Getting Plugged Into the Utilities

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FountainBlue’s April 4 Clean Energy Entrepreneurs’ Forum, on the topic of Getting Plugged Into the Utilities, featuring:

Facilitator Christine Hertzog, Managing Director, Smart Grid Library

Panelist Lucian Ion, Director, Smart Grid Solutions Strategy, GE

Panelist Raj Krishnamurthy, Automatiks

Panelist Randall Wong, Emerging Technologies Program Manager, PG&E

Panelist Danny Yu, CEO, Daintree Networks Inc.

Presenting Entrepreneur Dr. Ed Cazalet, Vice-President and Co-Founder, MegaWatt Storage Farms

Presenting Entrepreneur Michael Leppitsch, Founder and CEO, Gridata

Please join us in thanking our hosts at SRI and our sponsors at KPMG for their support of this program and the series. Below are notes from the conversation.

The panel remarked that utilities serve three masters: shareholders, customers, commissioners, and this must be taken into consideration as entrepreneurs consider how their solution works with utilities. Because of decoupling, our local utility, PG&E, is motivated not to sell more energy, but to most efficiently deliver energy to its customers, so they actively encourage entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs to present energy efficient options for review and incentivize customers to adopt these solutions.

One of the themes that came through in the conversation is the need to work with all stakeholders to encourage and support better storage and distribution technologies and processes, which would create an infrastructure conducive to getting energy cost-effectively into the hands of consumers, helping them better understand and better manage how energy is used. The PUC now has a mandate to put storage on the grid, so changes are imminent, and hopefully things will improve as a result.

Pricing also greatly impacts the energy usage decisions of users, particularly corporate users. Our panel covered solutions for optimizing heating, cooling and lighting for facilities managers, and mentioned that they get the ROI, particularly if the sensors and software solutions allow for automation and self-management, and has a transparent, easy-to-understand user interface.

The panelists commented on the importance of dynamic pricing of energy cost, and dynamic choices made by users and automated through sensors and software. Current demand response requirements are starting to pay attention to pricing, but does not meet dynamic pricing goals which are more immediate, more detailed, more like stock exchange, which is instantly updated based on huge volumes of transactions.

The panelists made the following suggestions for entrepreneurs innovating in this space:

As with any business, understand your target market and customer and their needs. In the energy usage space, the customer might be utilities, facility managers/corporations, and residents.

* Focus on how energy creates value for your customer and work from there.
* Consider how better managing and understanding energy usage patterns can lead to savings and opportunities for the customer

The clean energy industry, although ripe with opportunities is more difficult to manage as the stakes are high, as are the number and power of stakeholders.

* Partner with PG&E and corporations like GE to better vet your technologies and serve their markets.
* Collaborate with other stakeholders to adopt and update policies which embrace new innovations in energy storage and usage, and facilitates further communication and partnerships between entrepreneurs, utilities, corporations, academics and end users.

Leverage expertise in devices and wireless and software solutions and apply it to the energy efficiency, management, storage and distribution needs of facilities managers as well as homeowners and small business owners.

* There are many existing technologies out there that could be bought and integrated into successful service and product offerings. You don’t need to re-invent those technologies to start a business.
* Provide a service to help others in this space, helping them create software and hardware solutions which fit standards and policies and making it easier to deliver their solution to the end customer.

Work with existing infrastructure and technologies and mandates to discover opportunities.

* Energy generation innovations will help our state reach our renewables mandates over the next decade. If you are innovating in this space, consider the current mix of energy sources, like hydro, gas, coal, nuclear etc and how your generation method fits in and how it would work with existing storage and distribution infrastructure.

The panelists highlighted the following hot areas of opportunity:

* Wireless advanced lighting control with hardware and software elements
* More detailed, real-time data on energy usage
* Managing loads and quality in the last mile
* Electric vehicles – growing adoption curve
* More sophisticated sensor-hardware-software integration getting into the hands of facilities managers and residents

The bottom line is that energy users don’t want to be mandated how they use their energy, but want to adopt software and sensor self-management solutions which allows them to be more aware of usage patterns, and also select optimal comfort and flexibility. Simple as that sounds, with all the policies, standards and politics, along with the wide range of stakeholders and the high stakes involved, this is not as easy as it looks.

Resources and Additional Information:

* PG&E’s Emerging Technology Coordinating Council (ETCC) activities can be found at http://www.etcc-ca.com which is the statewide website. Upcoming dates and locations are listed below and there are also emerging technology roundtables for companies with existing technologies.

o May 5 ET Open Forum SMUD, Sacramento

o May 12 TRIO Symposium SCE, UC Irvine

o July 12 TRIO Symposium PG&E, Mission Bay Conference Center @ UCSF

* Christine Hertzog’s Smart Grid Dictionary http://www.smartgridlibrary.com/smart-grid-dictionary/

Christine Hertzog’s Smart Grid Dictionary provides definitions of over 1200 Smart Grid terms, jargon, and acronyms and contains descriptions of the most important international, national, and regional regulatory agencies, industry associations, and standards organizations that influence Smart Grid technologies and their website addresses for convenient reference.

Copyright Notice

Our notes are copyrighted by FountainBlue for 2006-2011, and shared with permission from our speakers, sponsors and community. Please do not forward to others outside the attendee list or without prior permission.

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