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Tendril buys Grounded Power to get smarter about consumer energy

Smart-grid technology company Tendril acquires Grounded Power, a start-up which has applied techniques from campaigns to help people quit smoking to home energy efficiency.

Smart-grid company Tendril Networks said it has acquired Grounded Power, a small company with expertise in the social aspects of energy efficiency.

Boulder, Co.-based Tendril makes devices and software for presenting electricity usage information to consumers. It makes a small countertop display called the Vision designed to help people better manage home energy and reduce electricity use. People can also access that data via smartphone applications or a Web portal.

GroundedPower's energy efficiency system combines electricity monitoring with social-networking tools. GroundedPower

By buying Newton, Mass.-based Grounded Power, Tendril hopes to add some of the techniques Grounded Power has developed for personalized energy management, said Tendril CEO Adrian Tuck today. Tendril also announced that it has raised a series D round of $23 million.

There's growing recognition in the utility industry that a significant number of customers would like to reduce their energy consumption but there's a need for energy-efficiency applications that present information effectively. Tendril timed the acquisition announcement with industry conference GridWeek, where a number of talks address consumers and the smart grid.

"What we really wanted to do is give users really tailored information without bombarding them with data," said Tuck. "And we recognized that we didn't have that DNA in-house and the (Grounded Power) team has solved some really hard problems related to this."

There are about 10 employees at Grounded Power, many of whom previously worked on programs to help people stop smoking. For the past two years, it has worked with municipal and co-op utilities devising energy efficiency programs that use some of the same techniques.

Those trials have been successful, with utility customers able to reduce energy consumption by 9 percent on a sustained basis, said Tuck. The trick is being selective with the information that's presented to people, he said.

Tendril's Vision is a home energy management system designed for ease of use. Tendril

Rather than a dashboard with a real-time display of electricity usage, the Grounded Power Web application is designed for consumers to create goals around a plan and to be able to share tips with peers. It also designed a small device, which only displays green, orange, or red to indicate whether it's peak hours for electricity and the prices are higher.

Tendril plans to integrate some of the recommendations and social-networking features into the next version of its portal application in the second quarter next year, Tuck said. Consumers will have to opt in to the program, he added.

A person, for example, could indicate that she won't check the portal but would rather receive a text message when energy use has strayed from a pre-set budget, Tuck explained. A person could also choose to just receive a paper report with updated reports and recommendations on cutting electricity usage.

Tendril will roll out the new features to its existing customer base, which is 38 utilities in North America. With the series D funding, the company intends to bolster support to those utilities as they roll out their smart-grid programs and to expand internationally, Tuck said.

Updated at 10:55 a.m. PT with corrected figure of funding amount.