Why Solar Tech Alone Just Isn't Cutting It: An Interview with Extensible Energy

John Powers is the CEO of Extensible Energy and a member of Shadow Ventures’s AEC/CRE Lab. We asked him to share more about his company’s work in solar tech, including what role renewable energy will have on the smart grid systems of the future. Read on to learn more. 

Where would you place solar on the technology adoption life cycle?

In California, it’s pretty much mainstream. In most of the rest of the country, it's early. The barriers to adoption depend on the regulations of each state’s public utility commission. The rest is education. In the past, building owners never considered solar because it wasn’t economically viable, but now it’s incredibly economic.

How do you expect the solar market to change in the next five years?

In the commercial sector, solar will combine with storage and intelligence controls — that’s our role. Intelligent forecasting and control go along with solar to make the most of it. The addition of solar and smart controls lowers the biggest cost of your building in an economical and sustainable way. There are tax benefits, customer and convenience benefits… why wouldn’t you adopt it? This is a decision most building owners aren’t even making yet, and they’re going to have to.

What is the “intelligent energy economy”?

Up until recently, Edison would have recognized almost everything on the energy grid. But there is no intrinsic reason a single utility needs to run everything. I can sell power to you, you can sell to me. Over the last 5-10 years, there’s been an explosion of automation and intelligence on the grid to support distributed generation. Now, customers can generate their own energy and deliver it back to the grid. In many states, you can get a tax credit if you’re generating more than you’re using. This clean, decentralized grid requires additional intelligence to accommodate a higher penetration of solar and other distributed renewables. We need more sensors for monitoring and more intelligent devices for control.

California has some of the most stringent regulations around energy usage. How has that impacted Extensible?

The stereotype of California is that it’s sunny — and that’s absolutely true. We have an outstanding solar resource hitting almost every building in the state. But the energy market in California is favorable for solar only if you’re able to adjust your usage patterns. That’s where our software comes in. Utilities have shifted rates so that power is cheaper when the sun is shining brightly. So solar wouldn’t benefit much, unless you can shift your usage to match those cheap periods of the day — and our software is very good at that.

What impact has solar and your DemandEx product had on customers?

Most of our customers report they don’t even notice it’s on, yet they’re saving money. It slips into the background after you’ve bought it and will run for years. We’re saving customers 30% plus on their demand charge, in addition to what they’re saving from solar. All they notice is the money. In many cases, the building is more comfortable after we get there than before because many buildings are poorly controlled.

One of our customers is an automobile dealer. The GM was concerned because the employees were leaving the heat or AC on over the weekend. Our product corrects for employee operating errors, ensuring you don’t waste money or resources.

What advice do you have for other founders entering this space?

I mentor startups and try to persuade folks in the Bay Area to make the move to cleantech. The opportunities are gigantic but the talent pool isn't as deep as other tech fields. I encourage folks to look at cleantech problems — There may be relatively easy applications we haven’t thought of that new entrepreneurs and tech innovators can take advantage of.

If you could invent one technology, what would it be?

Cheap, affordable fusion power. If you could snap your fingers and have something that fits in a semi-truck and power most of the city, that’d be pretty sweet.

John Powers Headshot

John Powers, CEO | Extensible Energy, LinkedIn

Learn more about Extensible Energy here and about our labs here.

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