By JULES KORTENHORST and JAMES MANDEL
Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) has long focused on ways to help companies and consumers transition to a cleaner and more prosperous energy future. A new collaboration will help us achieve this mission faster. We’re thrilled to announce that RMI has formally incorporated WattTime — a Silicon-Valley based nonprofit that produces technology that can automatically detect the actual emissions impacts when people and companies use energy — as a subsidiary organization. This will support WattTime’s growth while empowering more customers to choose clean energy, reducing the amount of carbon emitted through their electricity consumption.
Our electricity system is the largest source of U.S. carbon emissions, yet we currently measure emissions from our power use incorrectly. The actual emissions associated with our electricity use varies constantly, based on which power plants are being dispatched to meet the next kilowatt-hour of power. Until now, there hasn’t been an effective way to measure these changes in real time, so we’ve used average emissions factors.
WattTime has developed analytical approaches that make real-time data accessible for the first time. By empowering consumers with this data, and helping them to make choices about their energy use intelligently and automatically, WattTime can amplify RMI’s ability to drive a low-carbon energy future.
A new frontier of customer choice
Currently, customers have little choice in the type of energy they use or how much carbon they emit from electricity consumption. Today, when customers choose clean energy options through their utility, or corporations engage in power purchase agreements for renewables or invest in energy efficiency, the actual effect on their carbon footprint varies based on when they use energy. WattTime’s data can help customers understand the emissions impact of decisions in real time, and can help customers take advantage of demand flexibility to draw energy only at the cleanest times of the day.
WattTime’s software automatically detects where the electricity powering the grid is coming from and the actual emissions impacts when people and companies use energy — both in real time and ahead of time — so any device connected to the internet can use power at times when our electricity is the cleanest. WattTime-enabled devices run cleaner than a normal device with no cost to or impact on the end user.
That means any customer can unlock the power of increased choice by taking advantage of when his or her devices draw power.
Accelerating the transition to a cleaner grid
Measuring emissions from the grid correctly and providing customers and companies with the tools to act on that information unlocks new approaches to reducing emissions, both for customers and the grid. RMI, through our research on economics of demand flexibility, our regulatory work, and our work with utilities and corporations, has been steadily working to transition our grid to one that is cleaner, more distributed, and more customer-centric. WattTime has found a way to harness these ideas, and apply them in an innovative yet practical way — utilizing demand flexibility in consumer and business devices to optimize for carbon reduction or other emissions.
WattTime’s capabilities stood out to RMI because of the innovative approach and uniqueness of the product and intellectual property, as well as the technical capabilities of its team. By optimizing directly for carbon, customers can have a massive impact on cutting emissions at relatively low or no cost. Our team found that if deployed at scale, WattTime technology can mitigate the carbon equivalent of removing more than eight million cars from the road.
Because of WattTime’s unique approach, RMI undertook detailed diligence and independent validation. This solution was hatched out of seven years of research in university labs, and harnesses approaches from economics and behavioral science in addition to power grid modeling. Based on a close look at WattTime’s approach, and talks with experts at independent system operators (ISOs), utilities, and labs, we feel confident that it reduces emissions accurately and consistently, and provides value on top of other current approaches.
More detail about our validation of the approach, and its potential impacts, can be found in our report.
Two good reasons for this partnership
RMI is especially excited about this partnership for two reasons:
- It allows us to bring practical solutions to the market, helping us provide better data and more cost-effective solutions to the energy challenge. While RMI has long been deep into research, convening, consulting, and business-model development, WattTime allows us to build strengths in software and data analytics that are increasingly critical. Its team’s complementary skillset and the practical value of its products help us to bolster our relevance and impact.
- It helps demonstrate a path to scale for start-ups that choose to prioritize mission over profit. WattTime chose to incorporate as a nonprofit in order to focus exclusively on its mission and impact. By doing so, traditional paths to scale for a technology start-up, such as venture capital, were made unavailable to it. RMI is excited to be able to provide it with the support needed to bring its approach to scale.
RMI wants to provide solutions that make a real difference in the market and to consumers. As the transition to a cleaner, decentralized grid continues to accelerate, we want to help the best ideas take hold deeper and faster. The fact that we can help do so with such an exciting nonprofit like WattTime is even better.
For customers, it’s a win as well. For the first time, we can actually answer the question, “where is my electricity coming from?” And our energy system and the environment will be better for it.
Jules Kortenhorst is the CEO of the Rocky Mountain Institute. James Mandel is a principal at RMI. This post originally appeared at RMI Outlet.