Value Added: Entrepreneur Devotes His Energy to Making Conservation Profitable

Daniel Yates is hoping his company, Positive Energy, can make money helping utility companies educate consumers on ways to cut usage and energy costs.
Daniel Yates is hoping his company, Positive Energy, can make money helping utility companies educate consumers on ways to cut usage and energy costs. (By Marcus Yam -- The Washington Post)
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By Thomas Heath
Monday, August 10, 2009

When it comes to energy and the environment, I am inconsistent to say the least. I take Metro, I own a gas-sipping Honda Civic, yet I invest in utilities and oil companies because I think energy demand will continue to grow. I wrestle with neighbors to protect the town tree canopy while wondering about the science behind global warming.

When I asked entrepreneur Daniel Yates, founder of a Rosslyn-based startup called Positive Energy, if he believed humans were responsible for global warming, he did not qualify his answer.

He does, and his conviction powers the vision behind his business.

The 31-year-old Harvard University computer science graduate commands a staff of 45 who beaver away in a 5,600-square-foot, bare bones office trying to build Positive Energy into an energy-savings juggernaut.

For its electricity and gas company clients, Positive Energy crunches data on energy usage to create customized monthly energy reports and Web sites that inform and instruct homeowners on how to save money.

"We are hired by utilities to help individual customers figure out how to cut back on usage and, presumably, costs," Yates said.

Yates showed me a one-page energy report for a homeowner in Palm Desert, Calif., covering the two-month period from Feb. 3 to April 2. "You used 72 percent more than your efficient neighbors," the report said. In a 12-month comparison with 100 neighbors of similar-sized homes, "you used 125 percent more natural gas than your efficient neighbors. This costs you about $381 extra per year."

The back page of the report suggests conservation tips: reducing the temperature of a pool or spa could save up to $1,200 a year; installing efficient showerheads could save $40 a year; and installing a new pool heater could save $1,600 a year.

With the Obama administration touting green energy as having the potential to create an industry that will employ millions and create new wealth, Yates figures he can do some good for the environment -- and make a ton of money while doing it.

Positive Energy doesn't make money yet, but he hopes it will.

"I am going to grow this company," he said.

Yates already is wealthy. He and a couple of buddies started an educational testing software company called Edusoft, which they sold five years ago to Houghton Mifflin for about $40 million. At age 26, Yates took home somewhere between $5 million and $10 million.


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