Humans like to measure things: how big; how small; how long; how far; and, often, how much. Just look at the proliferation of wearable devices to track everything from sleep patterns to burned calories. And so many of today’s smartphone apps reflect that human desire to track progress; get more done; or save time, money, or effort.
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) and the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI) appear to feel the same way about measuring: Their new Home of the Future, a collaborative exhibit space, demonstrates the newest connected devices, technologies, and services to help homeowners save energy and water. The goal is to keep the space constantly refreshed with cutting-edge products and appliances, as well as building technologies, from LACI’s portfolio of cleantech startups.
The Home of the Future is an important part of a bigger initiative called the La Kretz Innovation Campus, which sits on 3.2 acres (owned by LADWP) in the heart of the booming Arts District, a submarket in Downtown Los Angeles along the Los Angeles River that is home to a mix of artists, entrepreneurs, and manufacturers. The campus also houses LACI.
“This is LADWP’s vision to really engage consumers on what’s possible today and what’s coming tomorrow,” says LACI VP Facilities and Operations Ben Stapleton. “LADWP will have 30 engineers on site, so we all view this as a ‘living lab’ where we can test and explore what’s possible in energy efficiency, smart appliances, and more. Seattle has its Bullitt Center; this is Los Angeles’ place where people can come and see what the future holds.”
Those 30 engineers, combined with the technological advances and team energy swirling in the incubator’s portfolio companies, make for a powerful mix. The Home of the Future is showing how deeply and, in some cases, easily connected devices can make the future and—and the present—better for consumers.
The Home of the Future features not only “nice to have” improvements but also “save the day” improvements. Take GOmeter, an LACI portfolio company focused on smart water metering. CEO Reed North states it as clearly as possible: “Water leaks ruin the day. Ask anyone who has ever done maintenance on a building, any building.”
The majority of water meters in use today cannot transmit or analyze their readings; they’re not “smart.” GOmeter offers an upgrade for currently installed meters to instantly bring them into the modern age. Simply strap the GOmeter hardware on top of an existing meter, and turn it on to begin collecting water-usage data. The device analyzes and transmits routine information, but the biggest value comes when it detects a water leak, a burst line, or a malfunctioning appliance.
Naturally, LADWP sees this potential to identify a water leak as mission critical, and North explains that his system will help predict when a small leak will become a major problem. So the GOmeter information is essential for utilities and others, such as policy makers, in on the big-data trend. “But more and more people are seeing the value in the ‘little data’ of their own personal resource consumption,” North adds to explain why the connected home is so important to consumers.
Given that most water meters are underground, the electric meter should be easier to read and understand. But Chai Energy, another LACI portfolio company in the Home of the Future, says that customers have little understanding of why their utility bills are high. (They are rarely low, right?)
Chai Energy offers a user-friendly app for consumers to see which appliances are running, how much energy they are using, and how much it is costing in real time. Chai tells customers exactly where they are wasting money on particular utility bills and recommends simple, cost-effective solutions via its smartphone application.
Other LACI portfolio companies featured in the Home of the Future include:
- Freewire, combining robotics, energy storage, and grid integration to create an advanced network of mobile EV chargers.
- Hive Lighting, manufacturing energy-efficient plasma lighting for film, TV, sports, and digital productions (and now homes).
- Xelnt, supplying a chemical additive for HVAC systems to increase efficiency and save energy.
Currently, LACI has more than 25 portfolio companies, with the goal to reach 100. Those companies have created 480 jobs during the past few years. LACI receives more than two applications for incubator slots per week and accepts, on average, one in 10. Stapleton says to think of the incubator as a baseball farm team: It identifies local talent, nurtures it, and helps it get to market, resulting in more jobs and a bigger green economy in Los Angeles.
The image of a business incubator or accelerator today is often a shared office space, sometimes called a co-working space. LACI is wildly different in that it is home to more than offices: from conference rooms and research-and-development labs to a fiber-enabled training center and a prototype-manufacturing workshop that rivals Autodesk’s own Pier 9.
The Home of the Future, with all of its potential for helping homeowners save energy and water, is going to depend heavily on the prototyping lab. Stapleton expects that the 8,000-square-foot advanced-manufacturing space will be a pretty big draw, especially because it will be open to the public. It will give area residents a makerspace like no other currently available, including a wet lab (think autoclaves and centrifuges), an electronics shop, a CNC shop, a welding shop, a waterjet, and (of course) a 3D-printing shop.
If all of that is not enough, the La Kretz Innovation Campus is next to the peaceful new Arts District Park and features its own sustainable options, including surface parking with a 175-kilowatt photovoltaic solar canopy, gray-water filtration, bioswales, and microgrid systems—all in the heart of the growing Los Angeles Arts District.
With more than 18 million residents now—and an estimated 500,000 more to call Los Angeles home by 2035—LACI, LADWP, and the Home of the Future have more than a little incentive to create a future Los Angeles that is environmentally healthy and economically prosperous.