Go Green Radio Podcast

Go Green Radio Jill Buck Interview and Podcast

Go Green Radio Podcast

750 449 Seth Terry

Many thanks to Jill Buck of Go Green Radio for the great questions and the opportunity to delve deeper into Emporia Energy! The 22 November 2019 episode, Affordable (and Effortless) Energy Savings at Home, examines Emporia’s principals and the potential for positive impact on the environment. The interview is one hour long and available to stream or download at VoiceAmerica, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and other convenient listening venues.

But some of us still enjoy reading — so we have put together the written format below using bullet points derived from each question and response. Note that this text is NOT a transcript of the Go Green Radio interview: just a reasonable attempt to capture the conversation!

The Go Green Radio Interview

Introduction and First Segment

Jill:

Welcome to Go Green Radio! Our guest today is Dr. Seth Terry who is the Head of Customer Experience at Emporia Energy. He has a Ph.D. in Environmental Science and Engineering from the Colorado School of Mines. Today we will talk about a product that Emporia has recently released and refined that will help you get some really great actionable data on your home energy use. But we will also talk about the issue: why this is important.

Seth:

Thank you very much and please allow me to thank you for inviting me on Go Green Radio.  It’s a real privilege to speak to others about something I care so much about personally. 

Jill:

Before we talk about your company’s product, I do want to start with some basics. A lot of our Go Green Radio listeners monitor their monthly energy bills and they try to conserve — partly to save energy, partly to save money. Help us understand why just keeping an eye on your monthly energy bills may not be adequate approach to home energy conservation.

Seth:

It’s really a matter of data frequency.  As energy consumers, most of us still live in a world of a mere 12 data points per year, delivered in an envelope through the postal service.  Contrast that to our vision for consumers: second-by-second data, delivered to mobile devices, wherever a customer has a data connection.  We feel strongly that such seamless, transparent access to data represents the future for energy consumers — and increasingly will be demanded by them.

Jill:

That’s exciting. I know that a lot of our listeners are data geeks who love to measure and monitor. But not everybody does. And making the case for why that’s important will help our Go Green Radio listeners bridge the gap of where they are now and where they could be. So let’s talk about your product, the Vue and how it works. What exactly is it, how is it installed, and once it’s installed, what kind of information does it deliver?

Seth:

We see the Vue as much as a platform as the hardware that collects and delivers data to consumers.  The hardware itself is a relatively simple set of sensors that sit inside a consumer’s home – typically inside an electrical panel — collecting electrical flow data, or amperage.  This data is then passed through Wi-Fi to our cloud and ultimately to our customers’ mobile devices.  As such, the Vue delivers information from “behind the meter” – which is to say on the customer’s side of the meter – at a frequency and timeliness that few consumers have ever seen before – leastwise from their monthly utility bills.

Jill:

Let me drill down a little bit more. If I order the Vue, how do I install it? Do I need help installing it?

Seth:

There is an installation for our current hardware product. Early adopters tend to be more comfortable working behind electrical panels and thus often choose to install our hardware themselves. That said, there are risks to this installation. Therefore, for those who are not comfortable working around electricity, we absolutely recommend hiring an electrician. The installation itself is quite simple and usually takes less than 20 minutes.

Jill:

So what does the Vue actually measure?

Seth:

The Vue measures the flow of energy into a residence. You can almost think of this flow as you would of water — and how rapidly it enters a home depending on how open is a faucet or spigot. When we use this water, we typically have a good physical sense for how much we use. We can see it; we can feel it. Not so with energy. The Vue hardware and app provide the graphical ability for consumers actually to see how much energy is flowing at any given time — and in real time.

Jill:

I think I’m getting the idea now. So let’s talk about how people can take action on the information the Vue delivers. What are some of the ways that the Vue actually helps people save energy?

Seth:

Having this more tactile sense of consumption really helps energy consumers limit or otherwise choose how they would like to use energy. Studies show that simple access to real-time energy data empowers consumers to make wise choices, generally resulting in savings on the order of 10%. 

As an example, just yesterday we heard from one of our customers who excitedly wrote us on Chat about the annual savings he had discovered.  Specifically, he had learned that his air conditioner consumed 100 watts in idle mode – even when not operating.  By actively turning off the system during the approximately 200 days per year when the A/C won’t be needed, this customer estimates he will save $70 — which represents pretty good payback for buying into our platform!

Jill:

I’ll say! That’s pretty awesome. Now in some places, electricity prices vary based on the time of day. Besides saving on your total energy consumption, how can the Vue help a consumer to save money based on the time of use?

Seth:

In two ways really.  First and most obvious, customers can shift usage away from high-cost time-of-use periods, benefiting from the tactile sense of how much energy particular activities consume.  For example, they can avoid running appliances such as dishwashers, laundry machines, and dryers when doing so is pricey.  However, they can save money in a less obvious way through detective work such as that for our customer with the idle air conditioner.  Locating and removing similar idle loads (also called Vampire Loads) can prove quite rewarding since energy may cost 4 to 5 times as much during peak hours.  The Vue can be a great tool for helping with that detective work. 

Jill:

And now I read this statement on your website: “The Vue home energy monitoring system gives homeowners insight and assurance by preventing costly repairs.” How does the Vue help prevent costly repairs?

Seth:

It’s actually pretty simple: the better a consumer understands equipment and its typical energy behavior, the better that consumer can detect irregularities in its operation.  In other words, just as with your car, it can pay to diagnose a problem before it becomes more severe.  Actually, our CEO saw this play out in his own home where he noted an odd pattern that led him to discover a problem with a heating element – long before his boiler actually failed.  As a result, he was able to service his equipment even before going without heat.  In this manner, we see the Vue as providing a service not unlike the Check Engine light in your car.  And when it goes off, it’s probably time to seek help from a professional – a house mechanic as it were!

Second Segment of Go Green Radio Interview

Jill:

Welcome back to Go Green Radio everybody! We’re talking about a product I am very excited about because it is actually something my own family is wrestling with. And that is getting our arms around our own energy use and hence our energy bill. We have already spoken about the detail — or granularity — for energy use available with the Vue and its app. Talk to us about the key functionalities of that app and let us know if there are any new features that are coming soon.

Seth:

Well, first and foremost, as we have discussed: it provides real-time, mobile access to data not typically available to energy consumers.  However, beyond that, it also shows second-by-second patterns for energy use and allows access to historical data in time-frames selected by the user: seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, and years.  Additionally, users can easily select their preferred units of measurement, whether dollars, kilowatts, gallons of gasoline, car miles, or carbon.  In this way, customers can express their energy impact in terms most meaningful to them.  For those of us on the greener side, we can even express our consumption in terms of the trees necessary to offset that carbon. 

Finally, our app includes a Savings page with suggested methods as well as an estimate for savings tallied while using the Vue platform.  For example, as an engaged user, I show about $108 of estimated savings so far this year.  As for new features, we have recently added solar net metering and a few features related to customization such as input for local utility pricing.  In the coming months, customers can look forward to further customization, a web interface, and push notifications – all great suggestions we have received from existing customers!

Jill:

That is so cool. But here’s a question I know my husband’s going to ask. Will this app allow him to determine actual uses, whether from video gaming or turning the heat up too much, that make differences in our energy spending? Tell us just how granular is the data available from the Vue. Is there a blame-game function on the app?

Seth:

Certainly we don’t want to blame anybody … but it is possible to achieve significant granularity with our equipment. As discussed, we have the ability to monitor all of the energy flowing into a home. However, with our Expansion Module, we also have the ability to drill down and monitor individual circuits. So, it is possible to use our equipment to isolate what happens on individual circuits. And it is interesting that you brought up the topic of gaming, since some of those consoles actually use a fair amount of energy — to the point that we have had users send us screen shots showing “character deaths” and “resets” in various games. I’m not a gamer myself, so I apologize if I have butchered the terminology here, but I thought this was a really interesting application for the granularity available on our platform!

Jill:

I love it. Now talk to us about how the Vue help homes on net metering for solar?

Seth:

Interesting you should ask, since just this week we released our latest firmware and app updates for net metering.  Now, our solar customers have a real-time, mobile view of the performance of their solar system against the usage by their home.  We envision that customers will further use the Vue to identify performance issues with their solar arrays that might derive from damaged wires or tree overhang.  Interestingly, even before we added net metering, one of our customers discovered that he had been charging his Tesla from the grid rather than his solar panels due to a failed inverter.  It was kind of a shock to him since he had been so keen on driving with clean energy.  But insight from the Vue helped him so clearly monitoring fits well with solar!

Jill:

Your website also mentions helping consumers “navigate the energy transition.” Talk to us about what that means.

Seth:

Yes, this is a great follow-up question after talking about electric vehicles and solar.  10 years ago, few of us saw either of those products in the residential market.  Now, they are widespread and increasingly common.  The same goes for other New Energy types of platforms such as wind generation, smart meters, time-of-use tariffs, and battery storage.  These are all part of that energy transition and affect pricing and choices for energy.  As with any change, opportunities develop for informed consumers – as well as pitfalls for those who remain behind.  We take it upon ourselves to help better inform customers so they can find their way in the changing landscape.   

Jill:

The Vue is not the only product of its kind on the market. Talk to us about how your product differs from your competitors.

Seth:

You are absolutely right. This is not necessarily new ground. But we have already discussed how these monitoring tools generally have not become widely available. We think there are a couple of reasons for this and we have tried to address them with our differentiation. We see differentiation primarily on two fronts: price and hardware flexibility.  From the beginning, we have worked really hard to develop basic hardware that we could sell at under $50.  Simply put, this price is a game-changer in the market and helps consumers achieve payback almost immediately on this modest investment. 

This basic hardware can then be expanded to include greater degrees of monitoring per a customer’s preference – even extending to the ability to put several devices under the same user account.  This last feature can prove particularly beneficial to property managers and those who live in shared housing and wish to apportion expenses in a more fair and transparent manner.

Jill:

People buy products from companies for so many reasons beyond the products themselves. When people know something about the company’s leadership or mission that is appealing, it can also drive customer loyalty. Tell our Go Green Radio listeners about the company culture at Emporia.

Seth:

Well, that mission can also drive employee loyalty as well. And for us, it really starts with our Founder and CEO, Shawn McLaughlin.  Shawn has a ton of experience and success in energy and building high-tech platforms.  He is also totally engaged, intellectually probing, and committed to his faith.  I think for him, business itself is a mission. 

I give you this background because I feel it informs much of our company’s commitment to hard work, people, and the planet.  Each of us on the team cares deeply about what we do, even if our own emphases differ from those of Shawn.  Personally, I am most drawn to carbon and climate; others on our team to delivering great tech, still others to exceptional graphic design and reliable customer support.  But regardless, we all find common ground around a simple slogan: “I Care.”  And I truly believe our customers sense this care when they interact with our platform and team members through our multiple support channels. 

Third Segment of Go Green Radio Interview

Jill:

Welcome back to Go Green Radio everybody. We’re talking about the new home energy monitoring platform available from Emporia Energy, the Vue. So all this information that Emporia provides customers is awesome. But in the end, people people have to modify their behavior around home energy use. And I know from experience that information alone doesn’t necessarily help people do that. What are some of the ways your product guides people to change their behaviors? Does the product make recommendations?

Seth:

You are absolutely correct: information may be necessary, but alone is insufficient to drive change and to affect peoples’ behavior.  And for this reason, one of our major year-end initiatives is to deliver our first push notifications on our app.  These notifications will help prompt consumers to make beneficial decisions around topics we have already discussed such as time-of-use and equipment performance, say for HVAC or solar.  And ultimately these notifications could also be used to suggest changing to a more favorable tariff plan or undertaking upgrades such as solar or storage based upon specific analysis of payback for individual customers. 

Jill:

Now you’ve told us some great stories and I would like to hear more. Give us some idea about how much energy, money and carbon people can save if they use the Vue.

Seth:

Internally, we consider 10% savings as table stakes for each of these measures.  The average US home consumes about 12,000 kWh of energy per year – so we think a household will save something like 1,200 kWh using the Vue.  For carbon, roughly speaking, each household generates about 10 metric tons per year of CO2 between electrical consumption and heating.  So, 10% of that number is 1 ton – or roughly the equivalent of driving a car for 3 months. 

But really, most of us think most easily in terms of dollars.  Since the average household spends between $1,900 and $3,000 per year for electricity and heating fuel, we feel homeowners can safely expect to save between $100 and $300 per year.  However, over time and as the energy transition spreads further and deepens, we actually believe that consumers should look to save as much as 50% on their energy spending by making wise, informed choices.  It’s an audacious goal, but we think achievable over time. 

Jill:

And I think it’s pretty safe to say that energy costs in general are not likely to go down in the future. So getting an early handle on how you use energy and how you can use it more wisely over the long term provides a pretty impressive potential for savings. So there is so much value in having visibility beyond the 12 data points per year that you mentioned earlier. Now, your website has a shop with lots of different products. Talk to us about what our Go Green Radio listeners will find if they visit the shop.

Seth:

Your observation speaks to the hardware flexibility we have built into our platform.  As you can imagine, a fair amount of diversity exists in peoples’ homes – and the electrical panels where our hardware generally lives.  To accommodate this diversity, we offer sensors that can fit in tighter spaces.  We also offer an Expansion Module that can be added to the basic Vue Monitor in order to provide discrete monitoring of up to eight individual circuits.  We typically advise our customers to use these additional sensors to capture their most important energy equipment, specifically furnaces, air conditioners, water heaters, and solar generation.  And very soon, we will even bring in a new device that can bridge data from certain utility smart meters.  Again, it’s all about flexibility and ease in acquiring the data consumers need to make wise energy choices in real time. 

Jill:

And you even have a Wi-Fi product on there. What’s that all about?

Seth:

Well one of the necessary components for our platform is reliable transmission of data regularly over a Wi-Fi signal in a consumer’s home. Some consumers could benefit from greater reach to accommodate areas that include garages, basements, and outbuildings. We have found a relatively inexpensive mesh system product that we feel provides an excellent means of extending the Wi-Fi signal in homes — and we wanted to give our customers convenience in finding that solution on our site.

Jill:

I get the idea that your company is just getting started. What are some of the long-term goals of Emporia Energy with respect to home services and other offerings on your map for the future?

Seth:

Interestingly, we do actually offer home services locally here in the Denver, Colorado area. That’s a place where we see opportunity to help meet consumer expectations in a changing energy environment. As we have discussed, efficient equipment performance saves money and energy – not to mention aggravation.  We seek to offer home services in pro-active manner, ultimately based upon diagnostic data from operating equipment.  Following identification of a problem, we want to work cooperatively with homeowners to help them choose to maintain, replace, or upgrade equipment.  We see the ability to discuss data transparently with homeowners as a means for developing a long-term relationship based on value, trust, and transparency. 

Jill:

Sounds like we’re going to have to keep our eyes on you guys. You’re very energetic, no pun intended, and your mission is exciting. We at Go Green Radio are starting to hear more and more about home energy storage devices. Is that an arena we can expect Emporia to enter?

Seth:

Yes, actually one of the solutions we anticipate offering through our home services division is indeed battery storage — whether to help consumers save money, to protect against outages, or help them make more efficient use of solar.  For now however, we see the price of storage as too high for significant adoption by consumers.  At $700-$800 per kWh installed cost, storage still remains more of a luxury item.  Nevertheless,  we have already made a few installations in the Denver area for customers who wanted to benefit better from their solar arrays – and who wished to protect themselves from outages. So we see this as an emerging market opportunity and are eagerly watching the downward trend in storage prices. 

Jill:

And no doubt, even in the interim, Vue provides a cost-effective way to help consumers with the data and information they need when considering storage or other energy projects for their homes. We’ll be right back at Go Green Radio!

Final Segment of Go Green Radio Interview

Jill:

Welcome back to Go Green Radio. So glad that you could all tune in. We are speaking with Seth Terry about the Emporia Vue, a most cost-effective energy monitoring platform for households. Here in California where I live there is a movement afoot to completely electrify new construction – no more natural gas. Heating a home with electricity can be quite a bit more costly than heating with natural gas. Where do you see products like the Vue fitting in to implementing public policy like that?

Seth:

Yes, California is mentioned frequently.  But I would also like to give a shout out to Nate Adams of Energy Smart Ohio who was actually the first person to introduce me to the Electrify Everything movement in HVAC services.  Folks in this group might actually take issue with your statement about greater cost which certainly can apply to radiative heat. Because newer heat-pump systems can prove fairly competitive with natural gas — particularly if comfort and equipment right-sizing are brought into the equation. 

Regardless, we at Emporia have already had significant interest from manufacturers and installers of heat pumps considering developing case studies in the field and using that data and transparency to help motivate consumers to consider upgrades to these systems.  Getting back to that policy question though, we would love to partner with utilities or other energy providers seeking to improve customer awareness around use of the major electric equipment in their homes.  We feel that the Vue – and its game-changing pricing – make a great tool for public utilities to offer their consumers in the name of energy efficiency.

Jill:

Sometimes it seems like the people who could benefit the most from energy savings are the last that ones anyone is designing energy-saving products for. It’s kind of an environmental and social justice issue that I see all the time. And some of these products can be so costly. What is Emporia’s guiding principle on accessibility to your products?

Seth:

I love this question, because you are so, so right.  And again, I would speak to the fervor with which we have sought to produce a low-cost device that pays for itself rapidly – a quality that should benefit all customers regardless of their circumstances.  Perhaps as reinforcement of this point, I would further note that we have had significant interest from partners seeking to represent our product in Latin and South America.  We didn’t try reaching these folks ourselves – they found US. So I think they are clearly seeing a place for this product.

Jill:

Absolutely. And I love that aspect of it. And that’s why I think that a lot of our listeners who are involved in these environmental justice movements that are talking about energy in low-income, maybe urban areas. Helping people perhaps to use less of their income on utilities and more on food and healthcare and clothing. I think they would be very attracted to what you are offering here. The Vue is available on Amazon, which means anybody can say anything about your product. What’s the feedback been like thus far?

Seth:

Generally, highly favorable.  At last look, I believe we hold a 4.7-star rating.  But clearly we would prefer a sparkling and perfect 5-star record!  In this spirit, we treat any poor review either as an opportunity to improve on our end or to help educate customers better about our product.  Exceptional customer service is a core value of our company.  And in this spirit, we make every attempt to address issues head on and fix problems identified by our customers, whether through Chat, Email, Telephone – or even responding to critical Amazon reviews. 

Jill:

And tell me some of the things you are most proud of, whether it comes from reviews or anecdotes from customers. What are your top two or three moments of most pride in what you’re accomplishing with this product?

Seth:

I’ve already mentioned some of them. People being able to identify vampire load in their homes — and to save some real money and actually get that payback from our device. Folks confirming that they accomplish their clean-energy objectives with respect to solar and EV-charging by verifying performance from their equipment. There is so much that we as consumers don’t understand about our energy consumption, which makes lots of opportunity to help people achieve savings or reach goals with their energy investments. This is the feedback I love receiving from our customers.

Jill:

And just for you on a personal basis, what do you hope your legacy is with your involvement wit Emporia Energy? Looking into your crystal ball, 20 years from now, what do you hope your legacy will be with respect to this company and this product.

Seth:

Well, I kind of opened up a little bit on this earlier in that I really believe deeply that we need to do something with respect to carbon and climate. And my greatest desire would be that we are very successful in rolling out our product and our platform on a large scale. And that through collective action and behavior change by customers that we have we are actually able to aggregate a lot of relatively modest contributions that roll up to improve conditions on this planet for those who come after us. I’m hoping that from modest beginnings we can develop something to pass down to those who follow.

Jill:

And that means so much. When people are looking for products and spending their hard-earned money, knowing something personal about the people behind the products this makes all the difference. It’s been great having you on Go Green Radio, Seth.

Bonus Question (asked off-line but not aired)

Jill:

In the final moments we have left on this episode of Go Green Radio, what thoughts would you like to leave with our listeners?

Seth:

I’d like to go back briefly to our company culture and history – and the excitement around creating something new that benefits consumers.  Specifically, I’d like to point out that in less than two years Emporia has delivered – pretty much from scratch — its current Vue monitoring platform.  Truly exciting for all of us on the team. 

However, this company is not about us, but rather about our customers.  Consequently, our platform has already evolved from its original inception just last spring.  Why?  Because our customers made great suggestions for improvement – and we listened.  As a result, we now have quite a good product for current customers.  But in the coming months, we want to make it a very good product – and ultimately a great product.  So I would close by thanking our customers for helping us get there.  And I again thank you for hosting me on Go Green Radio. 


Seth Terry

Seth is Head of Customer Experience at Emporia Energy. A Colorado native, Seth has devoted his career to working in the water-food-energy nexus and remains deeply committed to meeting the challenge of climate change.

All stories by:Seth Terry