Can renewable energy remain competitive?

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By Elisabeth Kindig

Episode 8 of Tech Lightning Rounds discusses the advances being made in renewable energy sources. Beth Kindig goes directly to the source of expertise in solar energy and sustainable energy in space with interviews from NASA, Stanford’s Departments of Energy Business Innovations and on data interoperability with Intertrust’s Platform. Interviews are held in “lightning round” format, which are rapid interviews with tech experts for immediate depth on each topic.

The promise for renewable energy is dependent on prices remaining competitive. As Rainer Sternfield of Intertrust points out in Tech Lightning Rounds, renewable energy requires data interoperability to achieve long-term value when compared to traditional energy sources.

For instance, wind farm operators may buy wind turbines from three different manufacturers and will need to share data across these systems without exposing intellectual property. Data interoperability enables renewable energy companies to be more efficient and remain competitive while reducing the risk of exposing sensitive data.

Rainer goes on to describe more situations where data can help renewable energy remain competitive and increase output. As we heard in the previous interview with Steve Comello, the levelized cost of energy in renewables is on a decreasing trend. At the same time, this decreases margins and companies have to figure out ways to stay competitive in a market that is a race to the bottom. Other examples of how data can help renewable energy companies include shortening the time from a request for an electric car charger to the actual installation of the charger or using data across many protected data sources to install solar panels in the best location.

Don’t miss this interview on an important topic of how renewable energy can remain competitive alongside experts from NASA and Stanford’s Department of Energy Business Innovations.


17:01 BK: My final guest is Rainer Sternfeld, who works on the data platform at Intertrust. He discusses how important it is for energy companies to share data securely in order to achieve progress in renewables. Can you tell us one of the bigger success stories within wind farms or weather forecasting or even energy grids that came from your data sets?

17:23 RS: One of the problems that the wind farm operators had beyond just pure operations was, how do you make it more efficient, and generally, efficiency comes from advanced analytics. And very often what happens is that companies engage with third parties that would provide an algorithm, either to detect whether a certain part will be failing, and therefore, scheduling maintenance, which is known as preventive maintenance, or insuring the wind farm against lower production and some sort of extreme weather events and things like that. And so, when you engage with third parties, you inherently expose your intellectual property, which is your data, to third parties and those third parties, as well, they expose their algorithms, which is their IP, to you, as the operator.

18:23 RS: And so by combining Intertrust Platform and Planet OS, we enable these new relationships where both parties work with each other, they provide their intellectual property, but don’t really feel threatened that their intellectual property might be compromised in some way. It’s a really trusted way to work and that allows even competitors to work with each other because sometimes, they need to work with each other but there needs to be a way to work with one another and that Intertrust Platform provides that opportunity. And Planet OS in this picture just plays the role of providing access to weather and climate data in a very easy programmatic fashion.

19:05 BK: When you talked about Intertrust Platform, you talked about interoperability. For anyone who may not be aware, can you break that down? What does that mean exactly?

19:13 RS: Yeah, interoperability is a term that gets thrown around quite a lot and in our world, it means really, two things. It can have two meanings: One is interoperability across different data types and formats, so that’s a very technical facet of the interoperability world. And it’s come a long way in the past 10 years, it’s not only Intertrust that has invested heavily in this, but in general, the world is coming to a place where you are able to work with very different types of data in the same environment, whether that’s weather stations or satellite data or sensor data from devices in your home and things like that. That’s the technical side. The other side is more based on standards and the way companies work.

20:08 RS: Staying on the subject of wind farms, if, for instance, you would buy a wind turbines from three different manufacturers, you would very often, find yourself, in working with three different isolated data silos, because they would use their own proprietary formats, there might be some encoding involved and that’s historically been more technical, but it’s becoming also sort of a protection by the manufacturers who want to protect their business in the future. And so what you need in that case, is interoperability across different manufacturers and doing that in a way that doesn’t threaten anyone’s business is quite complicated. And one way to do that is, to set common, kind of rails, that people understand how data gets into a system and how data gets out of a system.

21:07 BK: Rainer and I also talk about practical ways data can assist in solar feasibility, and how volatile energy prices can be mitigated by owning your own energy source. You also help renewable energy companies use data. How has data helped renewable energy companies become more competitive? Could you describe what you’ve seen since 2010, for instance, as far as the cost of energy sources?

21:29 RS: Yeah, as everybody in the energy space knows, the levelized cost of energy and in renewables has been on a decreasing trend, which is a good thing. The cost of energy should be as low as possible, but at the same time, what’s happening is, it also is decreasing margins. The margins are getting slimmer and slimmer, therefore, companies have to figure out ways how to stay competitive in a market which is in a race to the bottom, let’s say, this way, in terms of prices. And the one way to do that is to figure out value-add services. And so there is a major restructuring happening in the energy domain and that includes also renewable energy.

22:18 BK: Can you give us an overview in energy grids, they haven’t been disrupted for a long time. What does your data do to help energy grids perform better? Do you have any vision for innovation?

22:29 RS: People who own electric cars, they have certain patterns: They go to buy groceries, they go to the movies, they commute to work, so they have certain places where they want to park, and in an electric car world, parking means charging. They can actually use an app to request a charging location and then, by crowd sourcing these inputs, a municipality and the grid operator can decide where they actually should install new chargers. That’s a very good way to engage in a process where rights are managed, but at the same time, shortening the time from a request to actual installation of a charger multi-fold. That’s a success story.

23:16 RS: Another successful use case within the same [23:19] ____ case study is that, when people are planning to install solar panels on their rooftops, what they can do is they can assess the feasibility of solar panels on their specific household. You may have big trees in front of you, the architecture of your house may not be most optimal with respect to the sun, and of course, the location, the geographic location, whether you’re more up north or more south, that will obviously, influence or impact the solar radiation your rooftop may have. Having that kind of a solar feasibility application run on top of Intertrust Platform, which manages all their rights, but also brings in all these different datasets that allows you to assess that rooftop immediately, is not an easy thing to do if all the data is privately owned and needs to be managed.

24:24 RS: But with Intertrust Platform, it’s relatively easy to do. You have all the permissions in place and everybody feels comfortable and confident that their data is not getting compromised, but at the same time, these services are really offered and everybody has a transparent view of what the result might be like and then you can engage in a business transaction, whether it’s leasing new solar panels, or getting offers and things like that, or even home insurance, for that matter. Or for example, in some countries, where you have really volatile energy prices, maybe you’ll sell some of the electrons back into the grid. You may have a situation where you can decide when do you want to actually sell your electrons to the grid and when do you wanna store them in your battery in your home.

25:18 BK: Thank you for listening to Tech Lighting Rounds. Please support the production of this podcast by subscribing in iTunes and leaving a review.

25:26 S1: This episode was brought to you by Intertrust Technologies and Intertrust Platform, helping you build data-driven businesses. Go to for more information.

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