Navigant Research Blog

When Competitors Help You Succeed

— November 14, 2017

Today’s energy efficient buildings solutions can involve complex interactions between technologies and vendors. As building components become deeply integrated with intelligent building technologies, it is increasingly rare for one vendor to supply the entirety of the technology. Large global vendors may have the resources to acquire or build diverse sets of technologies, but it is difficult for one company to claim market leadership or even significant competence in all technological areas. In some instances, this strategy can even amount to brand dilution or lack of focus.

Models for Success

Business models are playing into this quickly emerging market dynamic. In the past, the prevalent model was for companies to offer a single product or unit for sale. Sales were mostly a one-time transaction with a marketing follow-up when the product became outdated or reached the end of its useful life. Customer retention was difficult with this model, and revenue streams were uneven and influenced by the economy, market trends, and a host of other drivers or hurdles. As a service business models, such as software as a service or platform as a service, alleviated some of the risks and downfalls of single product or license-based sales. For vendors, this meant a more recurrent revenue stream, more consistent interaction with customers, and an opportunity to upsell additional products and services as part of the ongoing relationship. However, these as a service models are still somewhat limited, as they may only solve one aspect of a customer’s problem. In an increasingly integrated world, as a service offerings can be seen as being similar to single product offerings when viewed from the perspective of a customer’s problem set.

Selling solutions or projects has evolved as a business model with market advantages. This model looks at a customer’s priorities and a specific problem or problem set, and combines technologies and services to solve that problem. Notice that competitive advantage was not used to describe it. The reason? Assembling the best solution set may involve working closely with direct market competitors, or coopetition, as the term has been coined.

Coopetition

Energy service companies (ESCOs), for example, are familiar with coopetition. ESCOs utilize a financial structure called an energy savings performance contract (ESPC) where, in simple terms, the efficiency upgrades are financed and paid for out of the energy savings. ESCO projects can be designed to deliver specific equipment upgrades, but typical projects encompass a bundle of improvements across technology types. This approach improves the economics of the entire project by blending the returns of high cost, longer payback pieces of equipment (e.g., HVAC systems) with lower cost, faster payback items (e.g., LED lighting). As described in a recent Navigant Research report, ESCO Market Overview, the necessity of bundling technologies and services to make the ESPC work from a financial perspective has caused ESCOs to embrace coopetition with a solution or a project-oriented business model.

Coopetition allows vendors with complementary strengths to apply those strengths to a project and share in common gains. Additionally, vendors are realizing there is great opportunity in shifting from the single point solution or component manufacturing role to the platform play that will support deeper, ongoing customer engagements. Success in this realm means positioning solutions in terms of broader business impacts, with a desire to engage directly with the c-suite. There is no cookie cutter design for partnerships or coopetition in commercial terms. This is a nascent market where flexibility is a key parameter. In this landscape, creativity and openness will be rewarded, and unprepared vendors may face real market disruption as they realize that they are unprepared for competition from non-traditional sources.

 

Beyond Energy and Pizza

— November 7, 2017

As November rolls through and autumn settles in the Northern Hemisphere, attention quite naturally turns to energy. Not only was October Energy Action month, but the changing of seasons marks a time to reflect on how the built environment consumes energy. As we put our air conditioners away and turn our heaters on, autumn gives us time to reflect: Can we be doing this better?

Indeed, there is near universal consensus that action should be taken to reduce energy intensity and carbon emissions. But taking steps to increase energy efficiency affects far more than just energy costs and greenhouse gases. To explore this concept, let’s look at a theoretical pizza parlor (October was also national pizza month, after all). What energy action should this restaurant take?

Popular Energy Conservation Measures

The first answer is likely an evaluation of HVAC systems. According to the most recent Johnson Controls Energy Efficiency Indicator Survey, investments in HVAC improvements were the most popular energy conservation measure last year. For restaurants, kitchen exhaust can create a substantial cost. Cooking causes grease to splatter and can create odors, steam, and smoke, all of which need to be exhausted out of the kitchen. The wood-burning oven in the pizza parlor, for instance, will need to exhaust all of its smoke out of the restaurant. But replacing this air with conditioned outside air can be expensive, particularly in hot and cold climates.

Air Challenges

Some restaurant owners take a shortcut by shutting off their make-up air unit. This puts the entire restaurant under negative pressure, which forces air to infiltrate in through cracks in doors and windows. Though it may save some on utility bills, it is ultimately a Pyrrhic victory: it creates an unpleasant, drafty environment in the dining room and it could even pull in odors from outside. A far better energy action would be to ensure that ventilation and all HVAC are properly balanced, all equipment is properly maintained, and any old, inefficient equipment is replaced with ENERGY STAR equipment.

Lighting Challenges

After HVAC, lighting should be the next concern. LED retrofits typically provide quick payback in energy savings based on the initial investment. But in addition to energy, lighting (like HVAC) creates the atmosphere of the pizza restaurant. That atmosphere affects patron behavior and will ultimately drive business performance. According to a study published in the Journal of Marketing Research, consumers are more likely to select less healthy food options in restaurants that are dimly lit and healthier options when restaurants are bright. That’s great news for the pizza parlor: by installing dimming controls on lighting, it’s possible to not only cut back on energy, but also drive pizza sales.

The Broad View of Energy

Taking action on energy stretches far beyond utility bills and carbon emissions. Those are noble objectives, but building owners and operators are increasingly looking beyond these effects to justify investment in the built environment. Though simplistic, the pizza parlor example highlights how to improve the customer experience and drive sales with investments in energy action. In reality, a broader set of controls, analytics, and efficient equipment can help many businesses reduce costs and increase revenue.

 

Sunrun: The Large Solar Provider Dilemma

— September 19, 2017

On August 24, Sunrun—the last of the large independent US solar providers—announced an agreement with Comcast, a leading cable provider in the country. The two companies plan to launch a strategic partnership to offer Sunrun’s services to Comcast’s clients.

Sunrun was founded in 2007 and found success innovating new ways to finance residential solar installations such as solar leases and power purchase agreements (PPAs). It created the solar as a service (SOaaS) business model, which became the foundation for the growth of the sector between 2010 and 2015. Until 2014, it seemed that solar leases and PPAs—grouped as third-party ownership in California’s Interconnection Applications Data Set—were going to be the winning business model in the SOaaS industry. These leases allowed large players to both increase the market size and displace local installers.

Changing Solar Market

In 2015, the market share of solar leases and PPAs in California—which itself represents around 60% of the US market—plunged to under 50% from 75% in 2013. Data for 1H 2017 shows third-party ownership at close to 30%.

Third-Party Ownership Market Share, California: 2005-1H 2017

(Sources: Navigant Research; California Distributed Generation Statistics)

The collapse of third-party ownership has weakened large solar providers compared to local installers. Large solar providers relied on their access to cheaper capital backed by significant margins in their leases to run large business development teams and finance the installations. As residential solar customers moved into cash or loan buys, local installers became competitive again, reducing the profit margin per installation in the industry. This left large solar providers like Sunrun with high customer acquisition costs relative to profit per installation.

Under these circumstances, it is not surprising that Sunrun is looking for new and cheaper ways to attract customers. Even if this partnership with Comcast costs Sunrun its independent status, it may be worthwhile if the strategy is successful.

What Is in It for Comcast?

Comcast has shown interest in the energy sector in the past, and its Xfinity Home service includes a smart thermostat as one of the offerings. However, scaling it into a full-fledged energy solution would be costly, as Comcast would need to build a new team from the ground.

For Comcast, this partnership offers a relatively cheap entry into the solar and energy markets in which it can rely on its core skills (customer acquisition and management) without having to invest significantly in a new product. If successful, Comcast can push a more aggressive strategy into the energy sector either through Sunrun or with its own product.

Benefits and Potential

Customers of Comcast and Sunrun could also benefit from this partnership. The companies can put together a convincing solution for home automation by tapping on their offerings on the two main services around home automation—security and energy.

The success of this partnership will depend of Comcast’s ability to cross-sell energy services to its current customer base. Comcast operates in a market with limited competition and high barriers to entry, which is different from the solar market. The sales process of solar is also different from that of cable. Solar is a long-term investment (even leases and PPAs require long-term contracts). Therefore, customers take long before making a final decision and, in some cases, it will require home visits before the deal is closed. This means that Comcast cannot simply add solar to its bundles. It will have to invest in training its sales force if it wants to sell solar services effectively. It won’t be easy, but if Comcast succeeds, it may signal a new era for energy.

 

Home Energy Management Is the Tip of the Home Automation Spear

— April 27, 2017

Anyone who has recently swiped through the App Store could tell you that home energy management (HEM) apps have become as ubiquitous as instant messenger apps. While these energy saving apps can’t put your face on a cute dancing dog (and Millennials may not be as interested), they do have the ability to monitor, schedule, and reduce appliance energy consumption. Mobile solutions for HEM are continuously evolving and companies are trying to expand to new niches of the fledgling industry. But HEM is really only the tip of the larger home automation spear.

Power to the People

One of the core tenets of Navigant Research’s Energy Cloud framework is that the electricity industry of the future needs to be customer centric—which means access to data at any time from any device. The market for these applications has grown as customers have become increasingly aware of the capabilities, convenience, and savings the apps can provide. The global market for residential HEM systems has grown nearly 1300% since 2011, up to $2.3 billion in 2016.

Energy Management Giants Are Acquiring HEM Startups

But few companies are solely focused on HEM. Many smart home/home automation/security companies offer some energy management solution. It is increasingly common for small startups focused on HEM to be quickly acquired by larger companies looking to expand their reach across the Internet of Things (IoT) market. Devices such as smart thermostats are increasingly being bundled as connected home solutions, and as these solutions become more affordable and mainstream, energy management is expected to see increased uptake. Take, for example, the recent activity among several HEM companies:

  • Comcast recently completed its acquisition of iControl Networks, an IoT technologies and connected home security company. Comcast specifically went after the Converge business whose platform powers Xfinity Home.
  • As covered by my colleague Paige Leuschner, Google, Apple, and Samsung have all launched forays into devices that will give them a window into HEM and the full home energy automation market.
  • Startups are also getting involved in the energy app space. Eyedro, a software and electronics design company based in Ontario, Canada, offers an electricity monitor that provides real-time data via a web portal and mobile app called MyEyedro. Toronto-based Wattsly, a personalized energy butler mobile app, offers a tagging feature that allows users to tap a point on their energy usage Smart Graph. It also enables tagging activities like laundry, which helps the app generate advice for further savings and challenge homeowners to be more efficient.

Fortunately for customers, as HEM capabilities are expanding, the costs of HEM and home automation devices and solutions are dropping. Creativity and competition provide an optimistic outlook for the HEM market, and adoption is expected to continue to grow over the next decade as a result. Navigant Research projects the HEM market will reach $7.8 billion annually in 2025.

 

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