. 

Nest Renew and Arcadia’s Arc platform can deliver similar outcomes: increased customer participation in demand-response programs; more customers opting in to time-of-use rates; simplification of opt-in processes; and optimizing energy efficiency or EV charging.

Data from Nest Renew and Arc could also streamline the way providers price new energy services such as retrofits including heat pumps, electrification or even deep energy efficiency with building insulation. It could also encourage more customers to participate in virtual power plants,” which are aggregations of distributed energy resources and behind-the-meter batteries. 

But there are key differences in what the two companies are doing. The Nest thermostat serves as a gateway drug for the company’s other products, pushing for everything in your home to run within the Google Home silo. Arcadia, on the other hand, is trying to sell its software to other thermostat firms or EV-charging companies that might be able to incorporate its API into their suite of offerings. 

Another distinction between the two is Google’s strong messaging around partnerships with utilities. Many of Nest’s existing utility partners will take part in the Nest Renew rollout, including AES Corp., Consumers Energy, Duke Energy, Southern California Edison and others.

In stark contrast, Arcadia’s messaging is about disintermediating the utility and breaking the fossil fuel monopoly. Arcadia wants its Arc data to be put to work for the customer.

Still, cooperating with utilities is key to Arcadia’s business plan, even if the focus is ultimately on individual consumers. 

I think almost all utilities want to figure out a future with new energy companies and distributed resources,” said Bhatraju. I think we actually simplify it for them. They don’t have to convince a regulator to spend a bunch of money to unlock data; they can simply work with us to help them make the data easy and accessible for third parties.”

Eric Wesoff is the editorial director at Canary Media.