By monitoring and measuring energy production, consumption and portfolio performance, budget conscious users, installers, developers and financiers are discovering production increases and cost savings that they could never see before.
Interview - Energy Monitoring with PowerTrack
Robert Schaefer | AlsoEnergy
What is AlsoEnergy’s background? How has it changed over time?
Holden Caine and I founded AlsoEnergy in 2007 because we saw a need for flexible and affordable monitoring solutions that could report real-time monitoring results. Our goal was to build a full product suite that could be integrated in any energy-monitoring environment. The first product was PowerTrack Monitoring, cloud-based monitoring software.
Currently, we focus on large solar installations, but our technology could easily be used for wind, biofuel, traditional utility production and energy monitoring.
Holden Caine, our CTO, has a background in developing high-performance, low-cost web-based software solutions for the digital imaging market. I have a background in Electrical Engineering from MIT and Control Systems from University of Colorado. It’s this technology background that we share in both hardware and software that gives us the platform to really customize our solution to whatever our customers need.
What are its main products and services?
AlsoEnergy’s primary product is PowerTrack, which is cloud-based software that monitors renewable energy performance. A complimentary product is our PowerLobby Kiosk displays. These are used to showcase the performance of the renewable energy as well as sun tracking, weather data and environmental impacts.
Who are some of its biggest customers and how did the company attract them?
AlsoEnergy’s biggest clients are large financiers and tier one inverter manufacturers. I believe that one of the reasons we attracted clients of this magnitude is by offering a brandable version of our PowerTrack software. In this business, companies that produce large installations have the choice of either creating their own monitoring software or referring to outside vendors such as AlsoEnergy. Large companies understand the need to focus on their core business, but still would like their name on a unique product. Our customizability and scalability for large installations attracts these companies where it is more efficient to OEM another software product.
Some of the larger installations that AlsoEnergy is involved in is the 5MW installation at Arizona Western College and the 3MW installation for the San Diego School District.
How does AlsoEnergy differentiate itself from its competition?
Our main differentiator is our customizable interface built on an affordable, scalable software platform. For example, even the PowerLobby displays can be customized to show production, consumption and carbon saving data that can be customized for marketing purposes in the case of a corporate location, educational purposes for a school, or showing energy cost savings at a municipal building.
AlsoEnergy is available in five languages, in metric and imperial measurements, and recently released an iPhone and Droid application (with Blackberry to come soon). These features add significant convenience to financiers and renewable energy managers with several installations.
In your opinion, what is the added value to the installer, customer/financier and/or sales rep to integrating a monitoring system?
By monitoring and measuring energy production, consumption and portfolio performance, budget conscious users, installers, developers and financiers are discovering production increases and cost savings that they could never see before. AlsoEnergy’s financial and project partners such as developers, financiers, manufacturers and government agencies can see how complicated investments deliver to the bottom line over time, quantifying risk and reward with verifiable models.
Are you aware of any mistakes that are commonly made when specifying or implementing renewable energy monitoring systems? If so, how can these be avoided?
Currently, there are three forms of renewable energy monitoring: third-party solutions providers such as AlsoEnergy, in-house proprietary solutions and inverter-supplied monitoring. Some customers attempt to save money by going with inverter-supplied monitoring. This is a mistake because these systems have limited capabilities and difficult to understand displays. Companies who choose to develop in-house monitoring software run into similar problems; they are more expensive to create, but still have limited capabilities.
If you expect to raise capital for your developing, you have to show investors an accurate financial return. With the growth in renewable energy market growing, it is important to have as many financial and usage metrics as possible. Economic factors are now driving the planning and purchasing decisions for the energy marketplace.
In your experience, when and where are monitoring systems most appropriate? What criteria—i.e., site conditions, project capacity, customer class or financial model—are most likely to drive a design toward the use of monitoring systems?
Fewer businesses are investing in energy anymore because they want to feel good about the environment. They are doing it for economic reasons, with environmental motivators as a secondary concern. Without accurate real-time monitoring data that ties to cost, performance and return on investment, engineers and developers of energy systems will fall behind.
Where are you seeing the most growth in solar and wind energy installations?
Most of the current demand is coming out of U.S, Canada and Europe. As energy prices go up and solar production costs continue to drop, we are seeing demand for our services from all corners of the globe. We currently monitor more than 500 solar power sites in 14 countries around the world including the United States, Canada, Korea, Italy, Germany, Mexico, Slovakia, France, UAE, Australia, Spain and Greece.
What’s next for AlsoEnergy and Renewable Energy Monitoring?
At AlsoEnergy, we have grown strategically, leveraging our strong relationships within the solar power industry and perfecting our products. Next, we would like to expand further into other forms of renewable energy, as well as utility monitoring. Our software and displays are customizable and flexible enough to monitor about anything.
Energy monitoring has come of age and is here to stay. It’s a requirement, not an add-on or afterthought, especially as economic factors drive decisions the in renewable energy market.
With nearly 30 years’ experience, Schaefer built upon his Electrical Engineering degree (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and Control Systems (University of Colorado) education to lead operations at companies including Digital Equipment Corp., MaxOptix and Hertrich Development. Prior to founding AlsoEnergy, he was CEO at storage systems and software developer Breece Hill Technologies.
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