Incite Post | Electrify Everything, Starting at Home
A year ago, the Inflation Reduction Act was signed into law, marking a historic effort to spur our clean energy transition. A year later, we’re asking: is the IRA working? Are companies investing in clean energy projects at scale? Do consumers understand how to leverage IRA tax benefits available for home electrification?
If we want those answers to be yes, we have some ideas. It starts with creating a best-in-class user experience and product. If we look back years ago, our roots began in home energy when Incite’s Founder, Matt, built the first smart thermostat and world-leading connected home brand, Nest. Today, we continue to get excited about companies that are innovating for consumers without hitting them over the head with climate.
That’s why, a few months ago, we wrote about the need to “design systems that do the heavy lifting for consumers, breaking down their available rebates, filling out the forms, and finding them certified installers.” All while sharing the non-climate benefits electrification would give them. And now, we’re thrilled to announce that our friends at the just-launched Onsemble are doing just that. Onsemble’s platform makes the transition to home electrification easier than ever: combining high quality home-electrification products, trustworthy installers, and information about available incentives all in one app. We’re huge fans of Onsemble’s focus on building a seamless end-to-end user experience that educates and empowers consumers to take action towards electrification.
Scroll down to hear from founders Julia and Rick share more about their founder journey and why they’re equally obsessed with decarbonizing every home and building a cleaner, more reliable grid.
What motivated you to join this incredibly exciting, novel world of home electrification? What surprised you most while diving into this space?
Julia: I’ve always been deeply interested in issues of security. My parents came from very different worlds (Lebanon and Kansas!) but they had each faced their own moments of extreme insecurity. They taught us that safety isn’t ever guaranteed — whether personal or national, these topics were part of dinner table conversation. That led me to study security technology at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, and ultimately spend ten years in the cybersecurity industry.
Every Bay Area resident will remember that surreal day in 2020 when our skies turned an apocalyptic orange while fires devastated wine country. It hit home that day that climate change was the critical security threat facing my generation – and I wanted to do my part. Like with cyber 10-15 years ago, awareness of the climate threat is no longer an issue; homeowners are motivated to electrify to contribute to the green transition, we just need to make it easy for them. That’s our mission.
Rick: When Julia reached out to me last fall, I’d recently left my role as the state of California’s Chief Technology Innovation Officer, where I led the team that today is known as the Office of Digital Services. It was inspiring to see first-hand how effective collaboration between the public and private sectors could be – in our work on the state’s COVID-19 response, my team collaborated with health care providers, pharmacies, state governments, and tech teams from foreign countries. As Julia filled me in on the exciting developments with the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act, I realized a similar all-hands-on-deck collaboration would be needed. Pretty quickly, we both realized that there was a need for a consumer-facing company to attack this problem to ensure that the policy goals could be attained.
Why has it been so difficult for homeowners to update and electrify their appliances in the past? What makes this the right moment and how is Onsemble solving the toughest challenges related to the transition?
Rick: Early in our exploration, I tried to figure out what incentives existed to replace my home’s appliances. One of the California state rebate sites told me there were some incentives I’d get, others my contractor would get – but I’d need to fill out some forms, and then have my contractor fill out some other forms, and qualify for their partner program. Towards the bottom of the page, I noticed a mention that PG&E had some incentives as well – so I went to PG&E’s website where I was told that indeed there were additional dollars available, and that I should go to this other website for details. Which is how I got back to where I started! I was in a loop, with no obvious way to apply for, let alone receive, the incentive dollars. It was paralyzing.
Julia: Up until a few years ago, you couldn’t really guarantee that electric appliances were up to the job – in all climates, in all locations. But the advances in heat pumps – for both water heating and home heating and cooling – have been enormous over the last several years. The tech exists, and we know it works. But without an easy way to apply the substantial incentives towards the cost of upgrading – most consumers will do the logical thing and wait until their appliances break before they think about replacing them. From a climate point of view, we can’t afford to wait that long – we need to decarbonize these homes now. Onsemble makes it possible for a homeowner to make the cost-effective decision that also happens to be the planet-friendly decision. It’s a win-win.
What does storytelling look like for your team? How do you convey both the climate and quality of life benefits in a way that’s appealing to consumers?
Julia: Storytelling for us always starts with listening to real people – we’ve had hundreds of conversations with homeowners, contractors, and other partners. Early in one of our user research sessions, we asked a recent first-time homeowner about how climate realities impact her lifestyle choices. She was in her 30s, had recently had her first child, and she and her partner were doing many of the right things: they’d recently replaced their car with an EV, and were looking into solar panels on the home they’d just bought. When we told them that their furnace and water heater were actually burning fossil fuels to function and in fact are a large driver of their family’s carbon footprint, she was shocked.
Is the IRA enough? What additional state & federal legislation would you like to see to accelerate home electrification moving forward?
Rick: When I worked at Google, I heard Eric Schmidt talk about a number of things as being “necessary, but not sufficient”. That’s how I think about the IRA: it will be a necessary part of solving the climate crisis, but by itself it won’t be sufficient. One area that I’d love to see progress on is federal loan support similar to what the feds did with mortgages. Saul Griffith first wrote about this back in 2020, and later expanded on it in his book Electrify. Incentives like what the IRA provides will help lower the cost of decarbonization, but won’t eliminate it. And the remaining cost could still be significant – money that the average homeowner may not be able to easily afford. Getting creative with additional approaches to lowering the cost of capital necessary to decarbonize would be an important bookend to the necessary (but not sufficient!) incentives we’ll start seeing next year when the IRA hits the market.
Julia: Yes, lowering the costs for the homeowner is critical, and we’re excited about the momentum that the IRA dollars will initiate in the market. But we need to be intentional about where those dollars go. In California I’ve been excited by the increased focus on equity when it comes to home electrification and decarbonization. For example, the California Energy Commission’s Equitable Building Decarbonization Program (authorized by Assembly Bill 209), which is looking to zero out project costs in communities with low- and moderate- income households, is an example of how states can build on the momentum from the federal funding. We’re optimistic that other states will follow suit with similar initiatives. And wherever they do, the Onsemble platform will be there to help homeowners take full advantage.
What’s next for Onsemble? How can our readers stay up to date?
Right now the team is laser-focused on delivering the first version of our mobile app to homeowners in our three launch markets: Sonoma, Marin, and Contra Costa counties in the Bay Area. We’ll expand quickly after that across the U.S. in anticipation of state-level IRA incentive rollout. Anyone interested in getting early access should sign up for our waitlist at onsemble.com.
Longer-term, we will launch in every market where incentives exist to help homeowners upgrade and electrify their homes. We expect to see many states get approved by the DOE to distribute Inflation Reduction Act incentives in the first half of next year; Onsemble will support homeowners in those states as soon those states get approved.
What We're Reading and Listening To
Optimizing Home Energy
Electrifying Home Climate Control
Improving Battery Manufacturing
Next-Gen Heating and Cooling