Last week, the biggest names in energy came together for the Fortune Brainstorm E summit — a two-day mind meld focused on driving transformative change across the power grid.
Our cofounder Alex Laskey was proud to speak at the event with PG&E's Tony Earley, who joined Alex on a panel about energy innovation in California.
Here were a few highlights.
“We work to help utilities make sense of the massive amounts of data they have to bring a better customer experience to their end consumers.
One of the things we do is not unlike the fraud detection you get from credit card companies calling you to say somebody just bought a meal in San Diego, was it really you.
We deliver to customers, through email, text or automated phone call, a message that says, 'It’s only eight days into the month, but you’re on track for a bill that is 40% higher than your typical bill.' We’re doing that because we are getting meter reads every 15 minutes and we are running analytics to predict what the bill is likely to be.
Rather than having to wait for a bill that comes at the end of the month that’s impossible to make heads or tails out of, giving customers a notification — that lets them know that they are on track for a high bill, what they can do to reduce their consumption and reduce their bill — that makes the customer more satisfied. It reduces the likelihood that they are going to make an expensive phone call to the call center at the end of the month. It gives greater chance for some better outcome for everybody.”
"Utilities are rewarded in this country, and across the world generally, for investing capital. That’s how they make money. By putting steel on the ground. And in a world in which what we want from utilities is reliable electricity whenever we need it, that’s a reasonable reward.
I’ll give you a consequence of that reward for capital. We have a grid in this country that is on average used roughly at 50% of its capacity.
Think about the big companies that are emerging in this decade, [like] Airbnb. We are sitting in a beautiful hotel. Hyatt, Hilton and Marriott combined don’t book every night as many rooms as Airbnb does. But Airbnb doesn’t own a single property. They are just making better use of existing assets, existing building infrastructures.
Opower is doing the same with utilities on the power grid side. Utilities should be incented for using the power grid efficiently and not just for putting in more capital."
Alex noted that that kind of reform is already underway — especially in places like New York, where the state's REV initiative will incentivize software solutions over new hardware, and California, where rates reform will help utilities and customers optimize energy demand.
The big challenge will be communicating those changes to customers, Alex said. "We need to make energy efficiency and power grid plans simple enough for consumers to understand them."
On stage, PG&E's CEO highlighted progress we've already made.
Asked whether California was on track to hit its ambitious clean energy targets, PG&E's Tony Earley responded with confidence.
“The short answer is, it’s a no-brainer. We will get there. Right now, we’re required to be at 33% by 2020. We’ll do that in 2016, maybe it’ll take into 2017. We’ve already got line of sight to projects that will get us to the 50%. I’m very confident by 2030 we’ll be at that 50%.
“California has a very narrow definition of renewable. It doesn’t include nuclear, it doesn’t include energy efficiency, it doesn’t include large hydro above 30 megawatts, although it’s just as renewable as small hydro. So by the time we hit 50%, we’ll actually be producing probably 70% from non-greenhouse-gas-emitting sources.”