The Intern Diary: Does the Software Side of Energy Efficiency Signal The Next Wave of Startups?

by Aman Singh Das | June 23, 2010

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While working at eBay Inc. as an EDF Climate Corps fellow, I have taken up thechallenge to make the business case for energy efficiency and carbon reductioninitiatives within the internet company. Hence, the reason I was so keen on attending an event last week called "TheSoftware Side of Energy Efficiency," hosted by MIT/StanfordVenture Lab.

The EDFClimate Corps Internship connects MBA students with companies on want to focuson becoming more sustainable in their operations by focusing on energyefficiency solutions. Megan Rast is part of their 2010 class

Only in Silicon Valley, can one guarantee that suchan event will draw a packed auditorium – a perfect storm of venturecapitalists, cleantech enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and software engineers thatwork and live in one of the greenest energy states in the U.S. It was a formidable crowd not to beunderestimated.

But underestimate, we did. The panelists were surprised when a quickpoll of which audience members had checked their energy usage in the past 6months yielded 10 times the usual number.Why?

“Energy efficiency isboring,” said Daniel Yates, CEO and Founder of OPOWER, a leading company in the space. On that principle, the panelists found atheme – we have neglectedenergy efficiency. This frustrating theme resonatedthroughout as we discussed:

--The tendency for politicians to push away fromenergy efficiency
--The difficulty of behavior change
--The relatively small number of state energy commissionswith utility goals on energy efficiency
--The fact that other countries have a higher “energysensitivity” than we do in the U.S.

Eagerto break the avoidance cycle seen in the areas discussed above, a new themesurfaced – Innovation.

Start-ups like OPOWER and EcoFactor have been innovating ways to work aroundthe lack of consumer attention to the energy bill – or the "mean time tokitchen drawer" as John Steinberg, CEO and Co-Founder of EcoFactor, callsit. Although the venture capitalist onthe panel coyly shied from disclosing his firm’s investments to an audiencewith Twitter at the ready, he did estimate that investments in energy efficiencyare the next wave (think: Internet boom) and encouraged audience members towork on their start-ups now.

The big players arealready on the field. Cisco Systems, represented on the panel by DavidHsieh, VP of Marketing in Emerging Technologies, is already invested in energyefficiency solutions for smart grid, commercial buildings, home and IT.Politically, the Obama administration has made a cornerstone initiative towarda clean energy economy. Plus,with the appalling BP oil disaster gushing more oil than can be estimated,reducing our energy demand has never looked better.

Unlike other investments towards a clean energyeconomy, energy efficiency is ready for mass commercialization as the leastexpensive and the most readily scalable solution, according to an expert report released by the United Nations Foundation.

After attending the EDF Climate Corps training inSan Francisco last month, I was already quite familiar with the opportunitiesof energy efficiency. I attended lastweek’s event expecting to gain a broader perspective of the space, but I couldnot have imagined the sheer energy (pardon my pun) circulating the event – thepromise of energy efficiency was downright tangible.

--By Megan Rast,2010 EDF Climate Corps Fellow at eBay Inc., MBA candidate at HaasSchool of Business, University of California, Berkeley, Member of Net Impact

This is the second post in a series ofblogs that In Good Company will host this summer in collaboration with EDF, featuring fellows fromtheir 2010 Climate Corps class, as they journey through their internships. Withtheir posts, these interns will give us a rare lens into the behind-the-scenesoperations at companies who are proactively discussing corporatesustainability, one conversation at a time.

Filed Under: CSR

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