Guest: McGee Young (LinkedIn, Twitter)
Organization/Company: LF Energy (Twitter) | WattCarbon (Twitter)
Show: State of Energy
Keyword: Climate Change, Carbon Footprint

WattCarbon develops decarbonization measurement and verification tools to track the carbon intensity of building energy use. The company helps users reduce its carbon footprint by taking into account the availability of zero-carbon energy using data feeds and real-time grid carbon intensity values. Companies often struggle to make the connection between their energy consumption and the availability of renewable energy making calculating carbon emissions difficult.

WattCarbon is working with LF Energy, an open source foundation focused on the power systems sector, which aims to set standards using transparent methods and tools. LF Energy aims to create a collaborative environment, bringing together key players who are working towards a common cause. In this case, standardizing how carbon is measured and developing tools that make it easier for companies to get to their net zero goals.

McGee Young, CEO at WattCarbon, has worked with LF Energy in the past when developing OpenEEmeter, an open source toolkit for implementing and developing standard methods for calculating normalized metered energy consumption. He also worked with LF Energy for developing CalTRACK, a set of methods for estimating avoided energy use (AEU). Young believes that there needs to be a standardized approach for calculating carbon.

Young is passionate about making energy consumption and carbon emissions tools open source. He believes that it is important to bring companies together that might not otherwise have collaborated, sharing tools and best practices and making them accessible to the public. He believes that open source allows for others to contribute their ideas, which might not already have been considered.

WattCarbon sees the development of tools around carbon as an opportunity to create an optimistic future working towards eliminating energy poverty and creating sustainable energy communities. The company believes that providing tools that are accessible can help tackle carbon consumption on a global scale, not just for first world countries. The company aims to develop and collaborate with others to forge innovative technological solutions that tackle the carbon challenges we face today.

About McGee Young: McGee Young is the founder and CEO of WattCarbon. Prior to founding this company, he served as the CTO of Recurve, a data analytics company that provides measurement and verification software to utilities for demand-side energy programs. McGee led the development of standardized methods for quantifying hourly energy savings, known as CalTRACK, which are now part of LF Energy. Prior to Recurve, McGee founded two companies, MeterHero and H2Oscore, while serving as a professor of Political Science and Entrepreneur Faculty Fellow at Marquette University. He received his PhD in Political Science from Syracuse University, and a BA in Political Science and Economics from New College of Florida. He lives in Lafayette, CA with his wife, two daughters, two cats, and a dog and is an avid cyclist in his free time.

About LF Energy: LF Energy is an open source foundation focused on the power systems sector, hosted within The Linux Foundation. LF Energy provides a neutral, collaborative community to build the shared digital investments that will transform the world’s relationship to energy.

About WattCarbon: WattCarbon provides accurate and timely measurement and reporting of Scope 2 emissions and a platform for managing energy decarbonization.

The summary of the show is written by Emily Nicholls.

Here is the full unedited transcript of the show:

  • Swapnil Bhartiya: Hi, this is your host, Swapnil Bhartiya. And welcome to a State of Energy Show. What carbon recently joined the LF Energy Foundation. And today we have with us, McGee Young. CEO of WattCarbon. McGee it’s great to have you on the show.

McGee Young: Thanks, Swapnil. It’s nice to be here.

  • Swapnil Bhartiya: So let’s just start with some of the basics. Tell us a bit about the company. What was primary goal that is there behind the company and what’s in the name?

McGee Young: Yeah, thanks. Well, we started the company last summer. And it came out of work that I had been doing previously in my career, to measure hourly energy savings. And one of the things that I realized in doing that work. Was that we didn’t have a similar concept for carbon emissions. And so if you think about; scope 1, scope 2, scope 3 carbon emissions. Scope 2 are those emissions associated with your electricity usage. And the way that most organizing measure it currently, is by looking at your total annual energy consumption, and the mix of resources that are used to provide electricity for your local grid.

On an annual basis, that can look pretty good if you’ve got a lot of solar and wind energy that’s powering your grid. But if most of the time that you use energy is at night, when the sun is down. Well, you’re not really taking advantage of that solar electricity. By contrast, if you use most of your energy during the middle of the day when the sun is shining. You’re doing quite a good job. But our carbon emissions numbers don’t reflect that. They don’t reflect the time of day in which energy is being used relative to the availability of renewables.

So if we’re going to decarbonize, if we’re going to get to net zero. We have to start aligning when we use electricity, with when renewable energy is available on the grid that you’re connected to. And so that’s what our company is designed to do. Is to provide visibility for organizations that are trying to reach their net zero goals. To help them quantify exactly what their hourly carbon emissions are from scope 2. And then to drive towards decarbonization and hitting their net zero goals.

  • Swapnil Bhartiya: Can you also help us understand how do you provide that visibility?

McGee Young: Well, what’s in the name. So Watt and Carbon, any building is going to be connected to the grid, it’s going to have a meter on the side. It going to be recording for the most part, the energy consumption on a real time basis. Now the tricky part has been to match that up to the carbon emissions of the grid. And off late some really great work has gone into quantifying carbon emissions on an hourly basis, they’re coming from the grid.

So what our software does, is it takes the energy data from a building or from a device. Say like an electric vehicle charger or an IOT device. And connects it to the grid Carbon Intensity Data. So that within a couple clicks of a few buttons, an organization can inventory its entire building fleet, or its entire electricity load. And get the carbon emissions associated with it.

  • Swapnil Bhartiya: As companies are setting these goals for them, what are the things that they’re overlooking? You did mention very interesting aspect that vent to use renewable. But one of the things that you see they’re overlooking, and that is not actually solving the problem as fast as it should?

McGee Young: Well, part of the problem is that we’re flying blind. Right? So you can only manage what you can measure. And unfortunately, even sophisticated companies like Google and Microsoft. That are on the leading edge of trying to get to 24/7 carbon free energy. Are still struggling to make those connections between their energy consumption, and the availability of renewable energy. And that’s one of the reasons that I started working with the Linux Foundation on this project, specifically. Was to help enable those companies to start to measure more accurately. And to get the visibility that they needed to be able to move with confidence.

It’s one thing to go to your CEO and say, “Hey, we’d like to get to net zero.” It’s another thing to be able to go to your CEO and say, “Here are the metrics that we’re going to use, and here’s the progress that we’ve achieved towards that goal.” It just makes for a much more compelling argument internally, when you have something specific to point to.

Now, there’s a lot of ambiguity in that measurement to date. And that’s why the work of LF Energy is so important. That if we’re all using different numbers, or if our words mean different things. We don’t have a standard vocabulary even to use for this. One person might report carbon emissions that mean one thing. And another company might report it and it means something else. And without being able to have an apple to apples comparison, we don’t really know what to make of those differences. And so that’s why we’re working on setting up these data standards through LF Energy. To be able to all be speaking the same language as it were.

  • Swapnil Bhartiya: Since you have mentioned LF Energy, and that’s also one of the focus of today’s discussion. Is what role do you see LF Energy is playing in reducing carbon footprint, and helping company achieve their goals?

McGee Young: Well, open source is critical to all of this. The work that I did prior to this company. Also we partnered with LF Energy around the OpenEEmeter and CalTRACK. And so those were standards that were developed to quantify demand side, electrical savings from participating in energy efficiency, and demand response programs. And out of that we’ve been able to build robust markets for reducing energy consumption. But those markets can only exist when there’s open transparent methods available, and tools available for making those calculations.

Well, the same thing goes for carbon. Right? If we’re going to get to net zero collectively as a planet, we’ve got to have confidence that the numbers that we’re representing are again, transparent and verifiable. And so LF Energy in its capacity to set standards, to bring as a pre-competitive organization. Right? To bring companies together that may otherwise, not be able to work on aligning around standards. Now because of LF Energy those relationships, or can be established. Those methodologies can be developed. And then ultimately we can reach consensus around the best way to go about measuring progress.

  • Swapnil Bhartiya: One more thing is that as important as it is to curate and host open source project. I think this is a problem which cannot be solved independently or individually. We need to bring all these companies together. So can you also talk about the role that LF Energy is playing in bringing these companies together. And if you look at the bigger umbrella, which Linux Foundation there. They have so many projects. So it’s an incredible place where you can do a lot of cross pollination. You can leverage [00:06:55] project, you can also build relationships. So can you talk about with that aspect also?

McGee Young: Yeah, absolutely! I mean, we saw it in the work that we did previously with CalTRACK and the OpenEEmeter. We’re seeing it now with the carbon data consortium that you have these… and really smart people who have been working on these issues for a long time. Right? So, but they’ve been working at it within their own silos, or within their own organizational context.

But when they get together all of a sudden they’re like, “Wait a minute, we’ve been thinking about it this way. Oh, and you’ve been thinking about it this way, but aha! We bring those experiences together. Right? And there’s an emergent property associated with that.” And I think that’s what open source in a lot of ways is about. Right? It’s about tapping into a lot of individual work streams. But bringing those together in a way that creates a better result than if individuals were just working on it in their own silos.

  • Swapnil Bhartiya: When we look at this problem, it is seen as in some cases political problem. It could be a problem which is technical problem, or it could also be a economic problem. So when you look at it, which of these is the biggest challenge to deal with? And which one is the easiest one?

McGee Young: I think we look at this as an opportunity and not a problem. I mean, there’s obviously a problem that exists. And so far is that, we understand that emissions of greenhouse gases are leading to climate change. But the opportunity here is to really push forward on a vision for the future that is fundamentally optimistic. Right? That we can eliminate energy poverty. We can do so in a way that creates more resilient, sustainable communities. And we can diversify our energy supplies. I mean we see today, the geopolitical implications of reliance on fossil fuels.

And hopefully that as we move forward on this, the technological solutions that we develop, both in terms of the physical systems that we’re developing, as well as the IT systems that we’re able to develop, are fundamentally empowering. So that it’s not just first world countries that are able to invest heavily in new technologies. But those will also become available more broadly to the globe. So that we can skip some of the cycles of development that rely heavily on fossil fuels, and move all of our communities across the planet. Into a more sustainable, energy diverse future that doesn’t rely so heavily on fossil fuels.

  • Swapnil Bhartiya: As you already mentioned, you folks are already involved with a lot of open source project. Now you have officially joined LF Energy. So how does that change your relationship with not only open source community? Or to be more precise, how will you be involved with LF Energy? How will you helping them, and how will they help you?

McGee Young: Well, I’ll tell you what Swapnil. It’s hard as a new company, where you don’t have a lot of resources. And you’ve got to make a decision about where to put those resources. And so it was probably the most important commitment that we’ve made thus far in terms of joining an organization, was joining LF Energy. And I think it’s because of what it stands for and what we stand for. Right? That carbon accounting, that this fundamental measurement about something that’s so critical to our future shouldn’t belong in the hands of a single company.

We’re going to be developing tools that make it easier for companies to get to their net zero goals. But I don’t want that to be buried within a black box. That’s not the thing that I want to build intellectual property around. And try to patent and say, “Nobody else can use this.” But instead to bring that to the public. Right? And to other organizations, they can also build upon those tools, and deliver value in their own right. And whether those are other startup companies or well established companies. This is important for all of us.

And so LF Energy is really important in that regard, because they can act as that intermediary. That host for these great ideas. And using their platform actually makes them better. Right? So that as others dig in, we have this experience with the OpenEEmeter, that as we made that available through LF Energy, and others started to use it too. We realized they were contributing really good ideas, and really good enhancement to it. That we hadn’t either thought of because it wasn’t our particular use case, or that we had just overlooked. Right? And so I think there’s inherent value in bringing a new concept, a new technology especially around software, into an open source community. Where lots of folks can contribute to it’s development. And it becomes a richer resource for all of us.

  • Swapnil Bhartiya: If I ask at the beginning of the year, what kind of activities that you are expecting to see within the LF Energy ecosystem?

McGee Young: Well, we’re heavily involved in the carbon data specification. Right? So that’s going to be the big initiative for us over the next year. But there’s a lot of complimentary work that’s being done within LF Energy. And it’s this ecosystem that I think we’re really excited about. So whether or not you’re working on the a specific issue like carbon data. Or if you’re on the other side, like the OpenEEmeter. Or any of the other initiatives that are going on. They all compliment and enhance each other. And while not all of us have the time to be present in all of these working groups and all of these… there is enough overlap between all of them, that I think that collectively they enhance each other.

And so we’re getting to a world in which you can imagine energy looking a lot like the open source communities of computers did 10 or 15 years ago. When the Linux Foundation really made it a point to bring together a lot of those technologies that we take for granted today. But our critical part of our computational infrastructure. So I’m hopeful that as we move forward with our carbon data specification. That that’s helping to inform the work that others are doing. But also that it can be informed by adjacent work that’s being done within LF Energy and on other projects as well.

  • Swapnil Bhartiya: McGee, thank you so much for taking time out today. And of course, talk about the company, talk about this problem, or the way you look at as an opportunity. And also you’re involved with the LF Energy, and the things that we should be looking forward to. Thanks for those insights. And I would love to have you back on the show. Thank you.

McGee Young: Thanks, Swapnil. Appreciate it.

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