3 Takeaways From the 2015 Energy Thought Summit

  • Posted by Brian Fino

This week’s Energy Thought Summit in Austin brought us both great weather and some great discussions about the future of energy. One clear theme was how technological innovation is driving the energy sector. For most of us, energy is something we take for granted. We flip a switch and the light turns on. We start a road trip by fueling up at the gas station and think nothing of it.

However, new technology is creating a lot of change: It offers new ways to generate and distribute power, changes how people understand and manage their own energy use, and helps energy companies better interact with their customers.

Here are the three biggest ideas I took home from ETS15:

1. Energy suppliers want customers to use less energy

Traditionally, customers’ interaction with their energy suppliers extended little beyond paying their monthly bill and occasionally reporting a problem. But thanks to increasing competition in the sector, along with environmental and infrastructure concerns, that’s no longer enough. People want to use less energy, for both economic and environmental reasons, and they’ll gravitate toward suppliers that help them achieve that goal.

“At Direct Energy, success means our customers use less energy,” said Badar Khan, the company’s CEO, during his keynote presentation. The biggest way energy companies can help, he said, is through technology.

2. Data will play a critical role

A lot of the technology developments in energy are centered around data. The Internet of Things, a big trend affecting a lot of industries, is becoming a major part of the energy ecosystem. The data collected by appliances and sensors can give customers and companies unprecedented insight into usage and can help identify opportunities for change. However, making effective use of all that information is still a big challenge, especially as the amount of data available grows rapidly. “Every day we generate petabytes of data,” said Rebecca Taylor of Shell Technology Ventures. “Big data is going to be a big problem.”

3. New ideas will come from outside the energy industry

Solving that and other challenges will take a lot of technical expertise and innovation, and the most successful companies will be those that can come up with solutions quickly.

ETS15 underlined the need for energy companies to partner with firms outside the industry that can bring in new ideas and technology solutions. Energy companies must examine the cost of internal R&D versus working with partners, as well as the speed to market they can achieve internally, noted Jamey Seely of ION Geophysical Corporation. “Looking to outside technology firms can get you farther, faster,“ she said.

Another key to moving forward will be using technology to better connect all parts of the energy ecosystem, from producers to suppliers to consumers.

“We’re stuck in our silos and we can’t get out,” said CPS Energy’s Raiford Smith. “If we can overcome this problem of interoperability, we will be able to transform our industry.”

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