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|Published Tuesday, January 10, 2017|
It’s a homeowner’s nightmare: It’s the middle of the winter, it’s the weekend and your oil tank is empty. Your oil company can’t deliver immediately, and you are worried about frozen pipes.
When that happened to Louis Trebaol in 2015, it got him thinking about how technology could prevent that from happening. Was there a way for homeowners to better monitor their own tank levels? And, furthermore, why should they be locked into one provider?
A conversation with Greg Hovagim prompted the pair to found Heat Oracle in Bedford, a mobile app and website looking to disrupt the energy delivery system. Launched in August, the business developed a sensor that affixes to oil tanks, sending information to a mobile app that lets users know when their tanks are running low. The company also helps people find the best fuel price in their area. “We wanted to be an honest broker between heating companies and consumers,” says Trebaol.
Trebaol says the biggest problem with the current market is the lack of competition. Currently people using oil heat enter pre-buy contracts, which not only prevent competition, says Trebaol, but work against consumers during warm winters when prices are below pre-buy rates. Instead, says Trebaol, Heat Oracle helps consumers shop around every time the tank runs low. For now, the company is focused on the oil market as propane customers must have their tanks filled by the company that owns them.
The pair, who work day jobs as engineers for a defense contractor, began designing Heat Oracle’s interface last summer and officially launched it in August. They have a provisional international patent. Hovagim developed the ultrasonic sensor that sends information in real time to users’ accounts, notifying them with text alerts when their tanks fall to 25, 50 and 75 percent empty.
Users can request a Wi-Fi enabled sensor for no charge or a 3G enabled sensor for $40, and all users pay a monitoring fee of $5 a month or $50 annually. All customers are now homeowners, but the duo is talking with utility companies about purchasing the technology to help consumers monitor usage and to provide better advice on weatherizing homes.
They also see a market for property managers who have disparate rental properties and need to monitor fuel usage while also keeping costs low. Heat Oracle also offers a tool to oil delivery companies to create efficient delivery routes and keep overhead costs down. “We’re data junkies, and what we see is a data-poor heating market,” says Trebaol.
That said, Trebaol admits oil companies may not welcome the competition. “The traditional relationship they have of one oil company-one house will go away. Someone else can offer a competitive price. They may not like the change in relationship,” he says. The pair, who are the only employees of the company, have self-funded Heat Oracle and aim to have 5,000 users by the end of next summer, though that could be higher with utility partnerships.
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