Energy Startup Series: Ohmconnect

on December 03, 2014 at 1:00 PM

From left to right: Matt Levene (first employee), Matt Duesterberg (co-founder and CEO), Curtis Tongue (co-founder and CMO) Photo credit: Ohmconnect

This is the first installment in our Energy Startup Series that gives executives at cutting-edge energy firms an opportunity to share insights and experiences about the energy industry, their careers and their companies.  

Ohmconnect’s CMO and co-founder Curtis Tongue was drawn to energy after starting his career in advertising and design. He combined his consumer engagement background with his co-founder Matt Duesterberg’s deep understanding of electricity markets to create a company that helps consumers reduce their carbon footprint by knowing exactly when to conserve energy.

The San Franciso company’s ability to push forward a sustainable future is a driving motivator for Tongue. Ohmconnect’s products help consumers understand how they are using energy and where it comes from.  Along with his team, Tongue gamifies the experience to make it fun and engaging. Their app lets consumers know when demand in their region is high enough that peaker plants – typically dirtier and more expensive – are running, so that consumers can alter behavior and take those plants offline. To Tongue, taking an esoteric and extremely complex field, making it accessible to the average consumer and then seeing positive behavioral changes has been rewarding.

1. What is the greatest challenge facing the energy industry over the next 5 years?

One of the challenges that we’re addressing is actually a result of one of the industry’s best successes: it appears that we’re on track to achieve the projected $1.50 / watt for installed residential solar by 2020. As great as that trend it is, it does introduce an increased element of volatility or unpredictability to the grid. At Ohmconnect, we’re focused on supplying the grid with fast-acting load reductions to balance some of this volatility and replace the need to rely on local fossil-fuel based peaker plants.

2. What has been the biggest positive energy industry change since the start of your career?

The introduction of the ISO market structure here in California was an enormous win for the energy industry. It opens the field to an array of innovative participants, who often times have a renewed focus on sustainability, all while delivering the most cost effective energy solutions to the ratepayers. We’re looking forward to seeing more states and regional authorities adopt this market structure.

3. What has been the biggest negative energy industry change since the start of your career?

Anything that hinders free and open participation in energy markets is a step in the wrong direction.

4. What is the greatest satisfaction of working in an energy-related field?

Knowing that our daily work is contributing to a more sustainable future for our communities. There are few things more rewarding than sitting down with our customers and see their eyes light up when they see how their home is consuming energy, where they’re getting their energy from, but especially, when they understand what actions they can take to improve their energy usage. Our goal is to empower residential customers to take charge of their energy decisions and promote more sustainable communities.

5. What is the greatest frustration of working in an energy-related field?

It’s our customers’ frustration before they have discovered Ohmconnect. It’s the frustration of having an opaque understanding of their energy profile. Energy is a rather esoteric topic that has historically received little attention from the average consumer and our work is reversing this trend.

6. What is your firm’s greatest strength?

Our aim is to educate customers of their energy use through informative visualizations and engaging social games. Understanding consumer behavior and preferences is something that isn’t terribly well understood in this industry. Our firm’s understanding of those behaviors allows us to distill down the enormously complex smart grid to a simple and fun experience for consumers.

7. What do you think the future holds for energy technology?

We’re most excited about the intersection of the internet of things and new market opportunities that have arisen in the past few years. The connected home is a valuable proposition to the grid, but the trick is to understand how to communicate that value to the everyday consumer.

8. What is your favorite energy-themed film or television show?

I’m not sure that it necessarily counts as an energy TV show, but the premise of the show uses an enormous amount of it. I’m just waiting for the dilithium matter / anti-matter engine from the USS Enterprise to come online. In case anyone needs a clarification on that answer: Star Trek.

9. What is your favorite energy-themed book (fiction or non-fiction)?

David Nye’s “Consuming Power” chronicled different eras of energy usage here in the United States and is a must read.

10. What would you have been if you didn’t work in energy?

My career started in advertising and consumer engagement, so I imagine I would still be in that world within some capacity. My co-founder and our CEO, Matt Duesterberg, is a supremely gifted data scientist who used to trade on these markets. Give him a large enough dataset to parse through and he’s happy.

If you are involved with an energy startup company and would like to contribute to this series please contact [email protected]