Although the oil price slump has kept things interesting while renewable energy costs continue to fall, a combination of market fragmentation and agressive new upstarts in the business of power – some backed by deep-pocketed institutions or investors – are starting to reveal what a new type of energy industry might look like.
The rise of purpose-driven consumption The energy industry is already rife with opportunities to realize significant sustainability gains by cracking down on wasted power, thanks to inventions such as smart meters and other automated monitoring systems – features that are good for reducing the footprint of the power industry, but which also cut into the bottom line of electricity companies.
Crane posits a future where millennial consumers in particular gravitate toward “Purpose-driven energy consumption.” Just as incumbents in sectors such as fast food and apparel are attempting supply chain improvements or revamping marketing campaigns in response to consumer demands for transparency and ethical production of goods, Crane sees climate change as a force that could mobilize new buying patterns in energy.
“The fundamental issue we have is an issue of caring.” Kate Lydon, public sector portfolio director at design firm IDEO, said at the Atlantic event that energy conservation and climate advocates are increasingly focused on behavioral research and overhauling yesterday’s turn-off-the-lights campaigns to capitalize on the sentiment that “Where things come from matters to people.” The key challenge for her: “How can we create meaningful connections between people and energy? For most people, it’s abstract. You don’t see it. It’s cheap.” One example of how to combat that sense of apathy is making evolving smart building technology more transparent.
LightSail Energy, a startup backed by $42 million from investors including Bill Gates and Silicon Valley venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, is working on commercializing a compressed air energy storage technology.
Danielle Fong, a 27-year-old thermodynamicist* who dropped out of both middle school and a Ph.D program before co-founding LightSail, said that climate change raises the stakes for finding grid-scale energy storage solutions to help grow renewable energy.
Defining grid 2.0 Sure, pockets of promising startup activity and one incumbent energy executive talking frankly about climate change are interesting, but how might all of these disparate efforts come together to change the power industry as a whole? Grid integration of new electricity sources and a need for better energy management long have been considered imperatives for increasing adoption of renewable energy and increasing power efficiency.