November 1, 2016

Energy Career Trek 2016 student blog: Visiting Simple Energy

Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

During Fall Break of the 2016-17 school year, the Nicholas School Energy Club sent fifteen graduate students from the Nicholas School of the Environment, Pratt School of Engineering and Fuqua School of Business to Denver, Colorado, as part of the club's annual Career Trek. Coordinated by Master of Environmental Management (MEM) students Leah Louis-Prescott and Eleanor Johnstone, the event was supported in part by the Duke University Energy Initiative.

Below is a student's account of one of the eight companies and agencies included on the trek. Read the others.

Simple Energy

By Soli Shin
Master of Environmental Management Candidate

The first thing you noticed about the Simple Energy office is how green it is; their signature color, on the walls and logo, is bright, energetic and fun. These adjectives also serve to describe our collective imagination when we think of a start-up—full of youthful staff, amazing perks, and a mission that reaches beyond making profit. Simple Energy began with a $900,000 investment from the Techstars incubator and has taken off to service millions of customers every day with their partnering utilities.

Simple Energy is a SaaS company ("Software-as-a-Service") and they want you to sit back, relax, and let them take the wheel when it comes to your energy savings. By working with utility companies to provide data analytics through their platform Marketplace, as well as online retail stores, Simple Energy can deliver behavioral insights into how consumers use electricity and purchase energy-related products such as the Nest thermostat.

For the aging utility industry, companies like Simple Energy are invaluable partners to help shed light on what the interaction between customer and utility company looks like in 2016 and the years to come. By providing consumers with energy efficiency tips, and instant ("point-of-sale") rebates on energy-saving products, Simple Energy empowers customers to spend their money wisely as well as providing utility companies with the relevant data to help them stay relevant in an ever-evolving energy landscape.

Yoav Lurie, CEO and Co-Founder of Simple Energy (and a Duke alum like co-founder Justin Segall—both T'05), told our group that his vision for the future of the company is separate from the start-up's continuing cycles of raising capital. He spoke about how he wanted Simple Energy to be involved in "deep integration" with retailers such as Amazon and Home Depot, growing the number of touchpoints where Simple Energy can interact with customers.

I got a chance to ask him what his views were on the "utility of the future" and what that may look like. His answer included "changing regulation to align interests between the customer and the utility." 

He discussed how leveraging the current assets of a utility (customer base, brand familiarity, data richness, regulated budgets) would be crucial to changing the business model itself. One of his recommendations included divesting legacy generation units and finding ways to require adjacent businesses.

Simple Energy represents the future of the energy sector in so many ways, but, for our generation in particular, their message of customer empowerment and information transparency hit home.

For companies like Simple Energy, the job is not done when they can answer, "Does this save someone money?." They reach beyond this question to ask themselves, "How can we make energy and everything it impacts easier, intuitive, and cleaner?"

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