By Leanna Sweha
Wexus Technologies empowers farmers, food processors and others to save money and time by being more energy efficient. Its IoT platform analyzes utility usage and billing data in real time to drive energy and water efficiency while automating, compliance and sustainability reporting and saving labor hours.
The company recently completed Village Capital’s Food and Agriculture US 2018 program and was selected by a group of 11 peer companies to receive an investment offer of $100,000.
We visited with CEO and Co-Founder Chris Terrell to learn more.
What is the meaning of the name Wexus?
Wexus means Water-Energy-Nexus. We’re solving the water-energy-nexus and labor problems in food and agriculture with an IoT software platform that remotely accesses a farm’s operational data like utility smart meter readings and water flow. We connect that data up with utility billing system data to show the actual energy-water costs for each irrigation pump for a farmer or each piece of equipment for a food processor and help make decisions to boost net operating income.
Tell us how the platform works.
Farmers can have tens or even hundreds of separate irrigation pumps linked to meters being billed by their utility each month, and they can easily spend $100,000 a month just to pump and move water for crop irrigation.
Our platform disaggregates energy and water use data into something a farmer can easily understand and take action on. It overlays total operations – pumps, buildings, offices, solar arrays – tags them with additional sensors in the field, and collects data into one place for both analytics and reporting.
It’s like getting a single app for your house that pulls in all of your utility bills and tells you how your appliances are using electricity and water what the individual costs are, and what actions to take to drive more efficiency and cost savings.
Our platform is optimized for both mobile and desktop via a web app. So you don’t have to download any additional apps or software and can access it through your browser. And we’ve solved another pain point in the ag and energy industries by making it easy to sign up online.
Did the historic drought play a role in the growth of your company?
Yes. We came on the scene when the drought had become really dire and there was increasing attention to energy and water consumption.
Our co-founder Chris Vines and I had expertise from years in the energy management industry, including demand response technologies. We started the company because we saw that there was little energy management technology for growing and processing food and farmers were paying very high utility bills.
We continued our growth in 2015 with a $4 million competitive contract with the California Energy Commission. The project was under the Commission’s mandate to commercialize and scale new technology to drive efficiency and help ratepayers save money.
We’ve worked with four pilot farms under this particular project and also partnered with Frank Loge at UC Davis and his team at the Center for Water and Energy Efficiency. His lab is verifying our project results and cost savings, and this data will come out in our final report early next year.
What makes your platform unique?
The key driver that sets us apart is our ability to drive ROI and show you exactly what your savings are from becoming more energy and water efficient, track those savings over time, and get access to our turnkey service for rebates and financing programs to pay for efficiency upgrades and sensors in the field.
What do customers need installed in the field to get started?
To get started, we use what’s already out in the field: utility meters, billing systems and water sensors if a farmer already has them. We have three subscription levels, and any farm can mix and match the plans. So, for example, you could have a few pumps at the Enterprise level for streaming, real time data, some pumps and solar arrays at Professional level for daily data, and small pumps and buildings can be at the Starter level for monthly data.
Customers who want to use additional IoT sensors can choose their favorite vendor, who takes care of deployment of the hardware which is all geotagged. We have partnerships with sensor vendors to make it really easy for customers. The costs and installation are also bundled with our turnkey service, so it’s really a simple, hassle-free process.
Our ability to drive ROI and savings, while alerting to equipment or sensor issues in the field also drives value for our vendor partners.
Your alert system for pump problems – how does that work?
We found a way to use AI on energy data and make it actionable. The platform tracks anomalies in real time by sifting through mountains of data every 15 minutes and gives alerts if it finds one. For example, the system will flag an energy spike from the grid and alerts customers to an outage or pump motor failure.
It’s a huge capital expense to replace a well, so having advance notice before failure is a real plus.
Tell us a little about your partnerships with utilities to help finance energy efficiency technology.
When you track water more closely, it can drive energy efficiency and savings. PG&E is partnering with us to finance the purchase and installation of flow meters and other sensors that can be used with our platform and with other partners.
Under a new PG&E program that we pioneered, farmers can get up to $100,000 financing per irrigation pump for efficiency upgrades and sensors with interest free terms for up to five years with no money down. And the costs are paid back directly through energy savings on their utility bill.
We are also working with SoCal Edison and expect to expand these programs into other states as well.
How broad is your market and how scalable is your technology?
Essentially, if you get a utility bill you can be our customer. Agriculture and food processing is a really underserved market, so we are continuing to expand the scope and size of the places we operate.
For example, we have a new product for indoor submetering so that you can track energy use and costs down to the equipment level. We do that with additional IoT devices connected on our cloud network. This also allows owners to bill tenants more accurately or food processors to know where their energy costs are going.
What is an example of one of your indoor customers?
Last year a Salinas area indoor cannabis grower signed up with us. Energy is a big cost for indoor growers, because using HVAC, lighting and controlling inputs to build yield takes a significant amount of energy. Typically, there are only one or two main utility meters for an indoor growing facility, so it’s impossible to tell which piece of equipment is consuming more energy than others.
What kind of savings to date have your customers seen?
We have been averaging 10% annual cost savings for our customers. Of course, it all depends on the specific operation, but this is an across the board average.
One of our customers, Jackson Family Wines, used our system to track energy and water usage and for irrigation pumps at two of their vineyards. They identified over 19,200 kWh in energy savings and over $9,000 in annual cost savings by using our system.
Does your platform help with groundwater (SGMA) and other regulatory reporting?
Yes, our platform takes the pain out of SGMA reporting. We automate all the reporting so that a grower can just click a button to download the data and send it to whomever they need to. This is usually a painful task for general managers and ranch managers in the field and a CFO, accountant, administrator or sustainability manager in the office. So there is also significant labor savings with automated reporting which allows people to focus on more value-added tasks on the farm instead of chasing down water and pump data.
Can you tell us a little about your experience in the Village Capital program?
We just wrapped up the program and it was a fantastic experience. We were very impressed with Village Capital’s approach and how they are democratizing entrepreneurship. We met a lot of great entrepreneurs solving big impact-driven problems and potential investors and strategic partners in our industry.
Wexus looks poised to make a big impact, and we are excited to watch its growth over the next few years. Please stay tuned for more Innovator Spotlight posts where we will highlight the innovators and change makers in the sustainable food and ag innovation space. If you know of someone we should be covering, please email us at email@example.com.
About the author: Leanna Sweha is an attorney with an agtech background who has worked for the California Legislature, the California Resources Agency, and the UC Davis Office of Research. She is passionate about promoting new sustainable agriculture companies.