As New Jersey and one of its largest utility companies, Public Service Enterprise Group, aim to tackle the forceful climate change predicament that so many recognize, it will look to the entrepreneurial spirit to power innovation.
The New Jersey Tech Council on Thursday joined with PSEG Chairman, CEO and President Ralph Izzo to announce the NJTC CleanTech Impact Challenge, a program that welcomes new ideas on how to improve energy efficiency.
The winning concept will receive a $50,000 prize, fast-tracked corporate access, executive mentorship and a campaign to drive media coverage of its product. The NJTC webinar welcomed nearly 400 small-business professionals.
“We are looking for solutions,” Izzo said. “We aren’t a tech company, but, for the winner, we will help you to grow your business.”
The challenge’s three primary goals, Izzo said, are to reduce electricity and gas usage, drive energy efficiency and address workforce development — purposes that mean, he said, “everybody wins.”
“New Jersey is on the verge of exciting new energy policy changes,” Izzo said. “I want the creativity of New Jersey’s entrepreneurs unleashed. We’re looking for ideas in software and hardware. Is there an interface that can be built that is easy to use for less tech-savvy consumers? Can you use machine learning to develop a better way? How can we take advantage of data?”
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang, who campaigned in the 2020 race for president, joined the webinar.
“Small, nimble firms are what can really make a difference in finding creative solutions,” said Yang, who has been the guest of webinar moderator Aaron Price, CEO of NJTC, at several New Jersey events in the past few years. “There’s a lot of freaking brain power in New Jersey with its entrepreneurs. I’ve seen it.”
Yang said what’s most impressive about the challenge is that it is addressing workforce development.
“There’s been a lot of bottlenecking in the efforts to get to work on creating green jobs,” Yang said. “If there’s a silver lining in the COVID-19 and climate change catastrophe that’s coming right at us, it’s that we’ve lost 10 years of job growth in 10 weeks; 26 million people have lost their jobs. Earth has its own timetable on what it can (withstand). It doesn’t care about politics. This challenge can make a difference. And we need the government to get into the game of providing incentives that lead to greater economic efficiencies.”
Izzo pointed to a big problem that he calls “energy inequity.” He said that, today, the investment consumers need to make toward energy-efficiency — such as improved appliances or HVAC systems — are not affordable. The more-efficient appliances cost more, Izzo said, and policymakers need to do their part bring those costs down through subsidies so that all can benefit.
“We all know what things can be done, but for the many who are “at the low end of having disposable income” scale, they cannot afford it like the wealthier are able to.
Izzo recognizes that progress is being made by New Jersey’s Board of Public Utilities, which recently announced it will invest in advanced meter infrastructure. New Jersey previously was one of only two U.S. states not to have taken that step. These meters enable utilities and households to record energy use on an hourly or daily schedule, whereas, before, PSEG only read meters once per month.
“By tracking this more closely, we’ll be better able to plan and save on energy during high-use times,” Izzo says. “And we’ll be able to better compare energy use for a home that changed out its lighting to LED instead of incandescent or compact fluorescent bulbs. Or calculate how much of a difference a home can save on its energy bills because it upgraded its air conditioner.”
Izzo said a philosophical change in operational and financial priorities is in place at PSEG.
“We’re not in the business of selling energy,” he said. “We’re in the infrastructure business. We want our customers to live the life they want and be able to use less energy, cleaner energy and be able to deliver that energy reliably.”