From Scott Carlberg

“FinTech” is the shorthand for new financial technology. Connectivity, data analysis and entrepreneurism enable advances in financial systems: Deposit checks with a phone camera click, instant mortgages, account transfers to name a few.

With the advancements in energy, is PowerTech next? Makes sense.

New energy technology enables ongoing home energy analysis, control of heat/AC/lights from next door or across the country, and squeezing every atom of juice for appliances. Manufacturers even moved the energy needle down by applying good energy technology.

Brooks Raiford

ECC asked Brooks Raiford, president of the North Carolina Technology Association, or NC TECH, his thoughts about energy and emerging technology. NC TECH has entrepreneurs and inventors in its ranks in fields like energy, finance and healthcare.

Question:

You see high tech in many forms. Any common themes with the most successful new ventures?

Answer:

Two traits seem common. First is segmentation. Start-ups that move purposefully to support a specific industry. They have well-defined solutions for specific needs.

Second is an intense focus on customers, how the technology interacts with customers. How they make life easier, open up new information, speed up a process.

Think of the way information analysis has affected the banking and finance industry. The interface with customers has changed. Online services eliminate the needs for physical banks for many people. The time once used to apply and receive loans or credit cards has been automated. New fintech services make financial interactions quicker and more customized for each user.

Question:

What does that mean to the power industry?

Answer:

Some information technologies from fintech can be adapted for the energy industry. It is largely data analysis. Utilities are unique compared to some other areas of technology, though, since often, but not always, they have a regulated territory where they supply electricity or gas.

Still, technology can be employed to make the customer experience better, let customers manage their own data and change behavior. This can help them mitigate the cost of energy to their home or business.

Question:

So you see how new technology can leverage its appeal to individual users?

Answer:

Yes, and to match their values, too. For instance, the newest generation of consumers, Millennials, knowing more about the environmental footprint of an energy sources and using less energy may be most important. For someone else it may be all about the final tally of the utility bill.

Question:

That is a big change in the state of mind for big utilities, which have had to build big plants and rely on a big grid.

Answer:

It is. New technology often does not necessarily require a vast capital investment, like a new power plant for the electric industry. New technology needs an innovation spark that can address a customer need. Creativity and knowledge go a long way.

Adoption rate is important with customers, though. Here’s an example that may apply in some parts of the energy industry. Energy management likely requires a customer to have broadband to transmit and receive data. North Carolina has a high availability of broadband, but a low connectivity among people. Low adoption rate, which can impact how much an energy management technology can be implemented. It is a social problem rather than infrastructure issue.

Question:

Final thoughts as you reflect on the energy industry and innovation?

Answer:

For those seeking to delve into innovation and entrepreneurship, key steps would include finding role models and mentors who have been down the path successfully; identifying problem(s) that individuals or companies have that are in need of solutions; and identifying what training/learning one needs to be best equipped to convert innovative thinking into a sustainable business model.  The energy field is ripe for creativity and innovation!

Info: NC TECH is North Carolina’s technology sector membership association.  NC TECH’s 650+ member organizations collectively employ more than 200,000 North Carolinians. NC TECH energy members are here. Brooks’ bio here.

Want to see these ideas in action? Brooks Raiford suggests a look at these two NC Tech members and the way they are involved in energy.

Trilliant® empowers the energy industry with the only purpose-built communications platform that enables utilities and cities to securely and reliably deploy any application – on one network. Trilliant is a connectivity company – infrastructure solutions that enable actionable intelligence with an open and secure communications platform and approach.

Says Trilliant’s website: “We believe that the next generation smart grid built on a network that allows for the frictionless exchange of data will propel the industry to a bright future. Our advanced technologies are designed to work with virtually any system to provide a secure, powerful source of data now and for generations to come. We are a device agnostic, integrated, multi-technology communication platform that provides flexibility to balance technological capabilities with economic needs.” (Fact sheet here.)

Brady Services: In business for more than 55 years, Brady is headquartered in Greensboro, North Carolina, with locations in Raleigh, Durham, Fayetteville, and Wilmington. Brady remians a family owned enterprise, now employing more than 450 associates.

From Brady Services’ website: “We work with building owners, facility managers, developers, architects, engineers and contractors providing sustainable, comprehensive building solutions for commercial and industrial facilities. We provide customers with a diverse range of HVAC and building solutions including building automation, energy conservation, green design, performance contracts, access controls, security, mechanical systems, parts and supplies, as well as world-class technical support.”

Also …

In North Carolina there is a nonprofit that helps new energy-oriented ventures be successful. Called the Joules Accelerator, based in Charlotte, it works with some of the largest energy companies in North America to catalyze business development opportunities for exceptional cleantech entrepreneurs. (BTW, joule is a small, standard unit of measurement for work or energy used in electricity, mechanics, thermal energy and general scientific applications. The unit is named in recognition of British physicist James P. Joule.)

Founded in 2013, Joules Accelerator sets itself apart from other incubators/accelerators by focusing 100% on developing relationships and commercialization opportunities between startups and North Carolina’s cleantech ecosystem. Working together with utilities, industry, and R&D institutions, the Joules Accelerator Catalyst Program identifies, advises, and connects startups with Charlotte and the Research Triangle Park. To date, Joules has graduated more than 40 startups and generated more than $15 million in local investment. Here is more information.