Internal tools are a great way for a software company like ours to track performance metrics. We look to those metrics to give us important information about how satisfied you, our customers, are with us and our products. But it can be hard for a scrappy startup like UtilityAPI to allocate precious engineering resources to get an internal data tool built.
Enter our new intern, Esteban Sanchez. Thanks to his work this summer, UtilityAPI’s about to get a new dashboard that will track our performance data and report the results. He has only just started, but for now, he says, “This is a very big learning experience for me. I'm learning a lot about web technologies and the technological infrastructure required to run a company.”
We hope he’s also seeing a potential viable career path for himself. Our industry needs to start including historically underestimated and excluded people. “We know that diversity is good for business. Right now, we’re not doing a good enough job building the diverse teams that we need, so we’re coming together to amplify the demand for diverse voices in this industry,” said our CEO, Devin Hampton.
Last summer, Devin launched Edict along with Jason Michaels of Leap. Devin was tired of being the only black person in the room at conferences. On LinkedIn, he wrote, “I also hope to see the “financing the next phase” panel being led by black and brown people. And if your company doesn’t have a black or brown person who can lead that panel, I suggest you think about why that is and take some action.” Edict came to life as a part of that action — not just a statement of values, but an action plan for our entire industry to get more people of color on paths to leadership roles.
This spring, Elemental Excelerator took over Edict stewardship, as part of their Equity is Dynamic community of practice. They partnered with CELI to launch a summer internship program. And now, we have Edict to thank for bringing Esteban to us. “The Edict Summer Internship Program is designed to provide Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and underrepresented students with paid, full-time 10-week internship opportunities in the clean energy and climate tech sector with companies and organizations that are actively building a diverse team and an inclusive working environment.” That’s (still) us!
Welcome, Esteban, in particular, and welcome to the entire CELI Edict Internship 2021 cohort. We're glad to see you. We need you in this industry.
By guest contributor Ravi Mikkelsen, co-founder of Atmos Financial — financing the rapid transition to a clean economy for all.
The Biden administration is shaping up to be the strongest climate change-fighting administration this country has ever had. They’re proposing The American Jobs Plan (AJP), a $2T proposal to invest in our country’s infrastructure. Some in the climate community say the proposal doesn’t go far enough. But let us also remember that the best time to fight climate change is right now. A good plan executed now with urgency is better than a perfect plan that Congress likely will dither over and fail to pass.
So let’s have a look at a few things in the infrastructure bill for you climate entrepreneurs to get excited about:
The simple truth is that most of us work on or with infrastructure. At Atmos Financial, we are working to finance a shift in the infrastructure of our energy, housing, transportation and food. UtilityAPI needs the infrastructure of both the energy and telecom industries to provide the rest of us with the data we need to better serve our customers and accelerate their transition away from fossil fuels. Software to speed data sharing IS infrastructure.
Electric Vehicles (which are also… infrastructure!)
We’ve almost passed the inflection point in the transition from internal combustion engines (ICEs) to electric. Over the past decade, battery packs have dramatically come down in price, falling 88% since 2010. Cheaper batteries have brought down the price of EVs. And more and more people are interested in developing and driving electric vehicles.
Turns out, not only do EVs, e-bikes, cars, buses, trucks and other service vehicles move us and our goods around, they can serve as valuable energy backups for our homes and buildings. They also preserve grid resources though load shifting. The American Jobs Plan (AJP) will provide $174B to electrify the Federal fleet, electrify 20% of school buses and 50k diesel transit vehicles, as well as provide 500k public charging stations.
This is a fraction of what we need. However, if corporations and individual actors follow suit, it may be enough to drop an EV’s sticker price below ICE vehicles. The rolling computer-controlled battery packs we think of as EVs will produce exabytes of data. It’s true that they’ll need sophisticated software to make them as efficient as possible while controlling charging and discharging. But they’ll also not only leave our air cleaner as we move about in them, they could also help us avoid both blackouts and needing to build additional methods of generating energy.
Modernizing the electric grid through equity (yep, infrastructure!)
The electric grid is fundamental to our modern lives, giving us light, heat, transportation, and entertainment. But the process of deciding where to locate electric generating plants has been deeply racist. And the subsequent process of actually generating electricity has caused considerable harm, primarily to Black, low-income, and marginalized communities.
Widening our scope to the world at large: in the US, we’ve reaped the benefits of the combustion of fossil fuels, at the expense of the global South. Fossil fuel combustion is the primary driver of global warming, which is adversely affecting those countries more than ours as well.
In order to halt climate change, we need to take two main actions: 1) switch from fossil fuel electricity generation to zero carbon options and 2) electrify all of our machines.
The AJP includes $100B for modernizing our electrical grid including adding more high-voltage DC (HVDC) transmission lines. These lines will allow regions to better transfer electricity from where it's generated to where it's needed (eg CA solar to TX during the recent winter storm or TX wind & WA hydro to CA during the last wildfire season). In order to retire more fossil fuel plants more quickly and create the most renewable energy generation on the grid, we’ll again need powerful software to control the flow of electrons around the country.
Closing the digital divide: high-speed broadband is infrastructure (!)
While our energy runs increasingly over electrical lines (replacing fuel tanks and gas pipes), the data for these devices lags behind. It still runs through phone, cable, and fiber lines before being broadcast through a wireless router. Our entertainment, our work, and lately, even our schooling is also conducted over the internet.
The pandemic-influenced rapid switch to online everything has laid bare another stark contrast and inequality in this country. In order to participate fully in our modern economy, you need access to high-speed internet. Yet as many as 30M Americans still lack access, including 30% of rural areas, both tribal and non-tribal lands. In urban areas, Black and Latinx communities are less likely to be connected than those in majority white areas.
The AJP provides $100B to close this digital divide. It asks for 100% coverage for high-speed internet access, promotes transparency and competition and lowers the cost of internet service. The climate community should care about this for several reasons:
The time to care about infrastructure is now
Overall, the AJP is perhaps the single biggest plan for climate action put forward by the Federal government. But that’s not how the Biden administration is selling it. They’re resolutely talking about how infrastructure = jobs. Infrastructure and jobs are two of the most bipartisan topics we have. They help every community, which means each Senator and Congressional Representative can take credit for the benefits.
The AJP will help put people back to work, will drive down the costs for renewable energy and electrification, and will bring more people into the modern economy and education system. Let’s support it, and do our part to further accelerate the equitable transition to a planet that can support us all.
This post was collaboratively written with guest contributor Ravi Mikkelsen, co-founder of the just-launched climate positive banking startup Atmos.
“We cannot achieve 100% clean energy unless 100% of the people have clean energy.”
— Danny Kennedy, Chief Energy Officer, New Energy Nexus
Upper income homeowners in just a handful of states reap the benefits of residential clean electrification in the United States. We’re shocked, shocked.
Even if tomorrow, the Residential Solar Fairy were to wave a magic wand and drop the price of resi solar by 30-50%, over half of Americans would still not be able to put solar on their roofs.
Sobering. But also, what a massive business opportunity for energy justice-minded clean tech companies.
To make solar available to renters and middle/lower wealth homeowners, we’re going to need more creative financing solutions. Here’s our review of several ideas about how to pay for the equitable distribution of residential solar in a future we’d want to live in.
Members of a community — loosely defined — can choose to pay for and and use a community solar installation. The group can be apartment complex renters, a collection of neighborhood houses, or even people spread across a city. Owners of a community solar garden “plot” don’t need to own their own home. That opens up the possibility of solar power to a lot more people.
However, that community still has to pay for the installation, which usually requires them to get a loan. Loan underwriters use FICO scores, which reflect and reinforce existing systemic racism, to underwrite the costs. But they don't have to.
EnergyScore — an alternative to FICO score
Consider “EnergyScore” by Solstice, a hybrid clean tech startup with both not-for-profit and for-profit arms. EnergyScore considers multiple variables, including utility bill repayment to determine who is most likely not to default on their loan. Solstice claims positive early results: “Customer data suggest that it represents a 40% accuracy improvement over FICO in predicting utility bill payment behaviors and is 10% more inclusive of LMI [Low to Moderate Income] households.”
A new pair of financing solutions could be coming down the pipe from the just launched banking startup ATMOS Financial.
Blended capital refers to a combination of for-profit and not-for-profit capital in order to make lending to subprime and LMI households less risky. By using not-for-profit capital as a hedge against loan default in a loan loss reserve fund, the for-profit lender can keep the rates on these loans affordable. The not-for-profit arm essentially assumes the risk, to promote the greater societal good. As soon as blended capital loans gain traction, the data they produce about default rates can help other financiers price their loans more fairly and accurately, thus accelerating an inclusive clean energy transition.
Property owners are the ones required to sign contracts for PV system installation and financing. That simple fact has prevented most renter-occupants from transitioning to clean energy, because reaching an agreement between the owner, the renter and the financing institution was so difficult. Enter ATMOS Financial, to broker these tri-party agreements.
The financial institution makes the loan to a homeowner on behalf of a tenant. The tenant agrees to pay the monthly loan costs, which will be less than their monthly utility bill. The new electricity bill, with solar (which the tenant pays) will be significantly less than the old electricity bill; the tenant and the property owner split the savings. That savings will ease both parties’ cash flows and give property owners a cushion to cover the bills between tenants.
Utility on-bill financing could work for homeowners, renters, and high- middle- or low-income borrowers. This solution is new to residential solar, though other energy efficiency programs have long used it. Utilities manage the financing and construction of the energy upgrade project. They bill the consumer via a monthly charge directly on the utility bill.
Since the utility has access to low-cost, longer-term capital, the monthly payments will be less than what the resident was previously paying. Regardless of FICO scores, residents who were already paying their bills are unlikely to stop paying them post-installation. Homeowner-landlords are still responsible for payments if there is no tenant. But they now own a more valuable property, without spending a dime upfront. Everyone wins.
Want to know more about on-bill financing? Check out the Building Decarbonization Coalition’s recently released white paper.
100% of the people will never have clean energy until we solve the issues of accessibility and affordability. These solutions will push us toward that goal, but not all the way. There are no cutoff dates in stopping climate change. No point at which we can say, “We’re all good!” It’s more like a continuum — every 0.1 degree of temperature rise that we avoid removes energy from the climate system that will otherwise cause future harm.
We don’t need one perfect answer — we can use all of these solutions. We need people to apply the full force of our collective brain power to finding more solutions like these. And we need to keep going.
Everyone in the energy ecosystem needs easy access to secure data from a system that actually works.That's UtilityAPI
UtilityAPI is growing, but we’re still a compact organization. Every new person we hire has a noticeable effect on who we are as a company. Strong hires are key to our success, and thus, to yours. Meet our latest great hire, Kaleb Smart. Want to talk to someone about getting high quality data for your clean energy projects? Contact us!
It’s tempting to make a little joke about names and destiny. But while true in this case, that’s simply not the most noticeable thing about Kaleb Smart, UtilityAPI’s new Senior Software Engineer. It’s his unique blend of leadership laced with kindness. There’s so much power there. Kaleb isn’t afraid to step in and claim it.
Kaleb went to the University of Alabama, Huntsville (UAH), hoping to study computer science. UAH is known as Alabama’s aerospace engineering program, a feeder school to NASA. But to high school-aged Kaleb, it seemed like they also had a strong computer science program. It turns out they really only taught software engineering, so that’s what he studied, in addition to math and Russian.
No one Kaleb knew was going to UAH. So when he got to campus he did the thing he is known for — he stepped up as a leader to organize social activities that introduced like-minded students to each other. “From basically anywhere I’ve been, I’ve tried to organize after seeing a void of a particular thing,” Kaleb affirmed.
Like many who find their way to software development, one of the things that most interested him at the time was PC gaming. Once a semester, his group organized a gaming night. They rented the event center and invited all interested students to come. The biannual events were always a high success, so, with Kaleb’s help, they set their sights a notch higher — why not meet more often?
His group ended up creating a series of individual gaming clubs that brought people together on Tuesday nights for gaming nights. Students brought their laptops. Only it turned out that some couldn’t participate, because they didn’t own a personal computer. That wouldn’t do.
Kaleb’s group requested and got money from the University to buy computers, download games and have them ready for people to use. From there, they wrangled their own space, dedicated to PC and console gaming. The space teemed with people from different social groups, intermingling, having a great time.
Besides the fun and friends, it’s the power of community that Kaleb remembers. “UAH’s administration saw that there were a lot of students interested. They were like, yeah, let’s give them more money. That you can get something as stingy as a university to spend money on you, that shows there’s power there.”
These days, when he’s not organizing the real world into someplace kinder and more friendly, he can often be found organizing rounds of Dungeons and Dragons, which also gives him an outlet for his interest in improvisational acting and art. “As a dungeon master, I was very into miniature painting. I’d spend a lot of time painting 3d models I had printed. Because of COVID, we don’t get to play in person anymore. My art supplies are in storage. But we still play online.”
In addition to spending his time fighting climate change through the exchange of data at UtilityAPI, Kaleb does a lot of tutoring and mentoring. “That eureka moment when someone actually gets something. That look on their face. That awe of curiosity and inspiration… it’s the best.”
Congratulations for making it through 2020, everyone. I’m claiming it!
And thank you, everyone, for your continued commitment to Edict's mission to bring measurable progress in diversity and inclusion to clean tech. Many of you have responded with ideas for connections and resources. Thank you for being an enthusiastic part of this effort!
We envision this to be a community of practice
Your response to our launch this past summer has fueled our dedication this past fall to finding a home for this movement that can catalyze Edict into a community of practice where we will take action together, support each other on implementation, and track progress along the way.
Our vision is for this to be a fully functioning community of practice for our companies to share information and build on each others’ knowledge as we operationalize what it takes to build a diverse workforce at our startups.
Edict’s new home: Elemental Excelerator
While we’re still looking for funding partners so that we can staff this effort, we have news to share with more info to come in the new year! In partnership with Elemental Excelerator, through their Equity & Access track, we will move forward with Edict as a new community of practice for any 'climate-tech company' working across energy, food/ag, mobility, water, and circular economy. The mission of Elemental's Equity & Access track is to leverage climate startups for social equity and we're excited to operationalize this through this new initiative.
One small ask: Can you host an intern next year?
As with all things, Edict will continue to evolve. Pending funding for staff, our first initiative will be in partnership with the Clean Energy Leadership Institute (CELI) to support BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) internship placement in 2021. Through this program,CELI will recruit and provide cohort support, mentorship, and clean energy training to prospective interns throughout their placement. More on this soon.
In the meantime, we’re assembling a list of companies to help us in our funding conversations. Our goals:
Hope this winter holiday allows time to rest & re-energize,
Devin & the Elemental team
UtilityAPI is a mission-driven company. And that mission is fighting climate change. Likewise for WeRenew, a platform that uses UtilityAPI data to include more people in this work. We’re proud to share their story, and to power the efforts of the 70% of you — property owners or renters, low income/underserved communities as well as your wealthier neighbors — who share this mission with us.
Fifteen years ago, the science on climate change was clear. We just needed to get the policies worked out to fix it. Fast forward to now. Spoiler alert: not fixed.
Good people are still working on the important policies. We need.those policies. But have you ever wondered what else people who cared could do to help? You’re in good company. The 2009 Yale Climate Change Communication Study found that 70% of Americans are concerned about climate change. But they don't know what to do about it. There’s a gap between the amount the public is interested in climate change and their knowledge of how to start solving it.
Lisa Altieri, who had 20 years experience organizing and protesting on behalf of climate and the environment outside of her day jobs, chose to wade into that gap as a full-time job. And to try to close it. “I decided to stop arguing with climate change deniers and instead, go talk to the 70% who wanted to do something.” She built WeRenew.net, a free online platform available to all — individuals, groups, organizations, businesses, counties, cities — to give all those people who wanted to do something a place to start.
Her background in community organizing told her that any solution would work better if users worked in groups — teams of households, cities, businesses, Girl Scout troops. WeRenew also allows groups to compete against one another, if they so choose.
But how much impact can individual people taking action in concert with their friends, neighbors and community members make? Quite a lot, actually. 40% of the emissions that impact climate change come from five things we do or use every day:
The great news is that now, we have affordable solutions for all five of them, which was not true as recently as 5-10 years ago. If only people knew… cue Altieri and WeRenew.
Altieri’s goal was to produce a platform that everyone could use, not just those wealthy enough to be able to afford expensive or complicated solutions. WeRenew generates options for people based on their own priorities, not hers. For example, which do they want more: to save money or to have a greater impact? How much upfront cost can they shoulder? How much effort can they put into the solutions (a little, some, or a lot)?
But before WeRenew can work its magic, users first must make the choice on whether or not to add their utility data. When they do, they get a customized energy profile and customized suggestions for sustainability, reducing their impact, and their energy baseline. Where does the data to generate those profiles come from? UtilityAPI, of course!
“Customers LOVE this,” Altieri shares. “And it’s so easy for them to do it. Then they get custom-recommended actions based on their goals.”
Altieri is adamant that WeRenew is not just a toy for the wealthy. “We value low income and underserved frontline communities, too, including renters. Renters are able to control between 70-80% of their emissions, so they really matter. You get to pick your goals and your level of involvement and spending. The average household will save between $1-3K per year, while improving health and air quality. So there’s a lot of value for all levels of interest.”
Do you have a great story about how your company uses UtilityAPI data? Would you like us to profile your company or feature you in a case study? We'd love to hear about it.
Share your story with us and we'll enter you in our monthly drawing to win a UtilityAPI "share data, not germs" 100% cotton face mask.
Customers are eager to fight climate change, starting in their own homes. Fort Collins Utilities, a municipal utility, gives its customers and contractors the easy, secure, authorized access to high quality energy data that they'll need to do it.
Getting a quote for a solar installation, electric vehicle charger or energy efficiency upgrade has typically been an exercise in frustration for both customers and contractors alike. But last month, Fort Collins Utilities launched MyData, an innovative project with UtilityAPI that will make starting clean energy projects quicker and easier for everyone involved.
The response from local energy solution providers and other users has been immediate and impressive. Following a soft launch in early fall, over a dozen companies have already signed up to use MyData in their businesses. Janelle McGill a “green” Realtor and consultant, is one of them.
“As a Realtor that specializes in selling homes with solar, [...] I need the utility records to properly market properties and truthfully illustrate the benefits. In the past, it was cumbersome for my clients to get the information I needed. This portal makes the process faster, as well as accurate. It was easy to sign up and it is easy to request utility data for my clients. It is a clever solution,” said McGill.
Most of MyData’s users will be clean energy contractors. Every clean energy project needs good energy data in order to happen. Previously, even if a customer authorized access to their utility billing and usage data, the data often took days, weeks or even months to arrive. And if/when it did arrive, it was often in an unusable form or missing key information. Solution providers had to rely on old energy bills or make large investments in software or staff time to decipher customer data — at times, as much as 6 extra staff hours per job.
This can be particularly hard for small, local businesses that may not have the resources for this extra effort. Customers, whose clean energy projects became more expensive, were unhappy to bear those costs. And it was also problematic for Fort Collins, who didn’t want to act as a data intermediary between their own customers and those customers’ chosen contractors. MyData promises to fix everyone’s data problems. It will streamline the data process by providing instant, authorized and secure access to standardized energy data. It will also level the playing field for all service providers to participate in the market equally, which has taken on a new importance at this difficult time, when businesses are struggling to recover from the effects of COVID-19.
“The ability to seamlessly share energy data is crucial to developing the future of the energy sector,” said UtilityAPI CEO Devin Hampton. “Fort Collins’ MyData is not just a ‘one-off’ thing. They’re leading the way for other municipal utilities. They’re using UtilityAPI’s data sharing tools to make the energy projects their customers want happen easier and faster. We look forward to replicating the success of this innovative service with other utilities across the country.”
Fort Collins Utilities long-serving Energy Services Manager, John Phelan, identified the potential for secure data sharing to ease the clean energy transition in Fort Collins. “We recognized the importance of streamlining our information processes to support customers and their selected contractors. UtilityAPI’s solutions help us to do this while improving our data privacy, security and record keeping,” said Phelan.
As an innovative municipal utility, Fort Collins understands that smoothing the path to local clean energy projects will help the local community and Colorado achieve the deep cuts to carbon emissions that are needed to make a significant impact on the climate crisis. Customers are eager to fight climate change (and save money while they’re doing it). Now, thanks to MyData, it’s even easier.
Fast, Free, Easy to Access Data from SVCE’s Data Hive Wins Over a Holdout
Cinnamon Energy Systems held off on using Silicon Valley Clean Energy’s Data Hive for a while. Their Director of Commercial Sales, Scott DuBois, confirmed as much. “We were slow to integrate. But all of the sudden, we saw the value.”
Data Hive launched in April of 2020, just as Bay Area residents were waking up to the reality of their new sheltered-in-place, socially distant lives. All of the sudden, the days of ‘kitchen table’ solar sales were done. And with them, another casualty: the high quality customer interaction that had happened there, in those kitchens.
Under the leadership of their CEO, Barry Cinnamon, Cinnamon Energy Systems re-framed the Data Hive as a tool that would take busywork off their plate, allowing them to prioritize interacting with the customers. “The Data Hive saves me 4-6 hours per customer,” said DuBois with relish. “You can text, email or use the phone to get an authorization. The flexibility is great.”
Which is not to say that DuBois didn’t have some initial concerns. “One time, the data authorization request bounced. The user couldn’t open the data request. But that was because our team wasn’t executing properly. Also, it’s great that the customer doesn’t need their account number.”
If DuBois has his way, Cinnamon Energy Systems won’t go back to the old ways anytime soon. “We have integrated Data Hive into the qualifying questions for both inside and outside sales. We send out the data request as part of our initial appointment. In my experience, it gives me everything I need in one place.”
DuBois elaborated on one of our industry’s most basic facts: not having a bill can hold projects up. “I’d say 1 in 20 customers refuses to send you their electrical information. But the majority are open to it. The trust is great. Our customer base in some areas is older. A lot of them are in their mid 80s. I have stood next to them as they use their rotary phones to contact the utility companies. It still works, eventually! But I’m thinking ‘Oh my god, how do I collect your usage?’”
“We have 20,000 legacy customers with solar. Their systems need updating. They need batteries. The interval data is incredibly helpful for battery projects. We also have large commercial projects in the works that will require us to go further out with data. We had one of our biggest months last month. We’re on the verge of adding more people.”
“We’re going to be using you [Data Hive] a lot.”
* * *
About Cinnamon Energy Systems
Cinnamon Energy Systems, “Silicon Valley's Premier Solar & Battery Storage Installer” has been designing and installing commercial and residential solar and battery storage systems for over 20 years. They take pride in their relationships with customers and the quality of their systems.
UtilityAPI is growing, but we’re still a compact organization. Every new person we hire has a noticeable effect on who we are as a company. Strong hires are key to our success, and thus, to yours. Meet our latest strong hire, Yi-Ping Lai.
The Clean Tech world does not look like America.
We in Clean Tech have failed to embrace the power that diversity in our teams can bring to the fight against climate change. Edict stands on the belief that diversity is good business. Diversity can lead us to new ideas and markets that we have overlooked, and bring better returns for our companies and ultimately, our planet.
But at its core, Edict isn’t just a pronouncement of values. It’s a plan for action, for change.
Edict will help member and sponsor companies make real, measurable progress in diversity and inclusion. Let’s think in terms of demand and supply. Edict demands diverse and inclusive voices at the decision-making tables in Clean Tech. And thus, Edict must begin the work by making sure there’s an adequate supply of those voices to strengthen teams across the clean energy ecosystem.
To do this work, Edict is partnering with CELI, our industry’s not-for-profit leader in developing a pipeline of diverse leadership. Our three initial initiatives aren’t modest:
Training new leaders
Placing 25 college students from underrepresented backgrounds in paid summer internships
Helping mid-career professionals transition to clean energy jobs
Training and connecting 75 skilled professionals from underrepresented backgrounds with clean energy opportunities
Building our community
Doubling our current circle of around 30 member companies pledging to uphold the founding Edict Action Plan.
These are big plans. And none of them can happen without you.
If you can fund this work, we need you to sign on as a sponsor.
If you can bring a diverse paid intern or mid-career hire onto your team, we need you to contact us.
If your organization can commit to Edict’s founding principles, we need you to join us.
All blog posts are to help UtilityAPI users connect with their customers and successfully collect their utility data.