Elena Bou is innovation director at KIC InnoEnergy, the European company dedicated to promoting innovation, entrepreneurship and education in the sustainable energy field by bringing together academics, businesses and research institutes. She writes:
Like so many industries, change in the energy market is rapid and hard to predict. So much so that in just five years the sector has morphed into a completely unrecognisable entity.
In the same way that Uber and Airbnb have turned their industries upside down – redefining what consumers expect from taxis or accommodation – new players are challenging the status quo in the energy market. Take Tesla – having shaken up the automotive industry it is now forging new ground within energy.
There is no escaping this change. Technology is revolutionising markets of all kinds all over the world – and the energy industry is no different. As consumers engage more with those they do business with, they come to expect more. They want better service and even for firms to serve a purpose beyond profits. To deliver on the bottom line, energy companies must first adapt to deliver new kinds of value.
Of course it’s all very well knowing that you need to innovate, but it’s easier said than done. Think of it this way: have you ever seen an elephant dance? It’s hard to move a body that big in an agile fashion, making swift turns and pivoting into a new direction. The same applies for large corporations. Legacy systems and established processes that have proved effective over years – even decades – of operation make it difficult to be fleet of foot, reacting quickly to changes in the landscape.
This makes the transition a little scary for traditional energy companies. But they have to make the leap. Today’s business models will die in tomorrow’s world. Survival will come from collaboration – from start-ups and high growth companies working with sector veterans to seek answers to questions around energy consumption, storage and behaviour that will only become more complex and challenging.
Partnering for prosperity
It can sometimes feel like entrepreneurs and the energy industry inhabit very different worlds. Entrepreneurs are posing the right questions and seeking answers to solve society’s challenges. The energy industry recognises the imperative to innovate, but at the same time is under pressure to increase profits and avoid risk.
Yet whilst they might be at opposite ends of the scale, entrepreneurs and energy companies are entirely complementary. After all, business creation is all about ‘super teams’ that combine the right competencies, skills and contacts to turn a really good idea into a commercial reality.
Entrepreneurs bring the creativity and are agile, flexible and talented, but they need help with technology development, funding and to find their first customer. Because as we all know, proof of concept happens in the market – not in the lab.
For their part, energy companies own the customer base, expertise and resources to introduce innovations into the market place. It’s the perfect match. What’s more, this collaboration between companies large and small is the key to creating a sustainable energy future and finding solutions to the complex energy challenges we face – such as the intermittence of renewables, limitations of storage solutions, securing the supply of energy, and decreasing GHG emissions. No one individual or company can tackle the complex challenges Europe faces alone. We cannot be dogmatic in our approach, we need to take a much more holistic view and consider everything together – people, cost and environmental challenges. Success underpinned by the development of sustainable energy solutions will come from everyone working together.
Finding these partnerships isn’t always easy: entrepreneurs don’t know where to connect with the right industry partners and energy companies don’t know how to identify the start-ups that have the answer to their problems and with the most potential for commercial returns. That’s where KIC InnoEnergy comes in. As the hub for Europe’s brightest start-ups, we’re helping small and large companies join forces as they seek to tackle the same common goal: a better tomorrow.
Fostering these partnerships is a key part of our mission, and is exactly why we created The Business Booster: the event where innovative entrepreneurs meet industry institutions. For two days in October we brought big-name energy corporations, start-ups and venture capitalists together to explore future collaboration and create a sustainable future. Our 104 exhibitors and 215 delegates represented both start-ups and key industry players including ABB, Alliander, EDF, RWE, Stedin and Total – from 18 countries.
During the numerous panel events we hosted, attendees were in agreement: innovation is difficult and collaboration between big business and inventive entrepreneurs is key to a successful energy transition. And the success of this transition is critical – our way of living is based on energy. Our society’s wellbeing depends on energy. We want it to be affordable and green.
The challenge is far too big for any of us to tackle alone. Even the biggest elephants are dwarfed by its sheer scale. Only by working together can the industry adapt and learn how to dance across whatever the landscape looks like five years from now.
Is Wood Burning Sustainable For Your Home?
Wood is a classic heat source, whether we think about people gathered around a campfire or wood stoves in old cabins, but is it a sustainable source of heat in modern society? The answer is an ambivalent one. In certain settings, wood heat is an ideal solution, but for the majority of homes, it isn’t especially suitable. So what’s the tipping point?
Wood heat is ideal for small homes on large properties, for individuals who can gather their own wood, and who have modern wood burning ovens. A green approach to wood heat is one of biofuel on the smallest of scales.
Is Biofuel Green?
One of the reasons that wood heat is a source of so much divide in the eco-friendly community is that it’s a renewable resource and renewable has become synonymous with green. What wood heat isn’t, though, is clean or healthy. It lets off a significant amount of carbon and particulates, and trees certainly don’t grow as quickly as it’s consumed for heat.
Of course, wood is a much less harmful source of heat than coal, but for scientists interested in developing green energy sources, it makes more sense to focus on solar and wind power. Why, then, would they invest in improved wood burning technology?
Solar and wind technology are good large-scale energy solutions, but when it comes to small-space heating, wood has its own advantages. First, wood heat is in keeping with the DIY spirit of homesteaders and tiny house enthusiasts. These individuals are more likely to be driven to gather their own wood and live in small spaces that can be effectively heated as such.
Wood heat is also very effective on an individual scale because it requires very little infrastructure. Modern wood stoves made of steel rather than cast iron are built to EPA specifications, and the only additional necessary tools include a quality axe, somewhere to store the wood, and an appropriate covering to keep it dry. And all the wood can come from your own land.
Wood heat is also ideal for people living off the grid or in cold areas prone to frequent power outages, as it’s constantly reliable. Even if the power goes out, you know that you’ll be able to turn up the heat. That’s important if you live somewhere like Maine where the winters can get exceedingly cold. People have even successfully heated a 40’x34’ home with a single stove.
Benefits Of Biomass
The ultimate question regarding wood heat is whether any energy source that’s dangerous on the large scale is acceptable on a smaller one. For now, the best answer is that with a growing population and limited progress towards “pure” green energy, wood should remain a viable option, specifically because it’s used on a limited scale. Biomass heat is even included in the UK’s Renewable Heat Initiative and minor modifications can make it even more sustainable.
Wood stoves, when embraced in conjunction with pellet stoves, geothermal heating, and masonry heaters, all more efficient forms of sustainable heat, should be part of a modern energy strategy. Ultimately, we’re headed in the direction of diversified energy – all of it cleaner – and wood has a place in the big picture, serving small homes and off-the-grid structures, while solar, wind, and other large-scale initiatives fuel our cities.
7 Benefits You Should Consider Giving Your Energy Employees
As an energy startup, you’re always looking to offer the most competitive packages to entice top-tier talent. This can be tough, especially when trying to put something together that’s both affordable but also has perks that employees are after.
After all, this is an incredibly competitive field and one that’s constantly doing what it can to stay ahead. However, that’s why I’m bringing you a few helpful benefits that could be what bolsters you ahead of your competition. Check them out below:
One benefit commonly overlooked by companies is offering your employees financial advising services, which could help them tremendously in planning for their long-term goals with your firm. This includes anything from budgeting and savings plans to recommendations for credit repair services and investments. Try to take a look at if your energy company could bring on an extra person or two specifically for this role, as it will pay off tremendously regarding retention and employee happiness.
While often included in a lot of health benefits packages, offering your employees life insurance could be an excellent addition to your current perks. Although seldom used, life insurance is a small sign that shows you care about the life of their family beyond just office hours. Additionally, at such a low cost, this is a pretty simple aspect to add to your packages. Try contacting some brokers or insurance agents to see if you can find a policy that’s right for your firm.
Dedicated Time To Enjoy Their Hobbies
Although something seen more often in startups in Silicon Valley, having dedicated office time for employees to enjoy their passions is something that has shown great results. Whether it be learning the piano or taking on building a video game, having your team spend some time on the things they truly enjoy can translate to increased productivity. Why? Because giving them the ability to better themselves, they’ll in turn bring that to their work as well.
The Ability To Work Remotely
It’s no secret that a lot of employers despise the idea of letting their employees work remotely. However, it’s actually proven to hold some amazing benefits. According to Global Workplace Analytics, 95% of employers that allow their employees to telework reported an increased rate of retention, saving on both turnover and sick days. Depending on the needs of each individual role, this can be a strategy to implement either whenever your team wants or on assigned days. Either way, this is one perk almost everyone will love.
Even though it’s mandated for companies with over 50 employees, offering health insurance regardless is arguably a benefit well received across the board. In fact, as noted in research compiled by KFF, 28.6% of employers with less than 50 people still offered health care. Why is that the case? Because it shows you care about their well-being, and know that a healthy employee is one that doesn’t have to worry about astronomical medical bills.
Unlimited Time Off
This is a perk that almost no employer offers but should be regarded as something to consider. According to The Washington Post, only 1-2% of companies offer unlimited vacation, which it’s easy to see why. A true “unlimited vacation” program could be a firm’s worse nightmare, with employees skipping out every other week to enjoy themselves. However, with the right model in place that rewards hard work with days off, your employees will absolutely adore this policy.
A Full Pantry
Finally, having a pantry full of food can be one perk that’s not only relatively inexpensive but also adds to the value of the workplace. As noted by USA Today, when surveying employees who had snacks versus those who didn’t, 67% of those who did reported they were “very happy” with their work life. You’d be surprised at how much of a difference this could make, especially when considering the price point. Consider adding a kitchen to your office if you haven’t already, and always keep the snacks and drinks everyone wants fully stocked. Doing so will increase morale tremendously.
Compiling a great package for your energy company is going to take some time in looking at what you can afford versus what’s the most you can offer. While it might mean cutting back in other areas, having a workforce that feels like you genuinely want to take care of them can take you far. And with so many different benefits to include in your energy company’s package, which one is your favorite? Comment with your answers below!