Can the water industry borrow go-to-market tricks from others cleantech sectors?
Laura Shenkar of The Artemis Project thinks so.
Setting off in 2008, we note that getting out the message of climate change and the value of innovative technology to address it simply isn’t enough to bring about sweeping new behaviors. How so? Most of us aren’t yet commuting to work by bus, nor have our utilities stopped using coal as primary source of energy throughout the U.S.
If the world needs rapid change, innovative go-to-market strategies must accompany the best innovative technologies. And while we’re early in many of these sectors yet, some of these strategies that are getting early enthusiasm in cleantech could have bearing on and help accelerate other sectors, like, for instance, the relatively staid water industry.
Shai Agassi’s electric vehicle initiative, Project Better Place, provides one interesting example of the value of innovative strategy in bringing a sustainable technology to market. Project Better Place does not develop its own electric vehicle technology. The company is building a charging grid and on-demand battery swap service for drivers of electric vehicles. It focuses upon the consumer rather than the car industry to gain rapid acceptance of a new electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure by addressing the “consumer contract for the vehicle.”
“The consumer’s contract for the EV must be the same – or better – than the consumer’s current contract for gas-powered cars,” Agassi explained at a small gathering in Israel recently.
“We need to change the way consumers buy an EV so that it fits the current social contract we have with our cars, providing a normal car ownership experience even if the car has an electric drive train,” he said.
As Agassi noted, most people have their own car and seldom share it. Most cars transport four passengers and cargo, cost about $20,000 and require a stop for refueling every few hundred miles. If an electric car provider can provide the same kind of “consumer contract,” it could compete directly with the major car manufacturers and should be able to gain significant market share. This is Agassi’s bet.
Winning widespread acceptance for new solutions requires that the technology solutions fit in with existing patterns of use. The success of new types of commercial service packages for alternative energy, like the power purchase agreements offered by SunEdison are showing how established sustainable technologies such as solar power can gain wide acceptance rapidly when their offered in a format similar to that of their existing utilities.
SunEdison installs solar panels onsite at a commercial customer’s property and enters into long-term power contracts, typically for 20 years. Pricing is competitive with that of comparable energy costs. Other companies like SPG Solar, Solar Power Partners, and even solar manufacturers like SunPower are now rushing to put PPAs in place in a bid to accelerate adoption of the technology, while, of course, making a profit.
Compelling green technologies for water abound as they do for energy and transport in the marketplace. But if they are to see the same sort of aggressive adoption as solar, wind and other sectors, innovative water technology needs to address today’s world and today’s inherent “service contract” with consumers.
There are obvious similarities to energy. In agriculture, for residential users as well as commercial and industrial sites, water is a service as well as a product. It is a means to a different end—may it be production of food or microprocessors, drinking or hygiene. Even if the technologies are decades old and well-proven, water’s increasing scarcity is now requiring dramatic changes in the way that farmer or semiconductor chip manufacturers work on a day to day basis.
Water is a limited natural resource with no substitute. Interruptions to the supply or quality of energy might impact productivity or cause discomfort, but interruptions in fresh water supply, or polluted water, can be fatal. Further, today’s water and waste water services employ an elaborate infrastructure that can not be duplicated, nor changed easily.
That said, where can water borrow from other industries’ innovative go-to-market strategies?
Having worked with innovative technology for two decades, and having worked with innovative “green” technologies for several years, I am convinced that fitting new technology into the existing consumer contracts for the products we seek to replace is a requirement for success.
The world is made every day with our smallest actions and decision, and it can be remade with our actions. As anyone who has ever been on a diet or any corporation implementing cost savings can tell you, it’s the end-user who drives profound changes.
Laura Shenkar has more than 20 years of experience launching innovative technologies throughout the world, and was a member of the leadership team of three successful startups. She is the principal of The Artemis Project, a consulting firm focused upon applying leading-edge water technologies.
(Appeared on the Cleantech Network Forum)