Conceptually, virtually every organization thinks that energy efficiency saves money and that renewables are a good idea. The catch, however, is that putting these concepts to work — getting to point at which solar panels can be put on the roof and LEDs in ceilings — is complicated.
Aiding organizations work through the thicket of challenges that accompany these projects is the goal of The NEO Network, an online platform from Schneider Electric. Today, there is an environment in which facility and energy managers may be interested in renewables and energy efficiency technology but not trained in it. They can quickly become lost, said John Hoekstra, NEO’s Managing Director.
Many people interested in projects have limited options, such as listening to vendor pitches in a vacuum, searching the Web or contacting trade groups, said Hoekstra. Those steps are not bad – but they are time-consuming and can paint an incomplete or inaccurate picture.
Schneider wants to expand, concentrate and normalize the options. “What NEO deals with and why we created it is [to deal with] all the complexity and confusion that is created for the corporate energy manager or sustainability person trying to improve the bottom line as well as meet the company’s goals,” said Hoekstra, who also is Schneider’s Director of Sustainability and Clean Technology for Schneider.
Indeed, organizations face choices at many levels. A company may need guidance on how to first get into energy efficiency and renewables – what is the most prudent first step toward energy efficiency — finding the right vendors and financing the projects. Indeed, these are just the tip of the iceberg of serious and fundamental questions.
NEO has three elements, according to Schneider. The “Discover” area features whitepapers, research reports and market intelligence that provide insight on more than 50 countries and regions. The “Connect” element features profiles and community forums that enable those interested in projects to make their needs known and vendors and other providers to identify their skills and capabilities. Finally, the “Exchange” element enables organizations to “collaborate with peers, and search for existing developments based on technology type, project size and location. They can also engage leading cleantech providers to initiate new sustainability projects,” according to Schneider.
NEO is not the only organization providing this type of service. The closest comparison, Hoekstra said, is The Rocky Mountain Center’s Business Renewable Center. He said that Schneider is a member of the BRC and that it serves an important role. However, he pointed to several differences between the approach of the two organizations.
NEO’s public launch was this week. Founding participants include AEG Allergan, Bloom Energy, Equinix and VF Corp. Hoekstra said that there are about 20 at this point. Participating is by subscription, he said. He added that the charge “won’t break the bank.”
There no doubt are other ways in which companies interested in energy efficiency and renewable projects can get started. There are consultants and, as Hoekstra said, trade organizations. Vendors are by no means the enemy: Though it must be taken with a grain of salt, the information they provide can be valuable.
Indeed, the smart companies understand that energy efficiency and renewables are bewildering. Shepherding companies – especially small organizations without a trained energy manager on staff – through the process generally benefits both parties.
NEO, it seems, is a valuable addition. Energy efficiency and renewables remain complex and confusing. At the same time, however, they increasingly are central to the organizations’ planning. NEO offers a possible way to move from good idea to beneficial, installed and working technology. Hopefully, more approaches will emerge.