With New App, H2Oscore Brings Smart Meter Reading to the People

2/12/14Follow @XconomyWI

Milwaukee technology startup H2Oscore is launching a beta version of a new app this week that will allow homeowners and businesses to take monitoring their water and electricity use into their own hands.

The software performs data analytics similar to H2Oscore’s current Web dashboard for tracking water use, but the new “MeterHero” app cuts municipal utilities out of the picture. H2Oscore has been forming partnerships with water utilities, which provide customers’ water data. The company’s online portal lets people compare their water usage to a baseline from past billing cycles, and for every gallon of water saved, they earn a virtual penny. Their virtual dollars accrue and can be redeemed for gift certificates with local businesses.

Like most startups, H2Oscore wants to make a splash quickly. But the negotiation process with each utility can take more than six months, said founder McGee Young. He has also found that managers of some utilities are less interested in encouraging water conservation, since that cuts into a utility’s revenue, Young said.

While most of the utilities H2Oscore is currently working with only provide data with their quarterly billing cycles, MeterHero will allow users to track their consumption in real time, Young said. It is partly modeled after exercise apps like the running and cycling app Strava, said Young, an avid cyclist himself.

“We have a sense of urgency that means we want to move a lot faster than the water utilities are either willing or able to do,” Young said. “We’re hearing from our residents and businesses that they want better information, more frequently… As we find [some utilities] excited about what we’re doing, but not excited about moving quickly, then you have to adjust to that.”

H2Oscore will continue to seek and form partnerships with utilities, but MeterHero is intended to provide a secondary source of revenue that will let the startup bring on more paying customers more quickly. Signing up for the beta version is free, but the final product will be a paid app.

MeterHero will essentially allow a smartphone to operate like a smart meter reader, Young said. It will, however, start as a Web-based application that can run through a smartphone’s Web browser; iOS and Android apps are in the works.

A user will simply walk to a building’s water, electricity, and/or natural gas meters, input the consumption numbers into the app, and click “submit.” Using past data points stored in H2Oscore’s system, the company will analyze a user’s consumption pattern, like how many gallons of water they’re using per day.

The analysis of electricity and natural gas use is new for H2Oscore. Young was partly inspired to start the company after students in an environmental politics class he was teaching at Marquette University in 2011 brainstormed ideas to help people understand how much water they use.

But H2Oscore customers were asking to be able to track energy use as well, Young said.

“For the end user, they think of water and electricity as sort of part of the same thing,” Young said. “What we do is not necessarily only useful for water. That was kind of our starting point.”

Businesses and employees will be able to sign up for a subscription to MeterHero and track their workplace’s water and energy consumption. The app will also allow consumers to monitor their water and energy use at home.

For a business, signing up for MeterHero is a simple add-on that could lower utility costs without requiring a significant investment in retrofitting old HVAC systems or buying new, energy-efficient light bulbs. But if they do make those investments, MeterHero makes it easier to quantify the impact, Young said.

MeterHeroH2Oscore has signed up a few businesses for its pilot, but it is also forming partnerships with schools and nonprofits that would use MeterHero as a learning tool for students, Young said. The youths would take meter readings at school and/or at home, talk about the findings in class, graph the data, and more.

“The schools [and organizations] were just ecstatic about it,” Young said. “[Students] have a firsthand sense of how we get our water, how we measure our energy, the kinds of things that cause it to go up or down. That’s really powerful for kids in terms of education.”

Young recognizes that H2Oscore, which is currently raising a financing round and participating in a Milwaukee water-startup accelerator program, runs the risk of taking on too many things at once.

“The tension we face is spreading ourselves too thin, versus finding the true identity of H2Oscore and finding a set of products that have enough revenue associated with them and that complement each other and allow us to really develop as a company,” Young said. “But if you don’t try, the other option is just to sit around and fail.”

Jeff Engel is the editor of Xconomy Wisconsin. Email: jengel@xconomy.com Follow @XconomyWI

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