Kentucky native William (Bill) Burke is the founder and CEO of Louisville-based Virtual Peaker, a renewable energy software startup he created in 2015. The expanding business employs eight people and has seen 8x revenue growth over the last two years. Burke answered questions for Louisville Future about the startup.
What does Virtual Peaker do?
The hardest thing about renewable energy is that you can’t control when the sun shines or when the wind blows. Virtual Peaker’s secure, cloud-based platform helps utilities balance the electric grid (matching demand and supply) and mitigate that variability—and the cost—of renewable energy, especially during more expensive peak-use times.
How does Virtual Peaker’s system work?
Essentially, Virtual Peaker manages—down to the individual-home level—customers’ energy usage in real time so our utility clients can optimize the electric grid. Residential customers sign up to let us track and then adjust consumption so they can save energy.
We work with thermostats, hot water heaters, and the coming explosion of electric vehicle chargers and in-home battery systems. This seamless process keeps residents comfortable, saves money, and preserves valuable natural resources.
Can you provide any examples?
Energy is most expensive and potentially “dirty” when it’s in high demand. For example, in the late afternoon, when people get home from work, they might turn on the heat or air conditioning, throw a load of laundry in, and start preparing dinner.
If we can “shave” some of the energy used at peak times, it saves money and is good for the environment.
During a heat spike last summer, one of our utility clients used Virtual Peaker to deploy stored energy from its 10-megawatt network of residential batteries.
Because the utility didn’t have to buy expensive energy during this peak-demand period, it saved almost $900,000 in just one hour. And last fall, customers of the same utility rode out a scary Halloween storm in comfort. Thanks to the stored energy, more than 1,100 homes avoided power outages.
What did you do before starting Virtual Peaker?
I graduated from the University of California in Berkeley with a Ph.D. in Controls and Artificial Intelligence, and I wrote my dissertation on how to control thousands of thermostats for the good of both the homeowner and the utility.
About 15 years ago, I brought my family back home to Louisville when I started to work for GE as an advanced systems engineer. While there, I developed high-performance residential energy management and connected products. I really wanted to keep my family in Louisville for the long haul, so I started another company while working for GE. I founded Virtual Peaker in 2015.
Can you tell us a little about the people who work at Virtual Peaker?
The people who work at Virtual Peaker are fun-loving, smart, and nimble. We’re lucky that we have long-term contracts with utilities, lots of work, and a relatively stable customer base. Even while we work from home during the coronavirus pandemic, Virtual Peaker closed three deals in a week, hired three new employees in the past few months, and signed a lease to move to a larger—and very cool—new space in the NuLu Marketplace.
For me, I’m thrilled to be in Louisville working with an awesome team. The Greater Louisville area has enormous potential and talent, and we look forward to working with other local entrepreneurs to build a thriving regional technology hub.