Tuesday 22 October 2013

Here is my latest guest blog which unveils a new concept – the Energy Efficiency Cool Wall which addresses the fundamental problem that energy efficiency is so dull! It can also be found on E2B.




Despite all the years of discussion about the barriers to wider scale implementation of energy efficiency measures, the one big elephant in the room that does not get talked about very often is simply this – energy efficiency is so boring! Writing as someone who has worked in and around the topic since 1980 (it can’t possibly be!) this is a hard thing to say, but it is true for several reasons.Firstly, energy efficiency is all about cost saving or saving money which, however much we as individuals want to save money on our energy bills or as businesses we want to cut costs, is always pretty dull. Just ask yourself which is more fun – saving some money in the bank, or going out to spend money on something you want.

For businesses, ‘offensive’ spending such as new product development or marketing is always going to be more exciting – and better for people’s careers – than ‘defensive’ spending such as investment in greater energy efficiency. No-one, or very few of us at least – me included – wake up and think “I want to buy some energy efficiency today”. We wake up and think things like “I really want to buy that new smartphone/tablet/car/house”, or something along those lines.


That’s the real problem with programmes like the UK Green Deal here and around the world. Energy efficiency is usually seen as one of those worthy things we should do for our own or the common good – but usually don’t – like eating the right food and exercising more.


Secondly, energy efficiency is all about technologies such as controls and insulation, all of which are pretty dull.


Thirdly, energy efficiency professionals tend to be technical types who are not good at marketing or developing winning customer propositions.  Often they have come into energy efficiency for good reasons based on doing something that is environmentally and socially beneficial – even the non-technical ex-investment banker types who have discovered the subject in recent years!


On top of all that energy efficiency is really abstract – energy itself is abstract enough but energy efficiency is SERIOUSLY abstract – savings are hard to measure.  All in all there is no way getting round it – energy efficiency is dull.


I had been thinking about how to highlight this point and outline what we need to do when I came up with the concept of the Energy Efficiency Cool Wall – which had its world premier at the Smart Buildings Conference in London on the 15th October and had a second outing the next day at Ecosummit London.


It was inspired by the Cool Wall that used to be on the hugely popular TV show Top Gear – (350 million views a week in 170 countries according to Wikipedia!). Jeremy Clarkson and usually Richard Hammond argued about whether a particular car was either Seriously uncool, Uncool, Cool or Sub Zero – and then placed them appropriately on the Cool Wall.


So here is my first take on the Energy Efficiency Cool Wall.  Everyone will of course have their own opinion as to what is cool – responses and suggestions are welcome.



Smart meters – Seriously uncool


There is no business model that justifies them (at least not in the UK). They really benefit the energy supplier and yet the consumer is being asked to pay for them. At best they provide a level of accuracy and reliability that we take for granted for buying anything else.Even when linked to in-home displays they are uncool – people may use the in-home displays for a while but then interest rapidly fails. The concept of MTKD, a parallel to the more familiar MTBF (Mean Time Between Failures) applies to in-home displays. MTKD is Mean Time to Kitchen Drawer, i.e. the time it takes until an in-home display ends up in that drawer that everyone has with old mobile phones, batteries and miscellaneous connectors that no longer fit any of your devices.


Saving money generally (despite the recession) – Seriously uncool


PVs on your roof – this one is perhaps more debatable


The technology has been around for decades and I don’t think it is cool in itself anymore. Usually there is no integration and the panels are very visible. Getting a cheque for electricity sales could be considered cool I suppose. What would be really cool would be a paint or a coating that you can buy in a hardware store that generates power coupled with a storage device the size of a normal gas boiler or smaller – science fiction?  Maybe and maybe not – science fiction has a habit of coming true.


The NEST thermostat – Cool


The only thermostat ever to sell out, the NEST is a cool product that appeals to design conscious professionals. It created a real buzz when it came out and helped grow the smart thermostat market.


Philips VUE lighting or similar systems – definitely Sub-Zero


These systems allow you to record the light quality and spectrum wherever you are on a smart phone app and then return to your home and have your lighting system, based on tunable LEDs, imitate that quality. Think about great holiday places, the light quality and spectrum is often part of the experience and now you can re-create (nearly?) that when you get home.


This is a seriously cool “I want it” type product that when you tell people about it, they just instinctively say “wow” or “that’s neat”. The fact that the system could significantly reduce lighting energy consumption and cost by facilitating a switch to LEDs is a side benefit – albeit one that we as energy efficiency professionals and indeed society as a whole – should applaud and encourage.  The energy saving, however, doesn’t sell it.


So what is the lesson of the Cool Wall?


Energy efficiency, however important it is for our future, is in itself fundamentally boring.  If it is to become the mass market we know it could be and should be we need entrepreneurs and business to develop new products and new business models that are seriously cool and deliver efficiency gains.


Just maybe the place to start when thinking about energy efficiency is not “how can we make something more efficient?” but rather “how cool is this product or service to the target market (consumer or business)?” For the energy supply industry, which is ripe for disruption, the related question is “what  is the mix of technologies (energy efficiency, distributed generation, storage), services and finance that can be combined into a new business model that makes energy cool  – and improves energy efficiency?”


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Dr Steven Fawkes

Welcome to my blog on energy efficiency and energy efficiency financing. The first question people ask is why my blog is called 'only eleven percent' - the answer is here. I look forward to engaging with you!

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