100 companies creating tomorrow's energy systems, today

Energy transitions are underway, but ambitious global climate change targets that require emissions to peak in just three years (by 2020) point to an innovation gap. This week a the SE4All Forum in New York, we launched the EPIC100 report, the result of last year's Energy Productivity Innovation Challenge (EPIC), supported by ClimateWorks Foundation, that sought 100 companies filling that gap with solutions for homes, commercial & industrial buildings, mobility, energy systems and finance.

The promise

We are seeing exponential growth in computing and communications, and energy sectors are beginning to feel the impact of this shift. New capabilities such as blockchain, Internet of Things, new materials and big data are providing new opportunities to more rapidly diagnose and tackle energy system waste and losses that can be more than 60% of the primary energy inputs. Opportunities to drive energy productivity are worth more than $2 trillion.

The business models

Though many of the 100 EPIC companies (40) were early stage pre-revenue businesses, 30 of them have attracted over 770 million in equity financing with hundreds of millions more committed in project finance. The businesses impact on a range of energy assets including HVAC, lighting and motors and grid systems, with thousands of megawatts of energy savings in their portfolios. 10 business model types were identified, including Energy as a Service, Peer-to-Peer Energy and Flexibility Services through electricity storage or demand response.  But how will these still early stage businesses scale?

Partnerships

During our workshop at SE4All heard from innovators in corporates (Harry Verhaar, Head of Global & Government Affairs for Philips Lighting and Vishnu Barran, Senior Business Development Manager, ENER-G Rudox Inc, a company within the Centrica Group) as well as startups at different stages (Scott Williams, Vice President, Business Development, Global Automotive Markets, eMotorWerksScott Kesslar, Director, Business Development for LO3 Energy and Asger Trier Bing, CEO, M-PAYG). For startups, the partnerships with established players with existing hardware or infrastructure help them to focus on where they can provide most value - the part of the new value chains they are creating whether in smart electric vehicle charging, energy trades or renewable payment systems -- and at the same time, to provide a more complete end-to-end service to their customers, including installation or financing. Harry Verhaar who has led a new growth area within Philips has partnered with established players in other sectors such as IT and telecommunications, and with city governments, to launch new lighting-as-a-service offers. As Scott Williams noted, 'partnerships are key' as new ambitious companies take on the challenges of rapid growth. 

Pathways to scale

Whilst the potential is there to move to an on-demand, real time energy system that rapidly decarbonises energy, the pace at which this happens is still uncertain. Governments and corporate leaders will be key drivers of demand for energy transitions, and we describe an innovation 'racetrack' to accelerate innovation ecosystems, with specific recommendations for each broad action on the racetrack. Governments and corporates can use data more effectively to support innovators, create the conditions for increasing new sources of 'demand' for innovation, enable market (not just technology) demonstrations and trials, and develop new governance strategies including digital energy services oversight.

Where we go from here

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Tangled Up in Blockchain

Blockchain, communities and their global implications for a new energy paradigm

(First posted on Meeting of the Minds blog)

The promise: Off grid communities producing and sharing resilient, cost-effective solar energy without an electricity supplier, and generating SolarCoins as added income…. Communities in major cities choosing the price or type of electricity generation moment by moment, as they share electricity between ‘prosumers’, reducing grid congestion and achieving low carbon targets at the same time….

These are just two potential ways blockchain can transform energy as we know it. Blockchain is not just for finance anymore -- it’s most famous as the underpinning technology of cryptocurrency Bitcoin -- but can be used for applications as different as transparent land titling or voting. But are ‘energy blockchains’ able to deliver the promise of renewable, decentralised energy? For now, we may be at the peak of the ‘hype’ cycle. More companies are working on blockchain than deploying it today.

Certainly there are already real projects delivering real value to customers amongst the hype. Companies like LO3 Energy and Power Ledger are engaged in Peer to Peer energy trials, but these are very early stage. Solar PV forecasts within 5% accuracy are being tested in Cyprus by SolarChange. CEO Assaf Ben Or is confident that “smart predictions, insights and forecasts can be taken to a new level, driving efficiencies, saving millions and impacting the global renewable energy marketplace."

This year and next will see an upsurge in the number of demonstrations. We will learn what works and what doesn’t, how consumers react and participate in new business propositions. The underpinning technology will be evolving alongside.  As Lawrence Orsini from LO3 Energy said, “We have built our own energy blockchain and Transactive Grid platform to test how consumers adopt this technology and more importantly the markets and services it enables in Brooklyn. We are going to be bringing the technology to a number of demonstrations internationally the next few years to make sure we're not just creating value for people in Brooklyn, but for communities all over the globe."

Mark Kenber, Energy Unlocked advisory board member (3rd from the right), speaking at the Event Horizon Energy Blockchain conference

Mark Kenber, Energy Unlocked advisory board member (3rd from the right), speaking at the Event Horizon Energy Blockchain conference

Part of adoption of any new paradigm is discussion. Today, innovators, utilities, regulators and experts will descend on Vienna, Austria for the Event Horizon Global Summit on Blockchain Technology and the Energy Sector to share the latest case studies and insights about putting blockchain to work for energy outcomes.

In this spirit, energy blockchain application developers Grid Singularity and NGO Rocky Mountain Institute, along with major global utilities, will today announce the Energy Web Foundation. Not only will the focus be case studies, but the plan is to promote a standard platform (think Linux, the open-source underpinning operating system of the Android mobile platform). “We’re solving some key issues with open ledgers applied to energy, such as the speed and security of transactions,” said Grid Singularity CEO Ewald Hesse.

While standards are crucial to creating big waves from new technological ripples, utilities that are participating in the new initiative may not be able to thwart history. A disruptive new paradigm does not frequently come from the dominant industries of today. Cast our minds back to 1980, when mobile phone telephony company AT&T (and McKinsey) famously predicted mobile phone uptake would be about 1 million in the year 2000, when in fact it exceeded 100 million.

AT&T eventually got back into the mobile industry, but I wonder would the world be different if they hadn’t left at that early stage? Would we have seen the competitive industry explode to 5 billion + mobile subscribers today with leading companies Apple and Google vying for smart-phone platform domination, and the host of copycat innovations that follow? Google didn’t exist until 1998, 20 years after the first phone mobile phone was trialled. Dominant players of today’s energy system may not be the leaders of tomorrow’s. As UK-based Mongoose Energy’s Mark Kenber, advisory board member to Energy Unlocked, said, “We expect to see many new forms of community energy companies changing how energy is owned and controlled. We’re just at the beginning.”

Energy and mobile access together provide access to markets and education, opportunities and livelihoods. Blockchain is a technology fit for enabling the distributed transactions that a mobile-enabled world craves. Most of us may never know blockchain is at the heart of it all, but will instead enjoy the benefits it brings. May the experiments continue.

 

Molly Webb is Founder of Energy Unlocked, working with new market entrants to accelerate the pace of energy system transitions to meet ambitious climate change targets. The recent EPIC project identified 100 energy productivity innovators, including blockchain based solutions. Get in touch to get involved.