Simon Schmitz wants to change the way you think about the sun and the wind.
Having worked in the energy industry in the past, he saw green, innovative ideas being passed over because of a business culture that was uncomfortable with risk.
Having met Peter Votzi at Impact Hub Vienna, where they are both members, the pair decided to set out on their own. Today they are revolutionizing the energy industry in Austria by linking our energy consumption to when the sun, the wind, and other green energy sources are at their peak.
Busting our dirty energy habits
“Since the industrial revolution, we have been using almost exclusively energy from the past,” explained Simon, CEO of aWATTar, in a recent presentation representing the Impact Hub network at the European Forum Alpbach.
We know the dangers of climate change, which are happening in real time. Bigger, more destructive storms. Rising sea levels. Food and water shortages. We also know that much of this is caused by our consumption of fossil fuels.
Yet despite this knowledge, we’re struggling to make the transition to clean energy.
Simon had worked as a corporate strategist in the energy industry for years, but he wasn’t satisfied with the industry’s pace of transition to clean energy. “I was fed up with endless decision-making processes and…the situation where new business ideas would not get started because they might hurt the ‘existing portfolio.’”
Wanting room to activate his innovative green energy ideas, Simon left his job and joined forces with Peter Votzi to found aWATTar out of Impact Hub Vienna. “We have been Hubbers from the start,” shared Simon, “From finding ourselves as Co-Founders to winning Impact Hub Vienna's "Social Impact Start" pitching competition and later benefiting from their accelerator package.”
|Simon Schmitz and Peter Votzi, co-founders of aWATTar|
To begin, the pair looked at existing solutions to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Measures to reduce the amount of energy we consume are being implemented, and governments have made some limited progress in curbing carbon emissions, but these solutions are not enough.
To truly wean ourselves off fossil fuels, Simon and Peter knew they would have to get competitive. In short, they wanted to make green energy “cheap enough, and fast enough” so that it could out-perform fossil fuels in the global market.
Solving the puzzle
Now the question was how to make this vision of cheap, efficient green energy a reality.
Unlike more tangible energy sources like oil, energy from sunlight and wind is more difficult to transport and store. But we can’t simply go without power just because the sun has gone down for the night, or the wind is calm at the moment. At the same time, creating new storage infrastructure like power lines and hydro plants is expensive and resource-intensive.
So the co-founders began to think, “what would it mean to create a storage solution that is distributed and operates essentially within the system that we live in, that we have already built?”
They realized that to solve this problem “would mean turning the whole logic of the energy system upside down.
The system is now built entirely to follow power demand, but can we make our power demand follow nature instead?”
|Wind turbines image by Karsten Würth|
In today’s world, we’re used to having things instantly, on our schedules, on our terms. But nature doesn’t always follow our schedule. We needed to take a new, different approach, “one in which we do not try to dominate but in which we adapt to nature in a much more humble way.”
This respect for the environment is at the heart of aWATTar’s vision. In fact, the name of the company is based on a variation of the word “Avatar,” the popular 2009 film. Simon drew inspiration from the film’s message of being in sync with nature, “which reflects much of this philosophy with its beautiful story and visuals.”
The big idea
Drawing on this vision, aWATTar’s first goal was to increase awareness about timing our energy usage to correspond with when sun and wind power is most available.
This concept isn’t a secret to the energy industry. “Power prices follow nature already: power is traded on an hourly basis, and prices even already go negative sometimes when the solar and wind forecast is high.” But it is something new to everyday people, because currently power companies absorb those savings and charge a flat rate to users. aWATTar would instead “be the first energy supplier to pass on these hourly exchange prices to customers: the windier and sunnier the weather, the cheaper it gets! And the information is available every day, for everyone to see.”
For example, take a look at the chart below. The bars at the bottom represent the cost of energy, the yellow bars on top show the amount of solar energy, and the blue bars the availability of wind-powered energy.
Consumers who choose aWATTar as their energy supplier see how the prices change throughout the day. They then have an incentive to utilize energy when it’s available, thus reducing the need to store that energy. For example, you could set your heating or hot water system to run at midday, storing energy in your boiler, floors and walls, rather than waiting to run it when you come home in the evening.
With this one technique, aWATTar has lessened the need for energy storage by shifting energy usage to when it’s being produced.
Though a big step in the right direction, this alone is not quite enough—we still need some energy at night and when the wind dies down.
Imagine the items you personally own that store energy. The battery in your computer. The hot water heater in your closet. Perhaps you have an electric car that you plug in at night. aWATTar is developing software that will enable us to program these items to collect and use energy when the sun is shining its brightest and when the wind is at its strongest.
To begin, aWATTar has created software for heat pumps, which warm our buildings: “they are not necessarily as well-known or as good-looking as a Tesla, but they are also really cool.” aWATTar’s software tells the heat pumps to store energy when green energy sources are most available.
The result? Not only is solar and wind energy cheaper, it’s also automated--meaning less work for our busy lives. These benefits give individuals and companies an incentive to prioritize green energy over other sources.
An optimistic future for green energy
In the long term, Simon and Peter envision a world that is fully automated to use green energy.
They have already started to see a shift in mindset. “The community is slowly accepting the concept of ‘energy in sync with nature’ as a ‘must-do,’" Simon explained. “In a few years time for certain appliances...it will be a standard anywhere that consumption times are optimized.”
Though aWATTar is a for-profit business, their big dream is not about money. The end goal is to provide a solution to our current energy habits, which are accelerating us dangerously into climate change.
To get there, aWATTar is tapping into the power of community. By requiring us to shift our relationship with nature, this green energy alternative is not simply a product: “most importantly, this alternative makes every one of us part of the solution.” A solution that will ensure a future where, generations from now, the climate is stable and energy sources are abundant.
aWATTar’s work to create affordable, innovative green energy solutions contributes to the following UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):
To learn more about how aWATTar is evolving the energy industry, visit www.awattar.com or watch the company video: