May 17, 2020

Boosting Clean Energy Technologies

Admin
3 min
Natural gas
Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) has established a$1 millioninnovation fund with the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI) to speed the developm...

Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) has established a $1 million innovation fund with the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI) to speed the development of clean technologies.

Working in collaboration with the LACI, a nonprofit business development agency that helps accelerate the commercialization of clean technologies, SoCalGas has launched an effort to identify and help bring to market potential clean technology solutions in three key areas: fuel cells, renewable natural gas and distributed natural gas products such as liquid transportation fuels and other chemicals.

“Natural gas is more than just a bridge fuel to meet current global energy needs; it has the potential to become a truly sustainable energy source, through new technologies that can produce gas from biomass and solar energy,” said Jeff Reed, director of Business Strategy and Development for SoCalGas.

“We are excited about the project with LACI because it enables us to speed the advancement of key technology areas that we think can have a significant impact on the environmental issues facing California and the planet. This collaboration provides us with a very cost effective and streamlined solution to identifying, developing and deploying strategic technologies.”

Bolstering the research and development efforts of SoCalGas, LACI will investigate key areas and identify leading technologies and those teams bringing the solutions to market. They will recruit those best suited for incubation and development and help them deploy into SoCalGas’ service territory and other key markets.

SoCalGas has reserved $1 million of innovation fund capital for the companies selected, and has the option to invest subject to customary legal and financial due diligence and agreeable terms.

The LACI program addresses inefficiencies currently hampering the development of sustainable technologies and engages local utilities, governments and industry to transform the product innovation model. Instead of entrepreneurs and researchers developing new technologies and then searching for profitable markets, the LACI process works with end customers to identify key technology areas of interest, project the economics of the target solution, size the market and provide customer engagement with the entrepreneur for demonstration and scale up.

“The model is a win-win-win for all parties. End users get the solution they want without having to wade through piles of unsolicited proposals. Investors get prearranged customer engagement and market traction and entrepreneurs get clear visibility on market economics, drivers and sales processes,” said Ian Gardner, chief strategy and investment officer for LACI.

“The Incubator's function makes the process more efficient and directly supports the mutual goal of creating new cleantech jobs in Los Angeles and making Southern California a hub for sustainable technologies.”

SoCalGas is the nation's largest natural gas distribution utility, providing service to 20.9 million consumers connected through nearly 5.8 million meters in more than 500 communities. The company's service territory encompasses approximately 20,000 square miles throughout central and Southern California, from Visalia to the Mexican border.  

Share article

Jul 13, 2021

Technology revolution for water retailers

Utilities
technology
IoT
digitaltransformation
Paul Williams
4 min
Paul Williams, Chief Technology Officer at Everflow Tech, reflects on privatisation, industry complexities and future for utilities in a digital world

In April 2017, the UK’s water retail market in the world opened for business – the single biggest change to the water sector since privatisation. This development allowed businesses, charities and public sector organisations to shop around for the best deal.
However, like any industry, this change hasn’t been without its sticking points; here, Paul Williams, CTO at Everflow Tech (pictured far right), discusses how retailers can harness technology to their advantage

Our CEO, Josh Gill, set up independent retailer Everflow Water in 2015, and Everflow Tech is his response to the difficulties it faced.

Quotations could take up to a week to produce, billing software had to be manually updated and brokers were unable to manage the complete customer journey in one place – all of which took time, cost money and allowed for human error.

The more complexity that was involved in billing or quoting, the more contact end customers needed to have with their retailers, pushing up the cost to serve for every SPID. This meant retailers – ourselves included – found themselves in a situation where profits were simply eaten up by service costs.

We also note that it can traditionally be hard for retailers to stay on top of balancing what they are charging their customers with what they are being charged by the market. To further exacerbate this, the longer a change goes unnoticed, the more trouble it can be to balance the issue.

It was these issues that Josh and his (at the time) small team wanted to ameliorate, creating their own technology in the absence of anything else.

This technology evolved into our award-winning retail sales, billing and customer management platform for the water retail market, and Everflow Tech was launched as a standalone venture in 2018, selling the software externally for other water retailers and their customers to benefit from.

What retailers want

As a relatively new entrant to the world of utilities competition, the water market could be seen to be lagging behind, particularly when it comes to innovation.

In fact, as recently as 2019, Ofwat said it expected the industry to be making technological advances and to be working with a culture of innovation, collaborating with companies both within and outside of the sector.

And with cost-savings for consumers traditionally lower than for other utilities, retailers need to be offering something more – whether that’s better support, energy-efficiency advice or more accurate data.

What’s more, consumers have had a taste of the power of technology, and they’ve come to expect nothing less from retailers across the board.

Another key issue – thrown into sharp relief during the past 12 months (and counting) of a pandemic – is rising levels of arrears, which are likely to increase bad debt beyond margins that retailers originally allowed for when the market was created.

In such a low-margin industry, there is a limit to the amount of debt retailers can take on, especially as recovering costs can be a very slow process. Ofwat has signalled that this issue could be addressed as early as this year, with a mechanism for recovering bad debt to be established during 2021/22. 

The market needs simple solutions to better serve the end user, and we were perfectly placed to develop those solutions. At Everflow, our software is designed for the water retail market, by the water retail market.

As well as simple billing, clear-to-understand workflows, and a revenue assurance system to allow retailers to quickly compare market charges, Everflow has also introduced a complete debt solution, allowing missed payment dates to drive late payment charges and escalations automatically.

Retailers are able to design and put out their own bill and quotes, tailoring customer journey and overall experience – whatever the circumstances.

What does the future hold?

Automation is key to any industry; we’re heading into an age of driverless cars and smart homes, and this drive for tech will filter through to our industry, and we need to catch up. 

The Internet of Things – a network of physical objects connected to each other – means human error (and effort) can effectively be removed from many everyday tasks, which goes for meter readings too. However, in the 21st century, the water market is still not leveraging previously emerged technology in the form of smart meters to provide accurate billing. 

Consumers are also becoming more empowered, both to ask for information and change their preferences if they don’t like what they learn. Retailers need to be armed with this information, not next week, not tomorrow, but now – and, at Everflow Tech, we’re putting that information at their fingertips.

But the retailers themselves need to speak up too, and we will always work with them to get the best ideas on what needs to be developed and when.

Our strong bond with Everflow Water, along with other key customers, means we have a direct interest in making sure our systems serve the water market in the best way they can. 

For us, the goal is to make sure retailers on our platform can grow as much as possible, leaving behind laborious daily processes to focus on their own strategic growth and, most importantly, helping their customers.

Share article