An Interview with Adam Wright of measurable.energy
In an interview for our Leaders in STEM podcast Adam Wright, Commercial Director of measurable.energy, shares his journey into sustainable tech and the future potential of energy-saving plug sockets. Learn more about measurable.energy’s growth from start-up roots, and the exciting prospect of hiring passionate young people in order to provide valuable development opportunities in green tech.
To start off: what's your background in STEM?
So I, like many young people, didn’t know exactly what I wanted to go and do, and I went for a broad degree in environmental science. But I knew I wanted to do something about the environment—from that I realised I was quite keen on the marine environment, and I ended up going to do a master’s in marine science. My first job off the back of that was on survey vessels on the Thames, picking up monitoring buoys, and basically setting up systems that would monitor temperature, turbidity, dredging activity, sediment deposits—all sorts of stuff. Very interesting, for about six months until the company went under.
So how did you end up working in energy?
After the company went under, I ended up finding my way into oil and gas, working for a company that was doing wireless monitoring of oil and gas wells. They were positioning systems on these wells all over the world and taking data from them, about 3,000 metres deep, using electromagnetic signals through the metal of the well, and then bringing the data back to a control room in Norway, Houston, or London.
One of the key things was that, if you had this kind of data, you’d be able to stop things like large oil spills happening because you can see buildups and pressure and all that kind of stuff. But the real reason they were using them was for, you know, to optimise how much they could get out of the ground. Within that, I enjoyed the technology aspect of that, but maybe didn’t fully agree with the environmental implications of what I was doing. The pandemic hit and, you know, we all asked loads of questions about ourselves, what we want to do, are we doing the right thing? For me, it was a real eye opener.
What about the founders of the business? It’d be interesting to see where they’ve come from and how you entered their orbit.
Dan and Josh—Dan is our CEO, and Josh is our CTO—our two co-founders, they met whilst at Reading University on different PhDs. Dan’s was in sustainable technology and Josh’s in robotics and machine learning. They met because they were consulting on projects for a business that Dan running outside university; they saw this opportunity in small power from that consulting. It came from going into some of these businesses, looking at ways they could reduce their energy consumption, data centres, and big energy place—when they went into these buildings, they literally saw all these desks and these monitors and these TVs, these printers, and everything just left on all the time.
It was just the two of them with a few people helping them here and there, and just at the time where I was starting to think: you know, I maybe need to look for my next progressions from this product role. They were advertising for a commercial lead, and so I just messaged Dan on LinkedIn and it went from there.
How do Measurable’s products work and why is it different to other so-called “smart sockets”?
So, if I start with a normal smart socket; you and me, we can go to Amazon and we can buy one for seven or eight quid and plug it into our existing plug sockets. If we go and get one of them, it’s not too much effort to program them up and then connect it to our Wi-Fi and say, “let’s turn that off between this time and that time.” Great. We’ve done that. In a business scenario, doing that a hundred times is manageable for prove the concept, and prove there’s savings there.
Scale that up to over a thousand. Over two thousand. It becomes completely unmanageable without a huge team to be able to manage it. You now need people to program all these sockets, get them on the Wi-Fi, and change them. If the Wi-Fi changes, the times that they turn on and off change, or the building schedule changes, it suddenly becomes completely unmanageable.
The way we’ve gone about it is if we can send these plug sockets out, and they’re already pre-programmed, connected to the Wi-Fi—we don’t need people to be involved in that part of it. So the socket arrives, pre-programmed, it gets installed into the wall or an extension lead, when they plug their devices back into it, we don’t need to know what’s plugged in. We just need to know its location: if someone plugs their monitor in, we identify that as a monitor. If someone plugs their laptop charger in, we identify that as a laptop charger. Now we’ve got the context, we’ll also know when that’s in use, when it’s on standby, when it needs power, so we can tell the difference between a laptop charging and a laptop charger with no laptop plugged in.
So, are these installable sockets, or smart plugs?
Both! There is a double wall socket that replaces a traditional wall socket. And there is an extension lead that can be plugged in and gives access to four sockets. The extension leads can be moved, so they can go wherever you want them. We can find areas where there’s maybe high energy wastage, and we can move the leads away from areas where’s there’s less wastage and just concentrate on the high. But the wall socket goes in known places where there’s definitely high energy waste.
How does the system work in practice? Is there a kind of baseline of intelligence upon which to figure out how savings can be made?
So, a printer, a meeting room TV, and a hot water tap in the kitchen—those are unlikely to be moved somewhere else. We changed the socket, and now we’re always covered. Take the desk as a perfect example, because this is, you know, the main application is all these offices or just all over the UK and the world. We know there’s a monitor plugged in, or a laptop charger and there’s no laptop plugged into it. We now have an occupancy sensor. No one is at that desk, right? We can look at the system which then looks at the time: it knows that generally past six o’clock, no one’s in the office.
Generally, we can turn that socket off, but then it can look at all the desks around it, and it might see that all the desks in that area, or that floor, or the entire building, aren’t in use, so let’s turn them off. Now the desks have become the help for us with all the other stuff—so we know no one’s in that subsection of the building or that floor. So why is the hot water tap still boiling hot water? On a summer’s night, why are all the printers on standby?
We’ve walked into offices where they’ve had like eight, nine, ten TVs, just playing Sky News 24/7. And you’re just like: why? There’s no one here. So: turn them all off. Then before anyone even arrives back the next morning, everything will be back on again.
How do the people in the building, the managers, whoever’s paying the bill—how do they interact with the system and know what’s going on?
They get access to the cloud hub; there’s a hub where they can see all of the energy that’s being used by building, by floor, by department, by individual socket if they want to go down to it. 90% of the time, what we do for people is we set it up the way they want it. We set up automated reports to then show them the savings they’re getting from it. Then we let those reports run. They can always log in and see what’s going on if they want to, but ideally, they just want to know that it’s on, it’s working, and they’re getting the savings.
Have you basically got a database of benchmarks of the character power management and consumption characteristics of various pieces of tech?
We basically have three and a half years’ worth of machine leaning, a library of devices that have been plugged in. They’re anonymised to the building or the place, they’re just devices. Every single install that goes in makes that model more accurate for us. Everyone that has these sockets and they’re plugging things into them are contributing to making the system work better at saving energy.
But that’s the second stage. The first stage is the idea of devices on this machine learning model, and the second stage is using a model that is trained to work out where wasted energy is based on what device it is, what state it’s in, and the normal routine of the building.
What sort of consumer is measurable.energy’s target market?
Our first pilots were that we went out and measured whole building consumption. So, when we’ve got pilot devices, we were able to put them on every socket in this kind of office and then monitor everything coming through small power. We got this kind of picture where we were able, we did it in a few different buildings, to show the amount of small power that’s being used is around 40% of a building’s energy. That’s a lot higher than most people expect. The first-time small power research was done, we had Nokia 3310s, you know, we didn’t have iPads. We didn’t charge things really that had big batteries in them.
Anyone that has an office presence. So, whether it’s a shared office, it’s a landlord that’s renting out that building. It’s large businesses that have a lot of offices in the UK, Europe, that’s where our target is because that’s where we’ve got this large amount of energy coming through the plug sockets and this is a quick win on it without having to use too much machine learning: everyone goes home overnight and there’s very little usage on weekends.
And when customers sign up, how quickly can they recoup their installation and socket costs?
The only caveat is what people are paying on energy per kilowatt hour. When we first started out this commercial journey, we had not gone through the energy crisis that we were in. The average energy cost was somewhere around 12 and 15 pence. Our payback was about two years.
There are a few cases that may be a little bit more, and there are a few cases that were a little bit less than that. Now at 30 pence, which is maybe a lower end of the average most of our customers will get a sub-one-year payback on the system. And we model this for every customer. So, we'll generally get an idea of the number of sockets that they were looking at installing, and then we're able to plug in exactly what they're paying and then get them a payback. Then, we can factor in things like if they've got solar panels or if they're on a micro grid or generating their own energy.
To move away from your products; there’s the issues of the skills gap and the ability to find candidates who are a good fit and will stay with the company a long time. What’s your thinking in terms of bringing on board younger people who are interested in STEM?
We are starting to bring on more junior roles. Sort of more graduate roles. And we will be looking at how we can engage with apprenticeships and things like that, maybe on the tech side. For us right now, it’s about timing: if we brought too many young people on right now, we would basically not have enough time to be able to give them the right development and the right things there. But integral to company growth is bringing people on at an early stage, getting them excited about a product or a concept and then building up through the business. There's clear cost savings amongst, you know, if you're just looking at the bottom line amongst all the other benefits that are there from having people that are younger. But I’ve come through from that stage.
For example, in our marketing team, we have a more junior marketer and she’s already, you know, made a flying start. Absolutely has probably gone into the deeper end than maybe everyone would have liked to begin with but is coming out flying. There's a lot to be said for experience in a startup for younger people, getting thrown in a little bit. It’s not for everyone, but if we've done the hiring right in terms of the person, if that person wants to do that and has attitude and aptitude, then they can go with it. I've, this summer, got my first work experience week. We’ve got a young A level student coming to shadow me for a week as I take him around London and our office in Reading and whatnot. So that should be good.
We want to build. We want to get to a point where we're doing more of that, and where other departments can maybe start doing that as well. It’s not all set in stone yet, but the concepts are all there in the strategy.
You’ve grown a lot as a business over the last 18 months, has anything had to fundamentally change? Has there been any nightmares that have needed to be addressed?
I wouldn't say there's been nightmares but there's inevitably going to be change.
You know, when you go from a business that's got four people or five people in a team to going to 20 in the space of 18 months, there's got to be change. I mean, at the beginning, if we needed to do something or if we needed a piece of marketing material, or a document, we just made it and got it out there. Probably wasn't perfect. Probably didn't look the prettiest. The messaging might not have been the best, but we just did it and, and got on it. As we grow now we've, you know, we've started to build out some of the structure to the different functions and we're trying to put in more processes so that it can grow and you've got that mentality of, if I need something I'll just do it and I'll have it straight away to I need something, but now I've got to ask someone and they've got to fit it into that. We’ve got to act more like a big business but in a start-up way.
So, if you could summarise the three key achievements that you’ve been able to make as a business over the last 18 months, what would those be?
Well, straight up: the last year, as good as it was for us having that energy crisis, the market in general was suffering. When you touch on them a little bit, you know, obviously the energy price rises, supply chain costs going up. One of the effects there was that investment was down massively in start-ups and in the investment world in general. So, without a doubt, raising a series A in that environment has got to be top of that list.
If we were having a catch up in 18- or 19-months’ time, assuming you achieve all the objectives that you're setting for yourselves, how big do you think the company will become over that timeframe?
Okay, we’d be in Europe. That's for sure. At the end of this year, we get our European sockets. A lot of the way we've been doing this is that a lot of the customers we're talking to and we're installing with right now also have buildings in Europe. It’s a question of how do we scale up in the UK? Then bring that across the pond, across into the continent. So, a European presence, absolutely.
I imagine what could be closer to 60 staff we're at 22 right now. We think we'll be around 35 at the end of this year. We'd be between 60 and 70 the year after. And I'd imagine, as well, we'll probably start to be looking at certain projects within the Middle East and the Far East—projects in the Middle East, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and places like that. But we're being, I suppose, as disciplined as we can to not get too distracted by those things while we're scaling.
It’s marvellous to see somebody that's clearly so enthused and excited about going to work. Does it feel like a job, or does it just feel like you're just having a huge amount of professional fun?
It’s more of a job because, you know, we have a larger body of investors. Obviously with that comes more pressure to do stuff, but on the other side of it, it's not because every day there's different things we're looking at.
I mean, even just on the customer success side, when you report back some of these savings to people and you watch them once we've said, “we'll think we'll save you this,” and then we've given them the report and it’s saved them two levels higher, three levels higher, to watch their reaction is just mental. Then to see them go, “well, we need to do this in every building,” that’s the bit where you're like, all this hard work, everything that's been built before that, that's where the payoff is.
I can't think a better role. I get to be involved in the sales side, the marketing side, the customer success side, dabble in the product side, get involved with the tech team here and there. You couldn’t ask or a better mix.
With massively expensive electricity bills at the minute, any plans to add consumer products into the mix?
It’s on our radar. The reason I'm not firmly committing to it is because we don't exactly know how it's going to look yet. But, and don't quote me on this, most likely. The best route for us to be able to do this is to link with the energy companies in people's homes on things like demand side response. Octopus do these hours where, if you reduce your power consumption in an hour, you get paid for it. That revolves around someone manually going around and turning stuff off. We can completely automate that, you know.
The big challenge is most businesses have 12-hour windows where they don't need have stuff on. How often do we have a 12-hour window where you can turn stuff off in a home? We could turn things off during holidays, but we’re not going to be able to predict holidays. So in the way that it’s positioned right now, it doesn’t necessarily translate straight over to the domestic side. But that isn’t to say it couldn’t, in a different scenario, do so.
On a personal level, do you find some time to do stuff away from work? What motivates you away from the office?
My kids are two and four. So, my interests have become their interests. My four-year-old is going through a stage where he absolutely loves skate parks. He’ll get his little BMX out and he wants to go in the skate park. The way I look at it, I’d rather go and get involved than go and have to sit there and just watch them.
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