Welcome Barry Dicker: New Expert in the Energy Efficiency Community - [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Expert Interview]
- Sep 23, 2020 10:40 am GMT
Adopting energy efficiency and clean energy solutions to residential, commercial, and industrial marketplaces used to be a niche application, and a bit of a tougher sell. But as the utility industry has evolved and as innovations in technology and strategy have opened the doors to energy (and cost) savings through smart implementation, it seems that everyone know wants a piece of that pie.
As much as the energy efficiency space has grown in recent years, the coming decade is poised to be one of unprecedented market penetration. As this era of enhanced energy efficiency is ushered in, we at Energy Central will certainly be looking to our industry experts to guide us with their insights and perspectives. And when it comes to energy efficiency, we’re so excited that we can now count among that group Barry Dicker, President of Decent Energy, Inc.
Barry joins our Network of Experts within our Energy Efficiency Group on the back of years of experience in relevant manufacturing, clean energy technology, energy modeling, and so much more. Today he focuses his efforts on project development in the efficiency and renewable spaces, and he shares more about what that’s able to teach him in this interview as part of the official Energy Central Power Perspective ‘Welcome New Expert Interview Series.’
Matt Chester: These interviews are always a great way to get our readers introduced to the experts and recognize which ones they might be keen on connecting with or keeping an eye on their content. So, for those who haven’t yet met you, can you share your background? What got you involved in the energy industry originally, and how did you get to the point you’re at now as President of Decent Energy?
Barry Dicker: Sure. I was a technology lawyer working on Intellectual Property licensing, financings and mergers and acquisitions. Working with engineers on technology commercialization was the most enjoyable aspect of this. When I bought my first house, I started to see all sorts of possibilities for efficiency measures and renewable energy systems.
In particular, I became interested in developing an open source system for administering a virtual power plant. It struck me that there ought to be a vehicle for pursuing commercializing this and other Cleantech innovations. So as a side-line to my law practice, I launched Decent Energy, Inc. This gave me a channel for incubating emerging clean-tech companies that I foresaw later representing as a lawyer. Ultimately, direct involvement in creating that clean energy future spoke to me in a way that I could not ignore.
As the company has evolved, the core elements that have carried forward is work with emerging clean energy technologies. Decent Energy, Inc. is one of the few manufacturers reps/agents that focuses on Cleantech and is willing to take on new product lines that do not yet have an established place in the market.
MC: In your history is something that not many energy efficiency professionals have, which is a law degree. How has your training in the law impacted the way in which you think about and approach energy efficiency and the utility industry as a whole?
BD: My legal background is something I end up using each day in some sort or fashion. The 20,000-foot view is extremely helpful: understanding the process by which utilities are regulated, how business works, and how technology is commercialized are all key. It also allows my company to be nimble, as it’s never a matter of waiting on a lawyer to review documents, term sheets, etc.
Understanding how to put deals together helps me communicate more clearly with manufacturers and helps define what not to spend time or effort trying to change. Another advantage is understanding the limits of laws and our legal system. Specifically, norms can be more powerful than laws, and in many ways harder to change.
MC: Energy audits are always a terrific way to get a customer (whether residential, commercial, or industrial) more involved in their ‘energy journey,’ and yet many utilities still struggle to get the degree of participation that you might expect for a service that tends to pay off for all who utilize them. Where do you think the disconnect is with customers who’ve not yet engaged, and what can or should utilities be doing to better get to these hard to reach customers?
BD: I believe that there is tremendous untapped potential for utilities to revolutionize their customer engagement overall. As a result, I see issues of cost-effectiveness in the administration of utility sponsored efficiency programs as being a by-product of a larger missed opportunity. “Customer Experience” and “Customer Journey” are terms that other industries pay a much greater degree of time and attention thinking about. All too often utilities spend as much running a program as on the incentives that should be geared to catalyzing ratepayer action. Utilities need to develop more avenues to listen to both customers and stakeholders more broadly, be they trade allies such as HVAC firms and the ratepayers/end users.
For the customers that are open to education, audits and assessments can be an effective engagement tool, not only for the customer on site, but for their social network and the local economy. The secondary educational impact can be difficult to measure, and therefore value, but it is there and it does help shift norms.
Some customers are either not going to want to, or will not be able to, engage. In a residential context imagine, a single parent or grandparent that is juggling childcare, multiple jobs, etc. In a commercial context, imagine a CFO who is accomplished but has no understanding of what is behind the utility bills. Or it may be a rural context where there are access issues, and in a practical sense there isn’t a division between the home and the farm that neatly corresponds to residential and commercial program definitions. That’s where direct install, or prescriptive measures, can make a lot of sense. Administrative costs are reduced and customers have a presumably positive experience.
Another key issue is not appreciating how changing programs can disrupt the educational process for both trade allies and end customers. Customers and trade allies really don’t want to be experts in program design. They may be open to sharing positive experiences that they’ve had, but that gets all the more difficult when what they experienced is no longer available.
MC: In addition to your focus on energy efficiency, you also do a lot of work with clean energy solutions, and compellingly you approach issues of social and economic equity within these areas. Can you talk about why this aspect of the energy industry is important to you, and what would you suggest to utilities or other energy stakeholders who want to contribute to those causes but don’t really know how to do so?
BD: I suppose that it comes down to a strong sense of right and wrong, and a view that conducting business is not a neutral activity. I’ve had the benefit of some great mentors in life, and invariably they’ve all been people who brought more to the table than they were wanting to take off the table. The way in which we pursue making a living can either have a positive or a negative consequence on other stakeholders. Not considering this doesn’t change the outcome as much as it means missing an opportunity.
Efficiency and renewable energy technologies can be viewed as discriminatory in the sense that low-income and the underserved customers are least able to afford access. This can produce further disparity, because there is a STEM education opportunity for young people from families that have financial access. So, while technology commercialization is an imperative, we tend to get stuck on past paths in a way that hides alternatives.
In the context of utilities, engaging around issues of social and economic equity comes back to customer experience and customer journey. Perhaps bettering understanding the stress that a family experiences over a looming utility shut off due to delinquency. From a holistic standpoint, perhaps we encourage a utility to look at quantifying the marketing benefit, reduction in collection cost, and demand side management, and possible carbon offset associated with prioritizing low-income ratepayers beyond meeting the minimum requirements of a public service commission. From a trade ally standpoint, build true partnerships with small businesses and the community colleges that can supply skilled labor. It’s worth noting that for years the building trades have been a path for economic development.
Community solar can be another avenue for engagement, if pursued with an effective plan. In some cases, connecting with local community organizers and community action programs can be a place to start. Also, the National Community Solar Partnership includes many individuals and organizations that are in some sense concerned with engagement issues, and low to moderate income involvement.
MC: Can you share what it is about Energy Central that compelled you to get involved and integrated with the community?
BD: My first exposure to Energy Central was noticing that many of the webinars that I was interested in were coming from Energy Central. Your content is extremely relevant, especially now. Plus, you are building a community that is attracting knowledgeable people and creating an avenue for forward-thinking voices to share innovative ideas at a time of tremendous change
MC: What last piece of advice or guidance can you leave for our readers?
BD: I expect that utilities that embrace change, education and engagement are going to out-perform those that are resistant. So even if a person were only factoring financial considerations into determining utility strategy, my sense is that embracing change is the more profitable path.
It’s also my view that we should be evolving in how we think about the cost effectiveness of various utility programs. This goes hand in hand with embracing change, education, and engagement.
Thanks so much to Barry Dicker for joining me in this interview and for his participation as an Energy Efficiency expert in the Energy Central community. When you see Barry engaging with content around Energy Central, be sure to say hi, ask a question, and make him feel welcome!
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