Energy efficiency becomes hot market for tech companies 

By Evan Halper | The Seattle Times: WASHINGTON — As President Obama pushes ahead on a strategy to confront climate change that relies heavily on energy efficiency, some Americans may see flashbacks of Jimmy Carter trying to persuade them to wear an extra sweater and turn down the thermostat.

The technology world sees dollar signs.

Long overshadowed by wind turbines, solar panels and other fashionable machines of renewable power, energy efficiency has lately become a hot pursuit for tech entrepreneurs, big-data enthusiasts and Wall Street speculators.

They have leveraged multibillion-dollar programs in several states, led by California and Massachusetts, to cultivate a booming industry. This onetime realm of scolds, do-gooders and bureaucrats has become the stuff of TED talks, IPOs and spirited privacy debates.

“This is not about extra sweaters anymore,” said Jon Wellinghoff, a San Francisco lawyer who formerly chaired the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Power companies are tapping databases to profile intensely the energy use of their customers, the way that firms like Target track customer product choices.

Google spent $3.2 billion this year to buy Nest Labs, a company that makes thermostats that resemble iPhones and are designed to intuit the needs of their owners. Energy regulators are providing seed capital to startups building such things as waterless laundry machines.

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