By Stephen Prince
Nobody feels comfortable about being wheeled into an operating room by a doctor who has not established a diagnosis. Most people are diagnosed, then schedule a surgery with a reputable surgeon so they have peace of mind that the surgery and the surgeon will be able to target the problem area. This analogy can be applied to the energy services business.
Energy customers are typically presented with energy options without having a clear view of what needs to be fixed. Utility interval data is typically used to evaluate energy use and understand energy needs, but that only works for simple buildings, not the advanced buildings we see today. Advanced distributed energy monitoring and analysis tools provide the kind of insights required to build truly effective energy systems, while renewable energy products support long-term energy sustainability. When energy companies skip the diagnosis, C&I (commercial & industrial) customers lose; and that is not good for business.
Most companies providing energy services to C&I customers tend to focus on energy usage and technology first, and the business case second. All manners of clean and sustainable technologies will fail to reach mass market status if the industry as a whole fails to recognize that their customers’ bottom line is the most critical factor in implementing renewable energy and storage projects. Companies in the C&I segment rarely consider energy upgrades for purely altruistic reasons. Instead, business decisions are driven by the desire to lower risk or cost, increase revenue, or a combination thereof. When energy projects deliver on any of these three dimensions, competitors take notice and follow suit. This ripple effect drives volume and growth in the energy market.
However, when energy services providers remain closed to technologies and data insights that seem to run counter to their own philosophies, end-customers ultimately suffer by being sold suboptimal solutions. Cleaner energy is a business problem, and we must use business solutions to solve them.
Energy companies approach energy problems with what they know. A genset provider tends to lead with a generator, and a solar company tends to lead with solar, and so on. To achieve meaningful decarbonization, however, the industry must bring a mindset of diversity to project design. By getting past confirmation bias and keeping the focus on finding the best solution to fit the customers’ needs, while using data insights to drive this, project developers can build the best solution for each specific customer. Keeping sight of the business aspects of the energy business will drive the industry forward, not ignoring it.
Successful energy projects (and by extension, successful service providers) must holistically consider the energy challenge of the business, the customers’ goals, business requirements, and technical constraints. Smart project developers look at all of these elements before making recommendations about how to optimize and augment energy strategies for their customers.
Prince is Head of Centrica Business Solutions North America, where he is responsible for commercial operations and driving growth across three strategy areas — energy insight; energy optimization; and energy solutions, including combined heat and power (CHP), solar, battery storage, and standby generators. In addition, Prince works closely with Centrica’s Direct Energy Business team to put customers in control of their energy, from energy supply to distributed energy solutions. Prior to joining Centrica, he served in a variety of leadership roles, most recently as President and CEO of Younicos, a global battery storage and microgrid solutions firm sold to Aggreko in July 2017.