Google and Nest: Evolution not Revolution when You’ve Been at it for 30 Years

Feb. 3, 2014
TCS Basys Controls was developing Internet-based energy management back when Google was just a baby emerging out of Susan Wojcicki’s garage.

My grandfather used to bewilder me when he referred to our refrigerator as an ice box. I had no idea that he used the term because as a child he truly filled a box with ice to keep his food cold.

Today’s remote energy management has its own equivalent to the ice box – the dial-up telephone modem. Remember those? Thirty or so years ago, we thought dial-up modems were so futuristic. And now, from those humble beginnings, we have Nest and its cloud-based thermostat that learns human behavior, which is cool to the tune of $3.2 billion – the check Google wrote to buy the company last month.

For those who watched this tech wave rise from its inception – and helped build it – the Google and Nest deal is more an evolution than revolution in remote energy management. TCS Basys Controls is one such company. The Wisconsin-based firm was developing Internet-based energy management back when Google was just a baby emerging out of Susan Wojcicki’s garage.

“Everybody is very excited about what the Nest thermostat can do. And it is exciting for the residential market. But we have been doing things on the commercial side that are much more advanced and complex for years,” said Jeff Krause, marketing director, TCS Basys Controls.

See what other insiders say about the Google and Nest deal in our article here.

If anybody can put Nest  in historical terms, it’s TCS Basys Controls.  It’s got the years and experience to provide perspective. Founded  in 1983 by Jack Toal, the company manufactured sensors and transducers in its early years. It gradually grew and advanced with HVAC-related devices and energy management technologies. By early 2000, it had designed a web-enabled thermostat – the first, the company says – and a wireless version a few months later.

Today, the privately held company offers a range of energy monitoring and management tech and services under a “control everything” strategy for commercial buildings. These include a cloud-based energy management platform called Ubiquity, and building controls that range from simple HVAC and lighting devices to complex VAV zoning systems with multiple boilers, chillers and built-up air handlers.

Ubiquity screen shot

TCS Basys Controls manages the energy for 6,000 banks, stores, restaurants, and other small or midsize facilities – the kind of buildings it says that tend to get ignored in today’s energy efficiency markets. Its portfolio includes some major US corporations that operate many small facilities – Wells Fargo/Wachovia, Taco Bell, KFC, for example.

Dara O’Neill, the company’s national accounts manager, approached me a couple of months ago about writing a story on TCS Basys Controls. He described all of the good work the company had done over three decades and said it had just flown under the radar screen for years.

True, no movies have been made about TCS Basys Controls starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson. And it probably never has been described as ‘The Cool’ of the Consumer Electronics Show, as Nest has. But as O’Neill pointed out, TCS Basys Controls has produced some significant tech and saved a lot of energy and money for its commercial customers over a long time. One never knows, of course, but it seems like the kind of place that in another 30 years will be around to comment on whatever energy tech is the bomb then – and perhaps explain how it all goes back to a funny ole thing Grandpa talks about called Nest and the Internet of Things.

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About the Author

Elisa Wood | Editor-in-Chief

Elisa Wood is an award-winning writer and editor who specializes in the energy industry. She is chief editor and co-founder of Microgrid Knowledge and serves as co-host of the publication’s popular conference series. She also co-founded RealEnergyWriters.com, where she continues to lead a team of energy writers who produce content for energy companies and advocacy organizations.

She has been writing about energy for more than two decades and is published widely. Her work can be found in prominent energy business journals as well as mainstream publications. She has been quoted by NPR, the Wall Street Journal and other notable media outlets.

“For an especially readable voice in the industry, the most consistent interpreter across these years has been the energy journalist Elisa Wood, whose Microgrid Knowledge (and conference) has aggregated more stories better than any other feed of its time,” wrote Malcolm McCullough, in the book, Downtime on the Microgrid, published by MIT Press in 2020.

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