An Energy Operating System for Your Home or Office


Meet Ryan Wartena, founder of Growing Energy Labs Inc.

For most consumers, hardware isn't all that meaningful. Sure, they like having the latest iPhone or their preferred brand of laptop, but it's not the innards of the device that tend to draw people in. The operating system -- iOS, Linux, Windows 8, OS X, Android -- is what largely determines one's experience of a piece of electronics.

The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal in conversation with entrepreneurs shaping our future. See full coverage

When it comes to energy, though, we don't have an operating system, argues Growing Energy Labs founder Ryan Wartena. There is no platform on which developers can build useful power management applications. We have hardware (outlets, plugs, batteries, etc) but nothing that can run these things. And our personal energy systems are only likely to get more complex as we add more solar power, more electric cars, and subtract utility regulation.

This may all seem abstract, so let's make it more concrete. Right now, in most places, if you're making more energy through solar or wind or a Bloom Box than you're using, you can sell that electricity back to the local utility. (This is not a far-fetched scenario; many new commercial buildings already find themselves doing exactly this.) But power prices aren't static. They vary widely, in some cases, by orders of magnitude. To get the best price your electricity could command, though, you'd need a smart energy operating system that would allow you to generate and store power, then sell it when prices were high. Wartena's team is building the data and logic that would allow you to automate do precisely that, and a whole lot more.

As such, they are a software company and they have offices that look like a software company's offices. Unlike many green technology firms, which need big spaces for hardware and testing grounds, Growing Energy Labs is located in San Francisco's SoMa district, right near where Twitter took off and in close proximity to many food trucks. All this to say: Growing Energy Labs feels like a technology startup, all the way down to the messy, cramped open plan office, massive monitors, and electronic music wafting out of communal speakers.

Venture capitalists have seen this sort of company before, and I would be surprised if they don't see many, many more before the energy revolution is over.

Stay tuned for the next two segments of my interview with Wartena, which will debut next week.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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