Good Energy Chief Technology Officer David Ivell is delivering a digital strategy that harnesses innovations in renewable energies to tackle climate change.
Good Energy has been providing homes and businesses with renewable energy since 1999. It also develops technologies used in small and larger scale wind turbines, solar panels, hydroelectric, biogen, battery storage and electric vehicles.
Ivell only joined the company in June 2018 but has quickly got to grips with the sector.
“We have about 7 billion people on the planet and what we need to support that today is about 15 terawatts [trillion watts] of energy, and that’s growing rapidly,” Ivell tells CIO UK. “The prediction is that by 2050 we’ll need about 50 terawatts. That’s a huge growth and the way that we’re going to do that is through the use of renewable energy.”
His team of around 65 represents a quarter of the staff at Good Energy, which was recently restructured to turn the organisation into a technology-led company. Good Energy aims to move away from the purely price-led, domestic energy supply market to become a business that supplies renewable power and helps consumers to embrace technology and better manage their energy use at the touch of a button.
The recruitment of Ivell is a key part of the strategy. The appointment of the former Prince’s Trust CIO was announced alongside those of two other new executive directors: Interim Marketing Director Paul Tavener and Customer Services Director Sarah Morgan. The company has also brought Moneysupermarket.com CIO Tim Jones into the team as a non-executive director. Jones helped turn the price comparison site into one of the biggest players in the sector and adds the commercial expertise Good Energy needs to grow the business.
Technology will play a key role in the growth. Ivell is currently implementing a digital strategy that aims to drive investment into emerging technologies that will improve the company’s digital products, operating systems and customer experience, with the ultimate aim of changing consumption habits.
“What we’re going to do is use our opportunities in technology to deliver a better environment for our feed-in tariffs,” says Ivell. “We see that there’s a lot of organisations and individuals that want to sell their information back to us.
“There’s also a lot of organisations out there that are under pressure from their employees to be seen to be doing the right thing for the planet, and most organisations want a letter in a frame in their reception that says actually they’re using energy which has come from renewable sources.”
The renewable energy sector has changed dramatically since Good Energy was founded and developments in technology are turning ideas from science fiction into real-world applications. Ivell points to the development of solar-powered roadways in Europe and China as an example. These can feed electricity into the national grid and could transmit energy directly from the surface of the road to the cars that drive along it.
These projects form part of Ivell’s vision of a decentralised, decarbonised electricity grid that can connect different applicants and make it easier for people to engage with the energy that is used.
Smart meters will play an integral part in making the vision a reality. In January, Good Energy plans to roll out the next generation of SMETS2 (Smart Metering Equipment Technical Specifications) appliances, which provide accurate bills rather than the estimates that current smart meters offer, and let users see how much energy different applications are using.
“At the moment, you’ve probably got one contract on your solar, one for your energy, and a different way of managing your electric vehicle,” says Ivell. “What we want to do is to pull those all together, so you see on your mobile phone within an app what energy you’re producing, what energy you’re consuming, the energy within your electric vehicles and all of those sorts of things. So we’re tying everything together and to make it one experience.
“What I’d like to see is that when you go to work in the morning, that the house is actually generating power while we go to work.”
Other projects Good Energy is working on include supplying power to electric vehicles from the home, partnering with the Eden Project in Cornwall to create a bespoke battery service that offsets the most expensive times of producing energy, and sharing energy back and forth between Good Energy and the national grid.
The company is also exploring applications of blockchain, which Ivell believes could create a public marketplace for renewable energy.
“Blockchain could be an answer for a disaggregated model for people who are actually able to trade the power locally,” he says. “There are opportunities with blockchain to have a ledger where people can create their own energy, sell their energy to their neighbours or into the grid, and receive energy back through that blockchain process.”
Internally, Good Energy has adopted a cloud-first hybrid model, Microsoft PowerBI, customer relationship management (CRM) software from Salesforce and the Rapid Innovation framework to quickly develop new products and services.
Renewable energy is becoming a popular sector to work in, but Good Energy still sometimes struggles to attract top talent to its office in Chippenham, Wiltshire.
“We are working very hard to try and get those people across,” he says. “I do think there’s a societal thing here where it’s very difficult to get some of the best talent to move out of the major cities, and we’re doing what we can to enable a more flexible working environment, with the ability to work from home or work remotely.”
They support this through a flexible working culture and digital tools that support remote collaboration including Workplace by Facebook and Office 365.
“We’re putting in the technology to do that, but it’s more about getting the right culture to make that successful,” says Ivell. “So we’re working really at how we recruit, making sure people understand that that is an option, and that we measure people by their output and quality of the work they do, not the amount of time that they sit at their desk.”