Introducing the Virtual Energy Movement

By Tomas van Stee - September 17, 2020

Energy may move the world, but energy itself is in dire need of a movement - one which aims to unshackle energy from the analog ways we interact with it. EnPowered simplifies energy management.

It is time to bring energy into the digital, virtual age. This Virtual Energy Movement (VEM) stands to catalyze the exciting work that thousands of companies are currently undertaking. One company alone cannot push innovation. For any paradigm shift to be successful, stakeholders need to have a concerted campaign to change.

The number of inspiring company visions and cool technologies in this industry is legion, but many struggle to scale rapidly. We need a movement that supports and encourages innovative actors by laying out a clear vision of the future of energy markets. Specifically, as a first step, the VEM looks to increase the return on investment (ROI) for businesses and enable end customers to save on their energy bills. The added benefit of course, is providing the fight against climate change with a shot in the arm: slashing expenses and emissions go hand in hand.

Overcoming attitudes and a fragmented tech landscape

As things stand, there are currently two main hurdles (one of outlook and one of optimization) that VEM will overcome. With regards to outlook, many players have internalized the following idea: reducing energy use and its attendant costs is an all-or-nothing choice. In other words, there is a perception that when faced with these kinds of problems, one can either do nothing or jump straight to the nuclear option - the proverbial big red button that means shutting down everything. Faced with powering through with the current status quo, absorbing costs in the process, or pulling the plug on their entire operation, it is unsurprising that many businesses choose the former.

This is a real shame because this all-or-nothing dichotomy is a false one, one that’s piling heavy costs on companies, end-users, and the planet. In reality, actors are spoiled for choice when it comes to ways to tailor their energy use. Whether it is with intelligent HVAC management, utilizing electric vehicle fleets, or changing employee work patterns (to name just a few), there is a large menu of options to choose from. The beauty of this is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution: each user can create personalized strategies that best suit their needs. Utilities are also looking into better utilizing these existing assets to increase their own ROI and provide better, more flexible service to customers.

"[...] the hardware and physical infrastructure has long been present, the ability to meaningfully coordinate and collate all these disparate data points has not."

A reason this all-or-nothing attitude has prevailed, despite recent technological advances, is that a lack of coordination and integration has stymied any enterprising entity trying to adopt the tenets of virtual energy proactively. What I mean, is that as things stand today, the hardware is ready to go, but there is still a technological hurdle, a missing piece to connect everything. We have been talking about the Internet of Things (IoT) for the past twenty years, and while the hardware and physical infrastructure has long been present, the ability to meaningfully coordinate and collate all these disparate data points has not.

Compared to many other sectors, electricity markets are still prehistoric, operating in much the same way they have for over a century. This ossified state shows in the lack of behind-the-meter innovation. As things stand, there is a crucial link in the chain that is missing; namely, the ability to automatically shepherd and choreograph behind-the-meter assets. In the vast majority of cases, you still have to physically walk somewhere and manually adjust these assets. It is as if we had developed the Internet, but to login we still had to use those old ENIAC systems from the 1950s - you know, those analog computers that took up a whole floor and had a built-in door so you could crawl inside and manually adjust settings. We are still at this same embryonic stage when it comes to energy hardware management.

Sticking with the computing analogy, many companies are now building exciting IoT devices and Building Automation Systems, just like many firms started producing personal computers in the 1970s and 80s. The issue, then as now, is that these systems; do not talk to each other, are still hard to use, and lack good use cases. We have smart devices but nothing smart for them to do. In this analogy, EnPowered is the first killer app, the program that can be used on all these systems. Just as PCs launched an economic revolution once standardized, user-friendly operating systems and programs were introduced (which meant that you did not need a programming degree to use one), the revolutionary, democratizing power of the VEM - as championed by EnPowered - is also immense.

Why EnPowered is hardware agnostic, and why it matters

To fuel change, adoption needs to increase by people investing in energy technologies. The first step in doing so is making such investments more viable. We want to increase the ROI for businesses to help them sell more and enable those same customers to also benefit from higher ROI. We’ve already touched upon how the range of available technologies enables actors to construct their own, personalized strategies. This is why EnPowered and the VEM is hardware agnostic - no one knows which technology (or suite of technologies) is ultimately going to prosper.

"EnPowered wants to galvanize the VEM in order to revitalize the promise that was made 20 years ago; namely, putting power back in the hands of users to save money, have a direct impact on the energy grid, and contribute to that innovation."

Being hardware agnostic levels the playing field and gives users the tools they need. Tools to help customers determine the most lucrative markets. This means that both energy tech companies and end-users benefit from an application programming interface (API) that shows them when and how to save money. One problem facing users is that many vendors have taken a walled garden approach - they force customers only to use services from their own product ecosystem.

I firmly believe that customers should be able to choose those services from different vendors that work best for them: there is no one single vendor that can adequately provide the dozens of services that businesses need.

A range of vendor choices is important, but if you have already found a partnership that works for you, you can maintain existing relationships while still using an agnostic API, which itself can be leveraged by all assets. Whichever vendor an end user has chosen, we can still work with them behind the scenes. This flexibility on EnPowered’s part provides end users with accountability in reporting as well as the ability to directly and quickly verify their savings.

Merging savings with corporate responsibility

EnPowered’s primary goal is to maximize savings for users, but this is only part of a larger aim or vision for the company. The long term vision for EnPowered is to accelerate the transition to a real-time energy grid to better control costs and tackle climate change. Developing technologies to combat climate change is only half the battle - mass mobilization of energy users to take charge of their usage needs to happen.

The best tech in the world cannot reach its full potential if it is too cumbersome or confusing for most of us to use. Here at EnPowered, we do not want to keep waiting for change, which is why we are trying to grow the Virtual Energy Movement to achieve innovation in the energy grid. To accomplish this goal, we want to ensure that everything you need to know to take part in the market is readily accessible.

We are not trying to force customers to follow this path, since many customers are operating in fields that do not have much room for maneuver regarding emission reduction. On the other hand, some industries and companies are actively seeking to slash emissions and have made doing so a core element of their businesses goals. EnPowered’s job is to first and foremost save you money (and provide you with the tools to decide what is best for you), but whatever your business profile, by making your energy management more flexible and diverse, you help make the grid more responsive and efficient. So whether you are trying to reduce emissions or not, your savings will still help to lower emissions regardless.

Ultimately, what makes the VEM so powerful is that it is not only a business-centric concept, but rather encourages holistic changes to how we organize the entire grid system. The Virtual Energy Movement benefits from - and accelerates - the deregulation of energy markets. As these legal monopolies are disrupted, energy market innovation is fostered, and a cleaner, more reliable energy infrastructure is generated as a result.

At the moment, despite all the talk of a ‘new energy future’, customers have continued to see their bills increase, and there has been less behind-the-meter innovation. EnPowered wants to galvanize the VEM in order to revitalize the promise that was made 20 years ago; namely, putting power back in the hands of users to save money, have a direct impact on the energy grid, and contribute to that innovation.

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