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AI-backed retail energy startup based in Houston prepares to grow its technology

Houston-based Evolve Energy uses a subscription-based wholesale energy plan to help its customers find better prices for more sustainable resources. Photo via evolvemyenergy.com

A wholesale retail energy startup based in Houston is preparing to scale its artificial intelligence-backed business based on its positive customer feedback

Evolve Energy uses AI and machine learning to optimize energy usage, providing customers with the best wholesale energy prices on fluctuating renewable resources.

"We want to help our customers save a significant amount of money on electricity costs and help them decarbonize the grid," CEO Michael Lee tells InnovationMap."There's been a serious of emerging events that enable us to do both at the same time, it's no longer a choice."

Evolve Energy, founded in 2018, sells wholesale electricity at cost to residential customers in Texas, charging a $10 monthly subscription fee plus the cost of wholesale electricity. Using their AI technology, they predict when price surges are likely and determine how much energy the customer needs to hit the parameters set on the app by the customer and usage history. The customer does not need to do anything but pair Evolve with their smart thermostat.

According to Lee, this enables customers to continue to use the same volume of electricity but cut their bill by 40 percent over the course of a year. Evolve uses a different business model, positioning itself not as energy providers but as efficient energy managers, passing their wholesale rate with no markup for even more savings to the customer.

"It builds a lot of trust between the customer and the supplier, they truly see that our incentive is to save them money and not to sell them any more power," Lee says.

With the increasing trend of electrification, Lee sees the role of energy companies grow in importance. This gives energy managers like Evolve a magnified role as machine learning and AI becomes imperative to shift consumption when renewables are cheaper on the grid.

Evolve is backed by several investors including Matt Rogers, the original co-founder of Nest thermostats through his investment platform, Incite; Urban-X funded by BMW MINI which focuses on smart applications; and the Austin-based startup accelerator and investor, Capital Factory.

The company has been officially on the market for the past two months, but it's already working on deploying capital to build in features requested by customers. Evolve expects significant growth in the next few years due to its highly scalable model.

"I'm just glad we could create a product that no longer makes it a choice between reducing emissions and saving money," Lee says.

How is technology affecting the energy sector? These experts weigh in. Getty Images

Last week, Houston-based Pink Petro hosted its annual conference — but, quite like other events across the country, it took a very digital approach.

Energy 2.0, formerly called HerWorld, was always going to be streamed from two locations — Denver and Houston — but the conference, which took place from March 9 to 11, likely had more digital attendees than previous years thanks to the rising threat of COVID19, or the coronavirus.

The digital shift was pretty on par with the conversation of the "unconference," as its called. The last panel of March 10 was how tech was rattling the energy industry. Three panelists discussed the effect of technology on the industry, climate change, startups, and more. Here are some of the panelists best points made during this event.

“Technology isn’t new to the energy sector. The energy sector is used to adopting and adapting to new technologies. What we are talking about now is digital technology, and what’s happening there — we are not familiar with that.”

Geeta Thakorlal, president at Worley Digital. It's not innovation that's unfamiliar to energy companies, but the digital aspect, which includes introducing new tech from outside the industry. "When you talk about adoption and use of digital technology, it means different things to different people," she adds.

"We’re taking a look at technology, but also addressing the people [aspect] — looking at what people are doing with technology and how the social issues are impacted by technology."

Jennifer Hohman, CIO and vice president, at Seadrill. The conversation started with a broad scope on how the energy industry is approaching technology, and Hohman cites climate change and sex trafficking — two issues the industry has been affecting.

“As society is changing, we start to worry about people’s safety — that’s very natural in our industry, but moving that into what about social issues or even renewables."

David Reid, CMO of National Oilwell Varco. Reid adds that the energy industry is aware of its role in the world and has a people-centric approach to technology, including being aware of how it affects the people involved in the energy company's supply chain. "I think it all ties together."

“Technology is constantly going to move fast — we have to continue to face that.”

Hohman says on the energy industry adapting to technology, adding that tech allows for more collaboration — something energy companies should be doing, even if it means collaborating with a competitor.

"What the tech sector has done is actually helped energy industry because they challenged all these norms — diversity of thought, fail and fail fast — you don't use that language in the energy sector."

Thakorlal says, explaining that influences from the tech sector have been crucial. Ultimately, big tech companies are looking to small startups for innovation, and energy companies will be doing more of that as well. "The tech companies have had to learn it's not they who has got the solutions, and the energy sector has learned that too."

“We’ve got a world that wants a change, and does not know and understand what we’ve done.”

Reid says on the topic of the energy industry's role in the future of the sector. "What's missing is the potential of our industry to make a difference."

“The biggest barrier to advancing technology is fear — people not really understanding. Fear is a choice.”

Thakorlal says, adding that fear is a choice companies can make — but shouldn't. Instead, they should maintain their business while simultaneously adopting tech that will be key in the future. "We say in our organization that if you talk about energy transition or digital transformation in our sector, it's not an 'either/or' it's an 'and.' We have to keep doing what we are doing and transition that to what we want the future to be."