The Toilet Paper Business
Reducing energy usage, making appliances more efficient: we all agree that these are good and practical goals. They just haven't seemed very exciting. Until now.
"I'm in the toilet paper business."
"The toilet paper business?"
"Yep. No one notices it until it's not there."
At the recent National Clean Energy Summit 7.0, Opower CEO Alex Laskey, described hearing this statement from a major utility executive, making a point everyone in the room seemed to agree with: energy efficiency is not glamorous. During the same panel, Ben Bixby of Nest made a similar statement. Nest's revolutionary thermostat allows homeowners to save significant amounts of energy, but the company's marketing pitch is the transformation of "unloved appliances" into cool, high-tech gadgets.
In fact, however, recent news suggests that energy efficiency is getting more glamorous.
Most notably, this year the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to a light bulb, or at any rate, to the inventors of blue light emitting diodes. The efficiency of blue LED lighting is transformative: the technology has the potential to bring lighting to the over 1.5 billion people with no reliable access to electricity grids. LED efficiency has generated entire new industries: some of our most beloved gadgets would not exist without them. In some form or another blue LEDs are present in DVDS, Blue-Ray players,smart phones and tablet screens, among many other applications.
Companies like Opower and Nest, in fact, are evidence of energy efficiency's growing cool factor. The founders of Nest and Opower were number two and seven respectively on Fortune’s inaugural list of the World’s Top 25 Eco-innovators, and their cohort included innovators and business leaders specializing in HVAC, lighting, and efficiency experts. Look over “Top inventions of the year” lists for anyone of the last few years and you’ll find that most of them feature at least one or two energy efficiency gadgets: intelligent windows, energy management systems, smart power strips, efficient appliances, sophisticated heating and cooling systems and many more.
Browse through some of the newer energy efficiency and conservation products, and you'll notice that most of them have been designed to be eye-catching. View's dynamic glass, which tints in response to external light, is downright beautiful. "The most common response we get when we demonstrate our product," says Rao Mulpuri, CEO of View, Inc, "the single word is 'Wow.'"
Photos by David Becker/Getty Images for National Clean Energy Summit