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Exclusive Interview: Patrick Caiger-Smith, CEO of geo

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Patrick is a Chartered Engineer with a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Imperial College and an MBA from Cranfield University. His career has been in manufacturing, where he has run several international operations. Active with Industry Groups, he currently sits on the Board of BEAMA, chairs the Consumer Committee for ESMIG and is a member of the Enterprise Council of the CBI and a Fellow of the RSA.

When the sustainability agenda was still a novelty, Patrick saw the need to generate consumer interest and understanding of household energy consumption. In 2006, he co-founded his current Cambridge-based business, geo, which helps the energy retail industry with technology and insight around consumer attitudes and behaviour change. This interest is now moving towards ‘hybrid homes’ and enabling demand response in the residential sector.

In 140 characters or less – what is geo?

The pioneering developer of smarter energy products and services for the home including smart meter in-home displays, solar monitoring and smart thermostats.

What was the driver for creating geo – what gap did it fill?

To make a positive impact on home energy consumption.  We wanted to provide consumers with energy data that they could use, long before the ideas of smart meters arrived.

Driven by concerns about the impact of climate change and the shortage of natural resources, we believe that technology has an important part to play in making energy visible to people enabling them to live greener, more comfortable and cost-effective lives in energy-efficient homes.

Who does it primarily serve? 

Consumers. However, we work with most of the major utility companies and heating installers helping them to engage closer with their customers.  We also sell products direct to consumers. Our Cosy smart thermostat is a good example of this.

What difference does geo want to make?

geo’s long-term objective is to reduce energy consumption in our customer’s connected homes by up to two thirds over the next ten years. We’ll achieve this by integrating data from smart meters, energy appliances and storage systems to provide smarter energy controls, simplicity and visibility.

Smart meters will help homeowners to visualise what has the greatest, or the least impact on energy usage. It’s why the Government is pushing its campaign to kit-out every home in the country with a smart meter by 2020.  Suddenly we’ll all be equipped with in-home displays, energy apps and web portals many of which will be supplied by geo. We will use this introduction as a catalyst to engage users in smarter energy devices and deliver increased benefits from the smart meter programme.

What are the barriers to making that difference?

Initially the biggest barrier was scepticism – most people couldn’t understand why we would start a company whose focus was to help utilities reduce energy consumption.  Now, consumer engagement is mainstream in the energy sector.

Our next biggest barrier is delivering network benefits to end-users.  Much of the benefit of smarter energy in our homes will be helping manage grid imbalances through demand management.  However, monetising this benefit in a way that compensates users for the expenditure they are making is proving very difficult.  The network has been set up as a centralised system where energy flows in one direction and money in the opposite direction.  The future is a consumer centric distributed energy system but it will take a long time to change the motivations and regulations to make this a reality.

Who’s helping you overcome those barriers?

Firstly, the team at geo.  Together over the past ten years we’ve developed and delivered almost three million systems, which has allowed us to build a picture of how energy is used by consumers.   We have a number of committed and far-thinking specialists who help us turn our vision into a reality.

Secondly, consumers:  most disruptive change is driven by consumers.  If we are able to present consumers with a compelling proposition that they want then we believe that will drive the inevitable market changes needed.  That vision is for the Hybrid Home.  Like a hybrid car which halves fuel consumption and provides a better driving experience we see the hybrid home doubling energy efficiency and giving a more enjoyable living experience.

What needs to happen politically to accelerate your growth?

Sensible incentives, not subsidies, that encourage consumers to buy energy efficient systems.  For example a combination of a new Merton Rule and changes to Stamp Duty could provide the incentives for developers to build hybrid homes and people to buy them.

How can people – individuals and organisations – find out more about geo?

Visit our website www.geotogether.com to find out about our company and products. You can also contact us on

Twitter: @geomonitors

FB: facebook.com/geo.GreenEnergyOptions

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/company/green-energy-options

Feel free to add a question you’d like us to have asked!

Why is geo different?

Most businesses in our sector concentrate on one element of the consumer value chain – products, platforms or services.  Because we believe in providing an integrated consumer experience we have developed all three elements.  We are therefore able to ensure the quality, reliability and usability of our solutions.

This is a different perspective to answering the challenge of interoperability.  It is very pragmatic – delivering a working solution now to help build a market starting from the consumer rather than the technical perspective.

Similarly we have focused on the energy element of the smart home.  We have built leading propositions in energy feedback, heating and solar and are unique in having this breadth.  It is a breadth that enables us to converge these solutions into an integrated energy management system that will be the heart of the Hybrid Home.

 

Energy

Is Wood Burning Sustainable For Your Home?

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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?

Homegrown 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.

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Energy

7 Benefits You Should Consider Giving Your Energy Employees

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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:

Financial Advising

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.

Life Insurance

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.

Health Insurance

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.

Final Thoughts

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!

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