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Energy Central Power Perspectives™: Welcome Jeff Ressler of Clean Power Research, New Expert in the Clean Power Community- [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Interview]

Posted to Energy Central in the Clean Power Professionals Group
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Energy Analyst, Chester Energy and Policy

Official Energy Central Community Manager of Generation and Energy Management Networks. Matt is an energy analyst in Orlando FL (by way of Washington DC) working as an independent energy...

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  • Feb 2, 2022
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Never has it been so clear that the direction of the utility sector is moving is towards clean energy sources, as we continue to deliver reliable and affordable power in a manner that won't create pollution and long-term climate change. That shift to clean energy resources, though, is one that carries lots of implications. What are the impacts to the grid? What are the best types of generation for each region? How should we handle distributed assets and the rise of the pro-sumer?

Answering these questions amid the clean energy transition is just as important as the idea as the clean energy itself, so it stands to reason that we must continue to look to experts to research and inform the sector about all these questions and more. Luckily, that's where the Clean Power Research has stepped up. And within the Energy Central Community, we're delighted to welcome the organization's CEO, Jeff Ressler, as a part of Energy Central’s Network of Experts, specifically in our Clean Power Group.

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Jeff joined Clean Power Research in 2007 and has overseen the inception of numerous software tools at the company designed to spread clean power information to the industry widely. His decade of experience at Microsoft (including speech assistant to Bill Gates) has served to inform him about how these digital tools can unlock the future of clean energy.

To bring the community up to speed on his background and viewpoints moving forward, Jeff agreed to participate in the Energy Central Power Perspective ‘Welcome New Expert Interview Series.’

If you have any thoughts or questions for Jeff, be sure to let him know in the comments below!

Matt Chester: We love using these interviews as an opportunity for our community to get to know who our experts are and what exactly makes them an expert. So to start that, I’d love if you could give a quick background on yourself—how did you get involved in the energy industry initially and what pathway led to you being CEO at Clean Power Research?

Jeff Ressler: I have long been intrigued by the possibilities of renewables and especially solar. As a sophomore in college, I was particularly interested in how renewables could intersect with the rapidly advancing world of computer and data networks (this was in the very early 90’s as the web was just getting going). I wrote a paper that year that speculated on how the combination of solar power and emergent satellite-based data connectivity from systems like Motorola’s then-proposed Iridium satellite network would usher in a new age of unmanned, ground-based remote sensing for national security and scientific endeavors. It was around this time that I met Tom Hoff, who was also at Stanford and was pursuing his PhD. Tom was an energy nerd and had actually worked in the industry and with renewables at PG&E. As we became friends, I really loved hearing his stories about solar and its potential economic impact. Tom was always grounded in the economics of renewables.

I completed my Bachelor of Science a year before Tom earned his PhD and I went off to work in the software industry. Tom and I stayed in touch even after I joined Microsoft and as he moved from Stanford up to Napa and started Clean Power Research. Most of Clean Power Research’s revenues were from consulting, but he had a strong math and computer science background and I would send him copies of Visual Studio to use as he started to build software. We also talked about business models and came up with a subscription-based model that he could use for his Clean Power Estimator web-based solar calculator. The calculator was targeted at solar panel manufacturers and installers who would get their branding on the tool and then surface it through their web sites to their customers. Today, we call this business model software-as-a-service, of course. Anyway, I had a great 10+ year career at Microsoft working on products like SQL Server and Exchange, and even having a nearly three-year stint as Bill Gates’ speech manager. Tom was finally able to pull me away from Microsoft in late 2007. I say finally, because it took about two years for him to convince me.

I took the reins on building out the Clean Power Research software team, opening an office in the Seattle area and hiring professional developers with experience from companies like Microsoft. Tom was focused on consulting and research. It was not long before the software side of the business had eclipsed consulting and research from a revenue perspective. After a number of years of continued strong growth on the software side of the business and given my background and skillset, it became logical for me to take on the role of CEO. Thankfully, Tom is still at Clean Power Research producing great research as efficiently as ever, as is evidenced by the number of patents he’s been granted in the last ten years. We’ve steadily grown the company and have been able to build out a great team of accomplished folks who are passionate about the energy transformation. Tom and I still talk almost every day—though he’s in Napa and I’m in Kirkland—and that’s a great thing.  We love our roles and the opportunity to continue to build a great company with an outsized impact.

 

MC: Share with our readers more about what Clean Power Research does for the utility sector, and what were some of your biggest wins in 2021?

JR: Sure. Our utility offerings are cloud software services focused on program automation, customer engagement and grid planning. The program automation side of things is built on a foundation of our PowerClerk® product, which is a workflow and forms automation solution originally built to take on solar incentives, and later, interconnection programs. PowerClerk has since emerged as a general-purpose automation platform that is applicable to a very wide range of programs at utilities, including: battery/storage, electric vehicles and EVSE, pole attachments, new service delivery, FERC interconnection, COVID related programs, power purchase agreements, electric bill assistance and more. 

Utilities link PowerClerk to their own internal systems such as GIS, customer information and distribution planning to automate these processes and take advantage of features like electronic signatures, stakeholder communications, deadlines and status tracking, electronic payments and regulatory reporting. PowerClerk is designed to put program administrators and designers in control. It allows utility staff to customize forms and workflow processes very easily without writing code. At the same time, it provides the level of integration that utility IT departments need to securely integrate with those back-end systems that are critical to their businesses via an API and web adapters.

Customer engagement activity occurs primarily through a tool called WattPlan® Advisor that is focused on performing personalized analyses and technology comparisons for consumers to make well informed decisions about various energy related technologies including solar, battery storage, and EVs. WattPlan helps answer questions like: what are the economics of solar PV on my roof? What rate should I be on? What are the energy benefits? How might it affect my electrical bill? What are the environmental benefits? What would happen if I added storage along with my solar system? And we answer similar questions for electric vehicles as well as rate plans. WattPlan is a tool that provides deep, 24/7 expertise for utility customers in a package that highlights the utility’s brand, rates, incentives, etc.

Our customers are increasingly linking these tools together for a more robust solution covering EV and EV charging station incentives or solar/solar + storage solutions. For example, a utility may want to provide customers with personalized EV modeling and calculations and enable a customer to signup for a ride-and-drive event. The customer can answer a few questions, and their information goes into PowerClerk to be managed as an interested potential EV customer who might be a great candidate for a ride-and-drive or incentive offer. In all cases, that solution is a secure, digital self-service experience for the customer that provides an opportunity to take the next step. And for EV or solar owners, they can use the tool to enroll in programs like Time of Use rates, Net Metering, or vehicle charging tips.

Finally, on the grid planning side, we have a suite of tools that help utilities forecast DER adoption and model the impact of technologies like solar on their grids. We are a leading provider of solar resource data—historical, real-time and forecast—to utilities through our SolarAnywhere® family of products. The SolarAnywhere product lineup includes FleetView® which is used by some of the largest utilities in the United States to predict the output of interconnected PV systems on their grids, whether those are small, behind-the-meter residential systems or the largest utility-scale solar farms. Coupled with the detailed system specification data captured in PowerClerk, this enables the utility to effectively create a digital twin of their PV fleet.  

We’ve had big wins in 2021 across these product families. We’re seeing more utilities handling more programs than ever before with PowerClerk. Indeed, a growing number of utilities have identified PowerClerk as a fundamental IT resource and are licensing it from us in a way that allows unlimited programs and projects/submissions. That is a huge vote of confidence by our customers in the capabilities, real world impact, security and roadmap of the tool. WattPlan has also really taken off at utilities as the premier EV, PV and community solar modeling tool. And we’re seeing solid progress on the more nascent utility DER forecasting and solar resource side of things.

I would finish by saying that, while we are very proud to be serving all 10 of the Top 10 electric utilities in the Fortune 500, we are focused on building services that work not only for those companies but also for small municipal utilities and co-operatives. We now serve more than 65 utilities including IOUs, muni’s and co-ops, and have now processed more than 1.5 million energy program applications. Our professional services team plays a big role in getting some of those smaller customers up and running, especially those that may have a lean staff and desire more service deployment support. While customers are able to deploy projects without assistance, some customers big and small desire the support of our professional services team.

MC: Now looking forward, can you share with us what direction you’re looking to take Clean Power Research in 2022? What are the top priorities?  

JR: The focus on broad usage of PowerClerk is continuing for us in 2022. We’ll be talking about, and showing, a lot of our customers successes in automating an ever-wider range of programs with PowerClerk. Much of that will happen at our annual Reflow conference which folks can learn more about at www.cleanpower.com/reflow.  A number of our customers will be presenting their own progress themselves, which we’re happy to be able to showcase at the event.

We’re also investing more in the integration of PowerClerk and WattPlan so that utilities can provide clear next steps for their customers. This ensures utilities are capturing the key preferences and inputs that their customers are modeling when they run tools like WattPlan. That, in turn, gets fed into distribution planning groups and teams focused on building out things like charging infrastructure.

We’re really excited to be rolling out a range of capabilities for building electrification. As utilities commit to decarbonize, or are required by regulators to take new steps around GHG reduction, we’re hearing that they need tools that can handle these technologies. Our offering combines elements of PowerClerk, WattPlan and a new Virtual Energy Audit capability that we’ve already successfully used at two utilities.

The team is full steam ahead on taking more of our products to international customers. That expansion started with our SolarAnywhere family and is now happening with PowerClerk. Several of our larger utility customers using our tools in the United States are accelerating our international adoption by advocating for us with their international affiliates.

Finally, we’re working with more partners than ever and investing to expand that in 2022. This ranges from technical feature partners like DocuSign for e-signatures to implementation and program management partners like CLEAResult. Related to this is making sure we are a good target for programmability. That means we want to be exposing APIs, libraries and features that ensure our partners can get the data and intelligence they need out of our tools. For utilities, that could be an internal IT team initiating an operation in their billing system based on a status change in PowerClerk. Or, it could be integration of a tool such as Salesforce with data that’s in one of their PowerClerk programs or coming from a customer running WattPlan. So, I guess you could say we are focused on being both a good technical partner as well as a good business partner for our customers and third parties.

 

MC: You spent your career before joining Clean Power Research in the tech space at Oracle and Microsoft. I’m curious if your time spent there helped to inform how you’re able to view and approach the energy sector today?

JR: Very much so. I see a lot of parallels between tech and the energy sector. In the energy space, many of us talk about decentralization and digitization as elements of the energy transformation (often along with decarbonization, thus gaining the tagline “the 3Ds”). Over my career of about 25 years, software has of course driven digitization, but we’ve seen cycles of decentralization and, if you will, recentralization. In the late 90’s and into the first decade of this century, a lot of decentralization was happening with software. Teams and workgroups could run software that would otherwise have been under strict control of the “IT priesthood.” Microsoft was a big part of that server software democratization of course. That had its benefits, like new capabilities rolled out more readily to people who needed them. But there were also disadvantages, like siloing of data and increased security risks with so much data spread so widely and under the control or purview of so many different folks. 

With the cloud, it might seem at first like we’ve taken a step back toward centralization, but in reality the cloud is still decentralized. Very few companies are using cloud solutions from only one vendor. Instead, they’re choosing best of breed solutions and relying on the vendors and their internal IT teams to ensure that data is secure but also flowing, and that it’s integrated into the places it needs to be integrated. That gives you a sense of why our focus on programmability and integration is so fundamental. The parallel with the utility is that they are dealing with integration in an incredible new way: businesses and homeowners can be power providers (via technologies like PV). And so while the utility mostly refers to that as interconnection, as a software person, I see that as an integration challenge. And that challenge becomes more acute and has bigger implications with more distributed generation and with wider variation in demand (as may be influenced by EVs, for example).

 

MC: For anyone who wants to get involved in the clean power space, what advice would you give?

JR: If someone wants to get involved in the space that’s probably a sign that they have a passion for the space and that is an element that I think is critical. That has been so consistent for us: the employees that stay with us and do the best work are the ones who are passionate about our mission and vision. That doesn’t mean our employees are all in lock step. Our vision and mission are around a clean-powered planet and the energy transformation, respectively, and there are a lot of varied approaches on how to get there. Our staff recognize that our business is progressing across several fronts toward that. So, I would say, be passionate if you are entering this space.

 

MC: How do you hope to leverage Clean Power Research’s presence on Energy Central to elevate the conversation in this space? And what is your organization getting out of the community platform?  

JR: Tom Hoff, CPR’s founder and Chief Research Officer, and I are both on Energy Central and, I think, see potential benefits for both of our roles. That is, Tom is thinking about research. What is the next wave of challenges that utilities are facing? How can those be addressed? Are new analytical methods needed? Can we empower the utilities to use data they may already have to make informed decisions? 

I am very much a software person and so thinking about our roadmap. And that roadmap is evolutionary at some level and sometimes revolutionary. With the range of utility customers we have, our team is exposed to a lot of best practices. One fun thing about utilities is that they are generally not competing with each other, so there is a collegial environment of sharing best practices and new approaches. Energy Central is very much evidence of that characteristic.

I see a role for Tom and me in both sharing best practices we’re familiar with and learning where we might be able to direct some of our cloud software acumen to take on new challenges…areas that don’t necessarily have clear paths forward for utilities, let alone best practices.

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Thanks to Jeff Ressler for joining me for this interview and for providing a wealth of insights and expertise to the Energy Central Community. You can trust that Jeff will be available for you to reach out and connect, ask questions, and more as an Energy Central member, so be sure to make him feel welcome when you see him across the platform.

The other expert interviews that we’ve completed in this series can be read here, and if you are interested in becoming an expert then you can reach out to me or you can apply here.

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