The Silicon Review
“Our commercial growth has just been nothing short of explosive.”
Vutility is the leading provider of real-time, high-resolution and scalable energy monitoring solutions that help organizations optimize their energy consumption and boost productivity. Businesses across a wide range of commercial industries are gaining relevant and timely insights on their energy usage thanks to the company's cutting-edge and affordable proprietary technology platform. It provides direct or partner-based client service in over 20 different countries globally.
Vutility was founded in 2016 and is headquartered in Sandy, Utah.
The Silicon Review reached out to Stephen Prince (CEO), to learn more and here’s what he had to say.
Q. What inspired the creation of Vutility? Please brief us about the history so far.
Stephen Prince: When Vutility was formed seven years ago, there was a vision to enable transformative energy insights at scale. With that as the mission, the team determined that the existing metering infrastructure couldn’t deliver the granular detail required for commercial and industrial (C&I) customers to maximize their operating environments for efficiency, cost savings, ESG reporting, and even revenue earnings potential.
We also discovered that the existing solutions were too complex and costly to be scaled and as a result, we set out to develop a range of proprietary monitoring products that would be easy to install, simple to use, and not interrupt the customer’s operating environment during deployment. The key was to report large amounts of previously uncollected, actionable data back to the customer in real-time so that they could optimize their energy-related decisions.
It’s been anything but a linear path to arrive at where we are now, but as a result we’ve become experts in creating disruptive hardware and cloud-based software, as well as the IoT communication protocols and networking that allow our customers to fulfill their journeys towards transformative energy insights and the ability to do that at scale for a very affordable price.
Q. It sounds like a convergence of innovations made this possible. Can you describe your offerings a little more?
Stephen Prince: Absolutely, and you’re right. We use edge-intelligent IoT and cloud-enabled technologies to deploy novel energy management solutions that give our customers better visibility into their energy use. With the insights we provide, we help them to make more informed decisions to optimize their performance, lower their energy expenses, and even generate new revenues. Our solutions scale incredibly well and easily, largely because they are self-powered and install nearly instantly without requiring the building to be de-energized.
As an example, you can install our HotDrop, a sub-metering sensor that is the size of a domino, inside of a live electrical panel with a literal snap. It takes seconds to begin monitoring the asset powered by the circuit. You just scan a QR code, and within minutes, you’ll have a visualization of the activity on the circuit that we are monitoring and measuring.
Our products are installed in over 20 countries, and we’ve seen a rapid increase in adoption as global challenges in energy markets are putting additional pressure on organizations of all sizes and industries. The fact that our products are all non-intrusive, wireless, and self-powered and use the LoRaWAN communication protocol makes it very easy to install and cost-effectively scale to deliver critical data to the customer and meet their reporting needs.
Q. What design principles does Vutility follow to exceed customer expectations?
Stephen Prince: It's a good question. We approach the development of our products and solutions with a do-it-yourself user in mind. We design everything to facilitate frictionless deployments by the customer with no or very limited assistance required from Vutility. We offer a set of installation manuals and videos that allow the customer to determine where to place the sensors, how to activate them, and then how to retrieve the data and visualize it in their preferred software applications. We want every customer to achieve immediate results from our technology whatever their use case is.
We’ve got customers installing over 200 of our VoltDrop and HotDrop energy monitors in complex facilities in less than four hours and never have to turn off the power and the visualization of everything is available a soon as the job is done. Traditionally, with conventional sub-metering equipment, you would have to close shifts of that plant down for multiple days and bring in a group of engineers, electricians, and other technicians to install the wiring and conduit, and all the devices, the CTs, communications, and other things that are necessary with traditional technology.
Put simply, our solution disrupts the market from both a hardware and software standpoint since we can complete tasks that otherwise take days in a matter of minutes without interfering with the operating environment.
When you think about it on those terms, we have made it easy for our customers to deploy these devices and get this transformative data and do it at scale and also do it relatively inexpensively. The cost of just the installation for traditional devices exceeds the entire cost to acquire and activate our solutions, including the installation. We reduce total cost of ownership by 75% to 90% compared to traditional technologies at a minimum.
Q. As the leading provider of scalable real-time, energy monitoring solutions, what are Vutility’s key focus areas?
Stephen Prince: We have customers in nearly every industry because we offer something unique and broadly applicable, but our focus is on the customers and market segments where we believe the greatest demand and potential value exists for the solutions we offer. What we are finding is some industries have relatively low operating margins. These organizations benefit the most from optimizing their energy utilization and therefore need our devices to understand and improve their highly energy-dependent processes.
You can’t change what you don’t understand, and can’t understand what you don’t see. Vutility provides our customers the visibility needed to optimize outcomes and performance.
For example, a typical hospital building has a net margin of 3-5%. You can relate; they are available around-the-clock and subject to strict regulations for airflow, positive building pressure, air quality, air handling, and availability in general. Much of the equipment is very sensitive to harmonics like MRI machines, and quite expensive to operate. I must say it's the perfect amalgamation of distributed energy resources, which all demand electricity and must be operational at all times, so hospitals cannot afford to shut down their facilities. That is the ideal target market for Vutility because, as I said, we can deploy over 200 sensors across the campus in just a few hours without requiring any alteration to their normal operating procedures.
We have other customers like aerospace manufacturers where they have multiple shifts to produce aircraft. Typically, those organizations operate three shifts. They are in a situation where they can’t skip shifts or slow down production, and planned shutdowns are often scheduled several months apart. While their margins may be higher, the utilization of the factory and the personnel is very much tied to their profitability. They’re another great example of an ideal customer for the sensors and the real-time, asset-level data that we offer.
The third example I would give you is something like a cracking plant in an oil refinery. Chevron is one of our strategic investors and they are also a user; an early adopter of our technology. In a cracking plant, there's a compressor in that process. If that compressor trips due to overloading on high current, the cracking plant immediately loses hundreds of thousands of dollars while they restart the compressor. The company had been implementing traditional technologies. It had to use engineering drawings, get approvals, and have health and safety reviews, a series of steps before it could even implement the traditional techniques because this process required hardwiring and over 1,000 feet of cable and poles and other modifications to be made.
Chevron was spending over $300,000 per asset for these traditional monitoring solutions and it was justified in their budget because without it they’d be forced to run 5-10% below capacity or they risked tripping and shutting the compressor down. In contrast to these enormously capital intensive projects, we implemented our technology and delivered the same value in incremental throughput and uptime, leading to a massive decrease in installation time at a fraction of the cost; they were literally able to do the whole project in under an hour for less than $2,000.
These are three examples of high-utilization, energy-intense environments that truly can't accommodate the shut downs required for the extensive infrastructure related to installing traditional sub-metering and energy monitoring systems that we’re resolving for pennies on the dollar in comparison.
Tell us what’s next for Vutility.
Stephen Prince: We are predominantly focused on the US and Canada currently. We do have business in over 20 countries, but its come through partners. We don't have a physical presence outside of the Salt Lake City area, so our growth looking ahead includes rapid global expansion. We are building some strong channels in Australia and New Zealand and have begun to develop channel relationships in Ireland, the UK, and other parts of Western Europe. We also see amazing opportunities coming up indirectly from South America, and Latin America. Moreover, our commercial growth in 2023 has been nothing short of explosive.
The other thing that we have explored and have had several partners and customers push us in this direction is what Vutility monitors; today we focus on commercial and industrial enterprises. But, we’ve got at least four utility companies from Canada, the US, and Australia that would like to put our core technology in a device that can hang from a low to medium voltage line and act as a sensor in front of the meter for grid monitoring.
We already have a customer in Mexico using our HotDrops to monitor in front of the meter for power theft, but that’s not what we designed the product to do. This customer is making it work because they love the value proposition, even “as is”. We are going to create something that's truly utility-grade that goes in front of the meter, and we are calling it LineDrop at the moment, and that's under development.
We also have organizations asking us if we can come up with a value proposition for residential metering, but we have not focused on that at all historically because there are so many more sophisticated needs from the C&I customer base around harmonics and other use cases for our products. We do think our products could be a disruptive alternative to traditional metering and think there is a place for the device in the residential market if we find the right partner. We won't try to do it on our own.
The last thing I would like to mention is our PulseDrop product, which we just redesigned based on an initial alpha release and feedback from our customers. The Vutility team is looking forward to the full release of the PulseDrop as we feel it will satisfy many use cases we previously did not cover.
We see various places, including entire countries in Europe, which have been slow to upgrade their legacy pulse metering infrastructure, those are basically a traditional meter that measures in pulses, and at the end of the month, the utility has to go manually read how much gas, water, or electricity you used over that time frame. We can uniquely support the digitalization of those meters for a fraction of the cost to replace them. Having real-time demand visibility would completely revolutionize their utility operations, including energy purchasing and pricing, and demand response. It's another do-it-yourself type of device. We think there's real promise for our devices to retrofit all of the old, traditional water, gas, and electricity metering ecosystems.
Q. Is there anything you would like to add before we wrap up?
Stephen Prince: Yes, I would say that over the years I’ve developed a specialization of taking promising, but non-commercialized technologies and bringing them to market at scale and profitably. I think Vutility is very much on that track now. We’ve fostered a culture with absolute alignment and excitement around the journey we are on.
Over the last few years, there are some incredible case studies from early adopters, but now as many businesses are struggling with the volatility of the energy market prices and certain other macroeconomic factors, our value proposition and the necessity of what we do have become so much more significant and impactful. We were more of a nice-to-have a year or two ago, but now we are becoming an essential solution to optimizing business outcomes. With many of our key relationships, we’ve turned the corner and are now delivering their best business outcomes at scale.