Watt It Takes: Opower's Dan Yates on the Origins of Behavioral Efficiency

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Dan Yates and his co-founder Alex Laskey built Opower, an efficiency company that saves more energy every year than the hoover dam can generate. It was based on cutting-edge behavioral science -- but it wasn’t always clear how the science would play out.

“It wasn’t okay with us to just know that there was going to be a result. It had to be a certain level, otherwise it wasn’t economic. And in the first few months, the results came in and they weren’t changing behavior. The floor fell out from under me. I said, ‘oh my god, we have no idea if this is going to work.'”

Opower was founded in 2007 by Dan and Alex, two friends from Harvard. Dan knew software. Alex knew how to sell. And both of them wanted to build a company for environmental good.

Opower was based on a simple premise: send paper mailers to utility customers comparing their electricity use to their neighbors. If people saw they were doing poorly, they’d make changes. It worked.

Over time, Opower inked deals with the world’s biggest power companies and started processing vast amounts of smart meter data -- making it arguably the biggest energy efficiency success story in business. The company went public in 2014 and was sold to Oracle in 2016.

In this episode, Powerhouse CEO Emily Kirsch talks with Dan about the science behind the idea, how Opower evolved and expanded, and why the company was eventually sold to Oracle.

Listen to all our past episodes of Watt It Takes here. This series is normally recorded in front of a live audience. But we’re now recording the interviews remotely. See future events here.

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