The digital innovation arm of solar company Lightsource BP announced last week a new CEO, the first to take up the role as the company looks to expand in the sector.
Benjamin Kott has joined Lightsource Labs from smart building software company Fabriq, which he founded in 2011. Current± caught up with him, talking about his priorities for the company, it’s Tribe application and what’s next for digital energy management.
Do you have any initial priorities going into your role in Lightsource Labs?
I think the key priority I have right now at an organisational level is making sure that we're ready to scale.
Labs has been going for a few years and we've done a lot of work on R&D, technology development, and so on, really working at the leading edge of all of that. So it's about condensing this into products and services now that we can offer to the market.
The second priority then is going to be very much centered on the product and service innovation. We have something that is ready to go to market now with the Tribe box.
Could you tell me a little bit about Tribe and what it does?
Tribe is a home energy management system, but in my communication with people I'm sort of dropping the home sometimes, because it doesn't necessarily have to fit in the home, you can fit them in a small shop or a small commercial and industrial installation. It will work quite well up to school level, although it depends a little bit on the setup and so on.
Tribe is a box that is the Home Energy Management core. It goes into the home and connects to your switchboard, to your distribution board at home and does essentially two things. On the one hand it meters the electricity that is generated by your solar panel, as well as monitoring the inverter, on the other hand it measures the consumption in your home overall.
It can then enter some really fancy things in the home in terms of managing, measuring, fixing and pushing consumption across. The counterpart of that is the app that works on iPhone and Android, which allows the end user to set Tribe up and to configure it to the home.
Do you have any particular predictions into how important digital technologies like Tribe are going to become over the next 10 years?
At the qualitative level, digital technologies are going to be incredibly important and really, really valuable.
If I look back sort of 15 years now, I was at Google and that was all digital. But there was not that much digital energy at all.
All the energy stuff was very much based around investing in renewable energy projects, investing in PPAs, which was something Google did at the time; they were already investing in solar on the roof and things.
We didn't do very much in terms of energy management, then I started my own company eight years ago, which was focused entirely on the energy management side of things. And I've really struggled, as I said many times to find ways of scaling because I've focused on commercial buildings and even up to this stage commercial buildings are largely operated by spreadsheets and by building management systems that are maybe a decade out of date, in terms of the technology and connectivity and so on.
So it’s quite frustrating if you operate in this context. And I think what's really exciting about now is that digital will become completely pervasive across the entire energy industry over the next five, ten, 15 years, and it will capture every segment of the value chain from the generation all the way to the consumption and the trading of energy.
Homes are particularly interesting and exciting in this, because on the one hand, you already have the Googles and Amazons of this world who are in those homes, as opposed to say, commercial buildings with the sort of hubs, systems, smart light bulbs and so on.
There's a high level of digitisation already, but what's not digitised at all today is energy supply or energy management, apart from very, very few exceptions.
That's the really exciting thing about the next three to five plus years, is this is going to happen at some scale. And it's going to happen much faster than in the commercial space, because homes are already halfway or much of the way with their digitalisation, but also, because of scalability that you have, you can reach millions of homes and really have quite interesting value proposition and business models.
Are there any challenges particularly that are still yet to be overcome?
If you look at this world, if you look at climate change, I think we have the technology today to solve most of our problems - that were incidentally caused by technologies that we have like the combustion engine, combustion energy generation and so on. We have the technology today to actually address much of this, and very little that needs to be invented.
Though, of course, technologies can become more efficient, more distributed and so on but the problem is that these technology systems and the business model aren’t scalable. I think on the smart grid, and smart energy management, we're really at the very beginning of this revolution, we're just starting to scratch the surface. The challenge and the opportunity in the next three to five years is to be able to deploy those technologies so that they can be very scalable.
Is there anything in particular from your time at Fabriq that will help with your new role?
On the one hand, I feel doing the hard yards with the company helps me connect the dots across literally all aspects of technology, operations, distribution, sales, marketing, and then value proposition and so on, to really set up the organisation and help industry in the wider context to be more to be more efficient and ultimately to be more effective.
The other thing I think that I've realised is that there is a right time and place for everything, and if I'm self-critical of anything it’s that I underestimated for many years how long it takes to do certain things, to develop certain technologies, but also, most importantly, for the industry and for your consumers, for your audience to be ready to actually take that technology and take it forward because they're driven by so many other things.