We’ve been digging into some waste management data after hearing about a Houston-based group doing some interesting things. More on that later. GreenBiz points us to research out of Australia that posits a different way of looking at waste streams. From the abstract:
“Currently, cities use their waste diversion rate as a tool to measure the performance of their waste management systems. However, diversion of waste from landfill does not give a holistic picture of zero waste performance. This paper conceptualises the concept of the ‘zero waste city’ and proposes a new tool to measure the performance of waste management systems called the ‘zero waste index’. The zero waste index forecasts the amount of virgin materials, energy, water and greenhouse gas emissions substituted by the resources that are recovered from waste streams.”
The GreenBiz piece captured perhaps the most important point.
“The researchers disagree with the commonly held belief that zero end disposal through landfill is the same thing as zero waste, and argue that this definition does not place enough emphasis on how waste can be reused as a material resource (as opposed to being incinerated, for instance).
And here’s a look at the researchers’ view of the Zero Waste City.
Bringing Big Data down to earth isn’t just a figure of speech for Geostellar, a Washington, D.C.-based startup using social media to drive solar adoption. A big part of the $16 million it’s raised is being spent on crunching data and getting it into the hands of homeowners who want to generate their own clean energy.
“We’re all about the home owner,” CEO David Levine said in an interview at SXSW. “The energy industry hasn’t done them any favors. What people need is an advocate, something that works for them.” What works is a transparent ROI, some marketplace effects and a sliver of competition, which Geostellar describes as the “Glory” piece in its marketing campaign. For the past three years, Levine’s team has been building out its 3-D models, based on data that’s gathered by the same planes that Google, Apple and Microsoft use to snap pictures of the earth.
By combining its satellite imagery with the latest utility and energy rates, Geostellar uses your ZIP code to render three different snapshots of your home’s energy potential. Playing to different motivations, it displays the results under the categories, “Money,” ”Power” and “Glory,” which show electricity savings, electricity output and CO2 emissions, respectively.
Guessing that most of us aren’t experts in the last two — kilowatt-hours and carbon-dioxide tonnage — it breaks those benefits into something more digestible, like how many flights or loads of laundry you avoided. That’s where the social media part kicks in. They’re betting peer pressure will drive much of the adoption as neighbors try to one-up each other. Recent developments from companies like Opower — which uses social media to encourage energy efficiency in the home and works with with more than 70 utilities — show the approach is catching on. By liberating customer data around energy usage, behaviors and costs are amplified. In Geostellar’s case, current users can share their information within the application or externally on Facebook and Twitter.
Driving down costs
When homeowners are interested enough to get bids, it collects estimates from a large pool of installers and provides a detailed comparison of the proposals. According to Levine, part of the difficulty in assessing a homeowner’s options is the lack of standardized vendor processes and the variance around Solar Renewable Energy Credits.
Some vendors, for example, could have a pricing advantage because its models are based on a different set of assumptions than its competitor: The lower-priced proposal might assume utility rates would rise an average of 7 percent over the 25-year life of the panel, while the other vendor, with worse savings, only assumed a 4 percent rate increase.
By functioning as the broker, Geostellar meshes all the rates and best practices from vendors and delivers an “apple-to-apples” comparison, as Levine describes it.
That helps both parties. Confusion is removed from the bidding process and installers can focus on scaling installation, instead of spending on soft costs associated with things like marketing and customer churn.
In a March research brief, financial services firm Raymond James Financial cited data from the Rocky Mountain Institute that estimated soft costs represent more than 60 percent of total U.S. system costs, and are roughly four times higher than in Germany, despite higher labor prices. That’s a key metric because Geostellar charges installers a transaction fee, one it says is less than a solar installer’s cost to acquire a customer.
“With solar, now that the technology is proven, the industry’s biggest challenge is driving down costs,” Raj Prabhu, managing partner at Mercom Capital Group in Austin, Texas, said in a recent Bloomberg article. “The new money is going downstream to help build markets. The industry is now mainstream.”
Cleantech Group‘s Greg Neichin opened up Wednesday’s panel “Startups and Corporations: Bringing Clean Technology to Market” with an important observation. The cleantech market, and certainly the broader energy energy space, is a bit different when it comes to getting big companies in the same room with startups.
“For the most part, they tend to get along,” he told a packed session.
The session assembled a good mix of panelists, from a startup and venture capital firm to sustainability executives from Nike and Intel.
Nike’s Dan Cherian described its approach to working with startups, and dispelled the notion that its startup relationships are purely investment-oriented.
“We don’t just do investments, we’re involved in things like licensing, joint development agreements and strategic alliances, ” Cherian explained. “Not all of our innovation happens inside the company, we think of it as strategic partnering and investing,” he added. As Cherian summarized Nike’s view, it was clear the company sees sustainability as as a growth opportunity, with Cherian saying Nike is “heavily invested” in helping the company grow through sustainable business.
Intel’s Lorie Wigle, the company’s GM of Eco-Tech, said much of its startup work is focused on energy efficiency. Specifically, her team looks at the application of technology and how to grow revenue. Wigle mentioned a joint project with KLG Systal that tackled water management. Through KLG and other partners, Intel was able to see their technology implemented in different ways, underscoring the importance of tightening up your partner network before approaching larger corporations.
On that note, Streetline‘s CEO Zia Yusuf brought some street-level (not intended) levity to the big company pitch discussion.
“Many startups make the mistake of thinking ‘we got the meeting’ and the ”number of meetings’ are a good metric for progress,” said Yusuf. His assertion was those elements have nothing to do with success . “It gets down to can the corporation sell more of their product because of what you do.”
Nike’s Cherian concurred, urging young companies to make their objectives very clear. “If your objectives are clear, we (Nike) have the right people in place for you to interface with”, he explained. He says Nike has three or four areas set up within the company to address various segments of innovation.
“Even if you talk to the business development group or venture unit, you have to realize they might not have the decision-making capability, ” he said. “When we get a message from a company, we apply that correspondence to whichever filter is the best fit.” Cherian added one other tidbit for the startup crowd: get a recommendation. He said even the slightest nod from a known partner or third-party can help startups in the early cycles with various corporate groups.
Another key discussion was the role large corporations can play in developing industry standards.
Streetline’s Yusuf mentioned their partnership with IBM, where they’ve integrated Big Blue’s Cognos platform. He stressed how important it was to understand the dynamics of the marketplace and who’s pushing open technology.
“Startups should know who leads the market and what products are innovating, ” said Yusuf. “IBM would love to sell us a bunch of their products, but we know which pieces of their platform help us solve our customers’ problems.”
Intel’s Wigle mentioned the company’s involvement in the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel and how much intelligence it’s captured from the ecosystem as technology is commercialized. Because Intel has some much infrastructure that startups need, the company established its own incubation program, of sorts. Technology Days brings together startups in Intel’s portfolio and allows them to make their pitch. Not only can Intel share its R&D practices and standards work, but young companies get a purview of what’s coming down the technology pipe.
The panel bridged some of the standards discussion with a few examples of where data and technology are currently coming together for disruption. All of them agreed the “internet of things” was shaking things up the most around cleantech innovation. With smart sensors, advanced levels of automation, and the move to open data, companies like Fitbit and Nest were cited as two companies capitalizing on the standards push.
If startups should come away with anything, it’s take the time to get your ship in order before approaching the big guys. If you’re focused, have the right partners, and understand protocol, they’re listening.