"Data is changing the way we live. From the films we watch, to how much we exercise. So why isn't it having a greater effect on energy efficiency?"

This was the question puzzling Dirk Huibers, a 29-year-old Dutch energy consultant. It inspired him to quit his job and persuade two former colleagues, Marieke Dijksma and Tara Sonneveld, to form their own start-up, called Octo. Its aim is to change the way people think about energy consumption.

There is reason for urgency. The International Energy Agency estimates that global investment on energy efficiency needs to rise from $300 billion a year to $680 billion if the world is to meet global carbon reduction targets for 2050. The European Union, which aims to improve energy efficiency by 27% by 2030, says buildings are responsible for as much as 40% of all energy consumption and 36% of carbon dioxide emissions.

Octo aims to change people's relationship with energy. It is a digital application for tenants, landlords, building managers and heating installation companies. Its aim is to provide data that will empower people to change the way they use energy. Not just to save money, but to make smarter business decisions and even maintain healthier lifestyles.

Building managers, for instance, would be able to see the least energy efficient rooms in a network of offices around the world. Schools and hospitals could monitor areas with poor air quality, while residents could assess the energy consumption of different household appliances.

Unlike the range of smart meters on the market, Octo is a secondary data gatherer that aims to makes sense of existing numbers. It works by taking information from pre-installed sensors on say thermostats or industrial heating systems. It then crunches the numbers in real time, providing users with data that will give deeper insights into their energy usage.

"We didn't want to compete against the likes of Nest Labs," explains Huibers, referring to the smart thermostat that was acquired by Google in 2014. "Our aim instead is to turn every consumer into a hyper intelligent energy user by giving them access to existing data specific to their needs."

It is this relationship which makes Octo a "Fitbit for Energy", a reference to the wearable fitness technology. Huibers hopes Octo will inspire his customers to think differently about energy consumption, in the same way smart watches are changing people’s approach to exercise.

The company has already secured clients across a range of social housing, schools and hospitals in the Netherlands. Earlier this year, the company's vision convinced judges at Energy Fest, a start-up pitching competition in Amsterdam co-sponsored by Shell. 

"Energy Fest came at a crucial time for our business," Huibers recalls. "At the end of last year we were running out of money. By February we were barely in the black and didn't have enough clients. The product simply wasn’t getting enough traction."

Fortunately, a last-minute deal saw them scrape enough money together to arrive at the competition where they had only three minutes to pitch to a panel and live audience. Octo won the big data and IT in energy category, something Huibers says was a "transforming moment". Now entirely self-funded, the company is looking to expand internationally.

Steven Chu, the former US energy secretary, said of the climate challenge: "Energy efficiency isn't just low-hanging fruit - it's fruit lying on the ground." Huibers hopes that Octo will finally empower people to pick that fruit up.

 

By Kunal Dutta

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