Energy efficiency – not without the consumer


The digitisation wave has long since swept over the energy efficiency industry. But how are people affected by this? Energy efficiency has long since meant far more than the mere replacement of old boilers or light bulbs. Digitisation is in full swing among providers of products and services for saving energy.

The latest industry monitor, Energy Efficiency 2016, which was prepared by Deutsche Unternehmensinitiative Energieeffizienz e.V. (DENEFF) in cooperation with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), shows that companies are mainly innovating in the field of load or demand-dependent controls. This includes, for example, charging a heat pump when electricity is cheap or controlling ventilation demand in line with the weather. This trend is followed by the development of ICT (information and communication technologies), software innovations and mobile integration solutions.

Importance of technical trends for the energy efficiency market

What are the major technical trends which help your company to further expand the energy efficiency sector?

Start-ups and IT companies use the co-evolution of digitisation and new customer requirements to turn established markets upside down.

Approaches for comprehensive building refurbishment 2.0 show how far this can go. With 3D surveying and the modular production of mass-customised components, entire buildings are refurbished to achieve net zero energy at very low cost within a few days (Energiesprong). New synergies between previously separate worlds are equally exciting. Why not use the waste heat from cloud servers installed in private cellars for heating purposes (Heat & Cloud)? By the way, with digitally intuitive simplification, this also works with the previously complicated hydronic balancing of heating systems (Grundfos Alpha 3). In principle, digitisation also makes complex data flows possible – from consumption metering, building automation, operational energy management, energy purchase and load management through to feed-in management. Many things are  perfectly conceivable – but you need customers to actually want them.

Start-ups focus on the customer

The way in which innovation takes place is therefore changing. It is increasingly moving away from technical incremental improvements towards customer-focused design thinking. However, according to a study of the consulting company, Delta-ee, this change is being shaped less by established players and more by start-ups and companies from other industries entering the market. Least of all by energy utilities. The companies surveyed for the industry monitor estimate that one third of their competitors only recently entered the market. Successful start-ups and IT companies know above all how to exploit the co-evolution of digitisation and new customer requirements and so turn established markets upside down. There is no reason why this should not include energy efficiency. The company survey for the industry monitor also named “new customer requirements” as one of the key market drivers. The previous No. 1 factor, the development of energy prices, has therefore slipped to place 5, with political framework conditions taking its place.

Factors which provide the main stimuli for the sales market

In your opinion, what factors currently provide the main stimuli for your sales market?

Networked thinking is always good

And what about energy policy? While the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change has long since set up a “Customer Insight” team to research consumers’ thoughts and feelings so policies can be delivered more effectively, this idea is only slowly catching on among German energy policy-makers. With a pilot programme, “Einsparzähler” (‘savings meters’), the Federal Economics Ministry wants to promote more effective ways of motivating consumers to save energy – also with the aid of digitisation. The individual refurbishment roadmap is to be designed to suit not only the individual building but also its residents. The Federal Environment Agency is having  nudging methods developed which give consumers a gentle push towards saving energy.

Who actually uses a hairdryer at 10 instead of 8 o’clock in the morning  just because the sun is shining brighter?

However, the situation is a lot less clear-cut in areas where energy policy mainly focuses on digitisation. For example, thanks to smart meters, energy consumers are expected to become “prosumers”, interested in tailoring their own demand for and use of electricity to the fluctuations in grid power supply. The idea is to get consumers to mainly use their appliances and operate plant when the power supply in the grid exceeds demand. But how do you get consumers to actually want what you want them to want? Or to put it another way: who actually uses a hairdryer at 10 instead of 8 o’clock in the morning just because the wind is blowing stronger across the North Sea or the sun is shining brighter? After all, Industry 4.0 is, on the other hand, all about “on demand” and “just in time” production and consumption. So the critical question which has to be answered for the future is: how can we make Energy 2.0 and Industry 4.0 compatible? One thing is clear: you can’t do it without the consumer!

Bildcredits: grasundsterne, ista