FountainBlue’s March 7 Clean Energy Entrepreneurs’ Forum on the topic of Leveraging Software for Clean Green Solutions, and featured:
Facilitator Cal Sloan
Panelist Erin Cubbison, Regional Leader, Gensler Consulting
Panelist Griff Weber, Consultant to IBM Research
Presenting Entrepreneur Eric Alderman, Founder and President, Solar Nexus
Presenting Jim DiSanto, President and General Manager, Earthrise Technologies, Inc.
Please join us in thanking our hosts at EMC and our sponsors from KPMG for their support of this program and the series. Below are notes from the conversation.
Our panel represented the wide range of clean tech solutions leveraging software: from transportation to solar to buildings and energy efficiency and water and energy management. Software is enabling the growth of each of these clean energy sub-sectors, and opening up new opportunities and better serves the energy, time and resource management needs of its end users. The software solutions are becoming ever more complex, and the volumes of data generated is overwhelming. The challenge is to capture the data through equipment and devices and tools, convert this data into standardized formats which are easily compiled and analyzed, and draw conclusions, create reports and otherwise make the data into actionable information so that a user can make decisions, or so that automated actions can take place. IBM would call this the ‘instrumented’ (with appropriate devices and tools part of the system), ‘integrated’ (with data massaged and coordinated and compiled to get the best picture of what’s happening, real time), and ‘intelligent’ (with compiled reports and recommendations so that measured, data-enabled decisions can be made).
Each of our panelists are responding to the changing needs of their client base, as they align strategic, financial and marketing objectives to reduce, recycle and re-use, and also more proactively manage energy and water consumption and reduce the carbon footprint. The hope is to solve real-world, in-your-face problems, changing user behaviors and decisions, helping them select the option to do more with less, while reducing the environmental impact overall. The panelists specifically mentioned the tremendous opportunity for software solutions enabling clean energy offerings. Below are examples of opportunities in individual sub-industries.
• In the building industry, there are opportunities to proactively monitor energy usage in the form of lighting, heating and cooling, and water usage, to adopt designs and materials and policies which better manage space and user preferences, to re-design, update and create new workspaces which support the preferences of companies today to serve the mobile worker, and to manage a building’s carbon footprint and usage patterns overall, in support of corporate initiatives and the desires of employees and the community.
• In the transportation industry, there has been an astronomical proliferation of software built into today’s modern vehicles which do everything from managing safety and maintenance needs to managing fuel usage and engine performance to managing traffic patterns and generating and updating maps. Indeed, there is so much software that individual cars have a network within themselves and unfortunately, they don’t talk to other cars, even if they are of the same make, much less if they are from different manufacturers. Integrating the software solutions and massaging the volumes of data into an actionable format offers a daunting task, and also a promising opportunity.
• In the renewables and energy management space, there is a host of opportunities to proactively manage the full value chain of providers and stakeholders in delivering quality clean energy solutions for customers. Software to manage and connect the suppliers, local and federal policy-makers (for everything from permits to rebates), installers, entrepreneurs and customers will be instrumental in delivering an efficient, pain-manageable solution for all, and facilitate the more rapid, broader adoption of sustainable solutions.
Below are specific entrepreneurial opportunities worth pursuing:
• Business analytics solutions to compile, manage, manage and integrate disparate data types into integrated formats and actionable reports. This opportunity is in every clean energy sector.
• Public sector solutions which would help cities and municipalities more proactively manage everything from traffic flow to permitting to water treatment and management.
• Design and software solutions which would allow facilities managers and homeowners alike to proactive see, understand and manage their consumption and their impact.
• Sensors to better detect and send standardized information to systems which can help manage overall energy consumption.
• Software solutions which would facilitate the adoption of standards on data storage and availability, security and formatting
• Web and mobile solutions which helps us understand and manage the way we work, shop, socialize, plan, etc. and addressing ongoing needs of users and groups.
Below is advice for entrepreneurs innovating in this space.
• Note that each of the clean energy sub-industries have existing stakeholders who are reticent to change overall, and motivated to maintain the status quo for various reasons, generally associated with maintaining existing market share and leadership and presence. This is an expected if daunting hurdle and entrepreneurs need to accept it and work with it and around it, until change happens.
• Note also that policy-makers at all levels are motivated to get on the clean/green bandwagon, and have had some success with some shorter term policies around rebates and incentives, but no integrated, long-term solution which would nurture the growth of an industry. Ditto here.
• Automate the operations and work flow of clean energy solutions through a combination of software solutions and low-tech solutions with a software component. Much of clean energy solutions rely on old infrastructure and solutions which are too expensive to replace, so choosing to take a picture of an existing monitoring device and leveraging that might be a faster path to revenue than recreating the low-tech sensor from scratch, and creating something new that doesn’t integrate with the old.
In summary, it takes political will and deep pockets to make the tough choices against the wishes of established, influential stakeholders motivated to maintain the status quo. But there’s a ray of hope for the entrepreneurs in this space flying around with their hair on fire, trying to make it work. Change needs to happen, and it WILL happen over time. Innovating in this space despite the odds, in collaboration with like-minded others will help foster this change. Those that adopt the change most gracefully and most efficiently will maintain that market share and help take the clean energy industry to the next level.