Earth Networks expands its global reach, product lines

January 29, 2012

Whether you live in Bangalore or Bethesda, Earth Networks may soon be tracking the weather outside your door.

The Germantown company has been adding to its network of climate sensors at a rapid clip in recent years, collecting reams of data on everything from greenhouse gases to intra-cloud lightning to precipitation.

The ways in which the company and its clients then use that information — whether its predicting flooding rains in Brazil or controlling in-home thermostats in Texas — also continues to expand.

It’s an approach to corporate growth that seems disjointed at first glance.

But chief executive Robert Marshall said that each time the company debuts a new product line — and it announced three more last week — it is rooted in the idea that Earth Networks is simply a mass collector of data.


Robert Marshall, chief executive of Earth Networks, at his company’s Meteorological Operations Center in Germantown. (Tracy A. Woodward/The Washington Post)

“The way we look at it,” he said, “it’s just another sensor network.”

That’s even true of the company’s latest endeavor to control temperature inside the home as part of a partnership with New York-based EnergyHub. The program will automatically heat or cool a home based on the temperature outside and be optimized for energy efficiency.

The company also debuted a service last week called PulseRad that plots lightning, both within clouds and on the ground, on a map similar to radar. It will allow meteorologists to better forecast severe weather, such as flood-inducing rain or potentially tornadic winds.

Meanwhile, a new network of sensors will continuously monitor humidity, temperature and other metrics in the atmospheric layer directly above the ground. The network will begin in California with 10 sensors, which look like oversized mailboxes, with plans to install 90 others around the United States.

The company distributes the data to researchers, government agencies and companies.

These additions come as Earth Network adds to its international footprint. Marshall said the company has plans to build a more dense network of lightning and greenhouse gas sensors in Spain, India and Brazil, among other places.

“As countries around the world are struggling to adapt to climate change and they’re seeing more and more severe weather, we’re seeing just a huge interest in installing these lightning networks ... that in many cases will be on par with what the National Weather Service does here in the U.S.,” he said.

International subscriptions to its data services could account for 20 to 25 percent of revenue by 2013, he said. The private company declined to share specific figures.

“In the near term, we definitely see that the international growth opportunities are substantial,” Marshall said. “From our growth perspective, we’ll grow in the U.S., but there will be more international growth than U.S. growth.”

Steven Overly covers the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital in the Washington region for The Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication. In that capacity, he has written about start-up struggles, investment trends and major drug discoveries.
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