Visiting the world’s largest industrial fair, Hannover Messe, in Germany last week – two things became abundantly clear.
With a site spanning 27 exhibition halls across 496,000m², a smart approach to energy conservation whilst visiting Hannover Messe is key. After ranging across the entire site, covering industrial automation, digital factories, and the research & technology halls on my first day, I elected to focus my attentions on the energy halls for the rest of the week.
The second key point is that the energy sector is converging around greater personalisation of services. No, your browser hasn’t slipped onto a consumer technology blog. The need for business remains to keep operations running and the lights on, at the lowest cost and emissions. But, like the consumer technology space, the move in energy right now is towards integrating various energy solutions around the needs of the user.
At Hannover Messe, there was a clear divide between those companies offering energy assets, from biofuels, geothermal, solar, to wind technologies – and those providing the internet-based connections to connect the assets. Meanwhile, the costs of supplying distributed renewable energy generation are falling dramatically (to as low as $30 per MWh for solar in some cases). Excitingly, the power of the internet is increasingly being applied to make distributed energy generation more efficient. One of the ways it does this is to make demand to meet supply, rather than just vice versa, by shifting unused capacity to where it’s needed most, preventing the need to turn power stations on as often.
This move towards distributed, flexible energy is akin to the transition from mainframes to the switch to PCs, then to smart phones for computing power.
From a communications point of view, this new world presents major challenges for brands in the energy space. The energy sector is one of the last to digitise, so whilst some brands are driving the transition, there is a risk that their core customers – energy managers – may find holistic energy offerings too conceptual when they just want to keep lights and machinery on, at the lowest cost.
But that should not discourage brands from driving the energy transition.
As Steve Jobs famously said,
“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
Or put another way, by Henry Ford,
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
To encourage energy managers to engage with energy use in a new, deeper way, we need to show, not tell, the advantages of placing IT-based, real-time analysis of energy flows at the foundation of their operations.
The future of energy technology is headed toward remote automation, where intelligent systems push our energy use into low tariff periods, when overall demand is lower and when prices are cheaper. However, before we can put energy onto autopilot, brands must show the potential for smart energy technologies to overcome the immediate challenges of security, reliability and price, whilst providing a gateway to the more cerebral new world of integrated energy.
What is clear is that technology is no longer the barrier. Tech companies have now created the tools to wrap energy around business needs. To enable adoption, brands need to let buyers visualise what their personal energy systems look like and show how they can become an active participant in shaping it.