2016 Climate Champions: ECO4CLIM16 winners’ interviews
26 impactful ecopreneurs won the 2016 Global Week of Green Business and the Climate Movement –ECO4CLIM16. 26 Climate Champions that we now interview to spread the word on sustainable business solutions to climate change. This week, we travel to the cosmopolitan city of Berlin, in Germany, to speak with the founders of OEEX GmbH, an open platform to connect producers and consumers of renewable energies.
About your project1. Tell us a bit about your project, company or organization; from your mission and objectives to your products or services, passing by your value proposition and key beneficiaries
The number of renewable energy systems is rising fast. The problem is to place this energy at the right time in the market, to match demand and supply. Renewable energies are volatile, they are produced when the sun shines and not, because someone pushes the button. So the power always needs to be consumed when it is available, but this is physically not possible. This causes many costs and problems for producers and utilities: while customers face high energy prices and are looking for local energy or at least want to relate to the power they use. However, this is hard to find, because the market is complex and there are no options for participation.
OEEX means Open Energy Exchange – which is basically our vision: We are going to build a peer-to-peer marketplace to connect regional energy producers, energy suppliers and customers in a smart energy community to share and trade their energy for better efficiencies and use of local renewable energies. Therefore, OEEX develops 1.) an app to visualize the market (#transparency), 2.) a software that switches devices when green energy is available (#demand-side-management) and 3. a peer-to-peer marketplace to connect regional producers, suppliers and customers to share and trade energy for better use of local, renewable energy (#platform).
2. Regarding your business model, what are your main sources of revenue and how is financial sustainability achieved?
We sell our solution to energy suppliers, so that they can forward it to their consumers. The consumer interface is an app that shows where green energy is produced and the Smartplug switches devices automatically whenever energy is regionally generated and uses it at the same time, so that it is used more efficient at the region where it was produced. The supplier pays a monthly fee per consumer which is connected to the platform. Furthermore, we get a setup fee to integrate the supplier plants into the platform or enhance the IOT portfolio to further devices.
3. Any magic ingredients in your communication strategy?
Don’t take ourselves to serious. Let’s be honest, energy is not sexy and lot of people don’t think about where their energy comes from. In our community communication we always try to tell in stories what we want, make people understand what is going on and how they can participate. So don’t make a complex topic even more complex, make it easy to understand and show the benefits.
4. What are your next steps in the short-to-mid term?
We are raising funds at the moment (600k) and look for IOT partners to expand our portfolio and solution. We also need our team to grow, because we have a few customers (energy suppliers) who want to work with us, but we don’t have the capacity to serve them.
5. Looking ahead, what is your long-term vision, say in 5 years from now?
We want to get people and small producers on the platform, so that they get easy and transparent access to local, green energy, consume it automatically when it is produced and then trade energy in their neighborhood between one another.
6. What would your advice be for green SMEs starting up?
Talk to people, ask them what they want, like, understand and what they would be interested in. With the information and feedback you got, develop your product gradually. Also figure out what motivates potential costumers to use your product, because “green” as an argument is in most cases not enough.
7. Select the three (3) UN Sustainable Development Goals your project can make a significant contribution to:
- SDG 7 – Affordable and Clean Energy – Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
- SDG 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production– Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
- SDG 13 – Climate Action– Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts by regulating emissions and promoting developments in renewable energy
8. Elaborate your answer a bit. Tell us concretely how your project is creating impact in relation with those 3 SDGs, now and in the future. Also, if some significant part of your project’s environmental or social impact is not covered by the SDGs, please describe it here too.
More energy will be generated from sustainable sources, so there is no reason to make power expensive. Energy is the basis for higher quality of life and gives people all over the world access to communication, information and of course education. But to make the energy industry sustainable it is needed, that we stop adjusting nature to our habits and start adjusting our habits to the nature. With our solution this doesn’t even harm people and is fully automatic.
9. Let’s focus now on climate change. Firstly, is your project substantially reducing CO2 emissions, compared with similar “business-as-usual” alternatives? How and how much (approximate %)? Please define the “business-as-usual” alternative you use as benchmark
Our project reduces C02 emissions by giving the possibility to use renewable energy in the right point in time, so that less renewable power gets lost, e.g. because it is produced when nobody needs it. Usual solutions try to manage supply, but the sun is nothing you can manage, this is why we do demand side management. The internet of things is what the energy sector needs to build an internet of energy. When loads of devices with high consumption are shifted flexible, motivated through energy suppliers, we can bring down the emissions and build a sustainable energy future.
10. The consequences of climate change are upon us already. In what ways does your project help communities cope, and become more resilient in the face of these impacts?
We help communities to use the energy, which was produced in their region, at the right time, so that it stays in the region where it was produced. In some regions there is many times more renewable energy available than needed and consumed. This causes costs and inefficiencies for the environment and all of us. In some cases, the plants are even shut off or others are paid to take our surplus energy. This is not sustainable! As long as there is any oil-fired boiler in the basement, there is still a potential for our platform to help people to use their own energy in the best way.
11. As you may know, the Paris Agreement strongly emphasizes the need to adopt cooperative approaches at all levels, and boost innovation, in order to be able to accomplish the rapid and across-the-board transformation required to rise to the challenge (climate change). How does this formula (cooperation + innovation) apply both to your strategy and daily operations?
Well, as a platform cooperation is a central item in our daily business. The more competent the partners and the collaboration is, the faster we both are able to scale. We think this will be beneficial for all participants. At the moment we are looking for partners in IOT to enhance our concepts portfolio.
12. This year at the COP22 in Marrakech, the goal is actually to move from negotiating an accord to fostering real action towards impact. In your view, what is and must be the role of ecopreneurs and SMEs in implementing these agreements on the ground, and actually building a new, more sustainable, and equitable economy? What do SMEs bring to the table that large companies, NGOs, or governments don’t?
I don’t think we can generalize the answer to this questions. The important thing behind SMEs, bigger companies, NGOs and governments are the people and their passion. In case of SMEs, they are smaller and so it is easier to find a decision or test new features, areas or ideas. Especially startups often show a high competency in working lean and acting agile. The challenge will be to remain to the principles and values when the company grows.
13. In the past, businesses and NGOs from the so-called “Climate Movement” have kept their distance, and even seen each other as “enemies”? What’s your particular take on this? Do you think they have to work together? How does your company relate to civil society organizations and movements?
I don’t know why we often fall back into an “enemy-hero-relationship” when it comes to important questions. The climate change debate is more about who did what wrong, it is also about what can we do better and what did we learn. We can’t do the change all by ourselves, this is why we like the idea of a platform, where all stakeholders come and work together collaborative. This doesn’t mean to share all the secrets, but to act transparent and with the equal purposes.
ECO4CLIM16 and climate innovation labs
14. What did you get from participating in #ECO4CLIM16? Any highlights?
Participating in ECO4CLOM16 was awesome, because we got very diverse feedback. Most of the feedback we get usually is from energy guys. I appreciated to see other perspectives. OEEX was originally born by an ecopreneurial motivation, but the in the past few weeks the technical and energy-economical aspect was more important. My highlight was quasi to got “back to the roots” and get feedback for that.
15. The next phase of the “Ecopreneurs for the Climate” movement, concerns the deployment of a global network of climate innovation labs, where new climate-champion green business ideas will emerge, and also impactful models and best practices will be shared and replicated across the world. Given your current needs, what would you like to see happening in these labs to scale up the impact of your project? For example, would you fancy embarking yourself on a climate innovation journey to explore green economy ecosystems, meet fellow changemakers, and forge international partnerships in other cities and countries?
Yes, of course we would join. In a lab we would love to have real communities, that are open to test new solutions and give feedback. This is something very precious for a young company, because some startups develop their idea and forget to ask, if what their doing is really realizable for a wide range of “normal” people. In fact, we also think with having a few labs, maybe international, who are working together, we can bring prove easily on the impact our work has for the world.