19 Feb ETS16 Launch Party – From Chaos to Boring: Let’s get Energy Technologies There
In an outdoor shipping-container bar along Austin’s famed Rainey Street district went down one of the best parties in energy ever—trust me, I’ve been to a lot. Zpryme’s ETS16 Launch Party made possible by RES and partners SXSW Eco and Austin Energy. We celebrated energy with the support of a DJ blasting my favorite 80s hits, along with Chewbacca and Storm Troopers joining forces for a moment to show off their dance moves. In the midst of this chaos—supplemented by the chatter of 500 attendees benefitting from an open bar—was a conversation I had about boring. And it was one of the most interesting conversations I’ve had in a while.
Essentially, how do we get a technology to become boring? How do we make it an everyday thing? Because when we do that’s when significant transformation takes place. We need to figure out how to make the hot energy technologies today—from the Cloud to microgrids to energy storage—an everyday occurrence to get widespread acceptance.
The conversation I had started with a discussion around energy in real estate. (Please note that I like to protect the innocent in random conversations I have, so I won’t post this person’s name here for now unless I get permission to post it.) We talked about how the real estate industry is embedding new energy technologies, like energy storage, into their projects. And the strategy is to make these new technologies boring for the underwriters. Underwriters love boring; most don’t want to be the ones testing out cutting-edge technologies.
Then we talked about the changes in real estate’s attitude toward energy technologies. Consider energy efficiency. It wasn’t always a part of real estate, but through the 70s and 80s the hype around energy efficiency grew. It took a little bit, but eventually energy efficiency technologies—like double-pane windows—became accepted and are now standard line items for underwriters. Energy efficiency was a new idea at one time, but eventually became the norm.
If energy efficiency can do it, then so can things like microgrids and energy storage. They can get to boring. But there is also an opportunity to use accepted areas like energy efficiency to give new technologies a head start toward acceptance. So an approach to getting today’s hot technologies like energy storage and microgrids in real estate projects is to start filing them under “energy efficiency” since they can contribute to the area. Essentially, file them under boring, and underwriters will include them.
I thought this story also translated well to utilities. Think back several years ago: smart meter was the buzzword. It was sexy, new and the latest thing. But people weren’t sure of the value of smart meters and whether they made sense. Utilities weren’t ready to replace their existing meters with this new-fangled technology.
Now think about today. As I noted in a recent article, I was at the Rural Smart Grid Summit in Palm Springs this past November, and it was the first time I asked an audience full of utilities “How many of you have smart meters deployed to all your customers?” and nearly everyone raised their hand. Smart meters are now old news, and companies are just using them—that’s just what you do. And now “boring” smart meters are unleashing new technologies—from big data analytics to energy storage to microgrids—the next generation of sexy but uncertain.
The question now is: How do we make this next generation of technologies boring, and get them embedded in the fabric of utilities and the broader energy marketplace? Making these technologies a reality on a large scale requires that comfort level, and getting everyone on the same page. Are there existing technologies we can connect with—like smart meters—to help gain acceptance? Are there different avenues we can take—like through the real estate industry—to normalize these technologies?
At Zpryme, and through our ETS events, we like to look ahead and see what’s next. We like to talk about everything that’s changing and exciting, and downright chaotic. In fact, our theme for the ETS16 event in late March is Transforming the Chaos. But after the conversation at the launch party, I realize that what we’re ultimately trying to do is get these technologies into the mundane, so we can move on to the next challenge, and the next change that will transform the industry yet again.
Help us track this transformation to boring by participating in Zpryme’s first Chaos Index survey. We want to hear from you about how all this industry change looks from your perspective. Take the survey here.
Christine Richards is the research director for Zpryme. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.