Week eighteen: I become an energy modeller

The interminable summer holidays are over. Not being technically, as you might say, employed at the moment, and my wife being a teacher, I took most of August off. I had a few days working here and there, but nothing much.

It feels good to get back into the groove of daily work.

What have you been up to?

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been talking to a few potential co-founders who I met on the Y-Combinator co-founder matching platform. Over the last week I have been working full time on one of these projects.

This marks a bit of a shift in how I’m handling my plans for entrepreneurship. Previously I was positioning myself as a solo SaaS entrepreneur. This obviously required learning a lot about idea generation, marketing, customer support. I found all this a bit overwhelming, and more importantly I didn’t have a strong idea that I wanted to take forward.

Through Y-Combinator I’ve been chatting to people who already have good ideas and domain expertise, and are willing to take on a lot of the sales/marketing/product design side. This feels a lot more manageable as a task.

This also has an impact on what I’m going to be revealing in this blog. As I’m no longer just going to be working on my own things, I’m not as free to blab my mouth off about every little thing. But I’ll still be able to give an idea of the space I’m working in and the challenges that I’m encountering.

So, lately I’ve been working in the interesting world of domestic energy modelling.

That the heck is domestic Energy Modelling?ff

There are 27 million homes in the UK, and to meet our climate goals the vast majority will need to be emit zero carbon by 2050. To achieve this we need to drastically accelerate work to improve the energy performance of these buildings: improving insulation and ventilation, eliminating drafts, electrifying heating systems.

Unfortunately, the industry to help people to achieve this is mostly missing.

  • There aren’t many companies that specialise in deep energy retrofits, who will offer to hold the hand of the customer throughout the process
  • Most builders lack a lot of the key skills to make homes super energy efficient
  • The approaches for modelling and certifying how energy is used in buildings aren’t really fit for purpose
  • Banks aren’t set up to lend people money to improve the energy efficiency of their home.
  • There isn’t the required government funding to make all of the above happen at scale

It’s a whole knotty mess of policy/business problems, all along the chain. I’m confident that this is a problem that will get solved in time, and that eventually billions of pounds will start to be spent every year on fixing this problem.

The question is what is the best way to chip away at this problem right now? What is the small niche where a software company could make money and start to make a difference?

The Pitch

I’ve been looking at the start of the user’s journey. Specifically, looking at generating an energy model of the user’s house - essentially a simulation of the building showing how energy travels through the home. If we could quickly create acccurate energy models of people’s houses, we could give better advice about the costs and benefits of different improvement measures.

The challenge is using technology to allow users to easily make an accurate model of how energy travels around their home. At the moment, the standard way of doing this is for a specialist to come round your house, spend an hour measuring things and another hour entering data into a spreadsheet. This approach probably won’t scale to millions of homes.

This fits nicely with my previous career as an energy policy wonk (from 2009-2019 I worked as climate policy advisor for the UK government). I also have quite a personal interest in this. I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the years thinking about how our house could be more energy efficient. In this quest, I have found it hard to get the right advice about what I should do and the impact that making changes would have. So I definitely feel the customer’s pain.

Next week I’ll aim to give a bit more of an update on what I’ve actually been working on.

Have good weeks all!

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