Skip to main content

NextEnergy Update: October 2018

By Posted on October 25, 2018

NextEnergy Update: October 2018
Jim Saber, President & CEO

This past month has been full of opportunities for the team at NextEnergy to participate in interesting discussions and thought-provoking activities regarding the future of energy and how it will be used to power our communities and move people and goods. We always welcome these chances to share our thoughts and learn from others and would like to use this monthly communication as a vehicle to do the same. Below are some of my thoughts and I welcome you to share yours as well.

New ways to power our communities and cities:

During the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO) conference in Detroit, I participated in a panel discussion focused on integrating electric vehicles into our homes and buildings. I was able share insights on our programs and projects with industry to accelerate opportunities for EVs, smart homes, and buildings and was especially interested to learn more about The Southern Company’s smart neighborhood projects with Alabama Power and Georgia Power.

We also had the opportunity through Global Ties Detroit to meet with representatives from a number of countries in Africa to discuss how clean energy microgrids combined with energy storage could be leveraged to provide cleaner and more reliable energy/power to their citizens.

My thoughts:

One way to clear the path to commercializing, scaling and innovation, is for state policy makers and regulators to support more ways for new business and ownership models to be developed and evaluated.

The Southern Company neighborhood project, and our work with DTE Energy and others are showing that this approach can work. With our partners, we utilized our microgrid, our building, bi-directional charging capabilities, and a fleet of electric Fiat 500s, to identify the real value that technologies like smart charging and DC fast-charging can provide to vehicle owner, the building owner, and the utility.

In the early stages of implementation, anything our states can do to make these types of real-world projects easier to execute will help us to more quickly identify what works and what doesn’t, and will accelerate the process of transforming innovation into real solutions for our communities and cities.

Microgrids can also be a reliable way to provide power in remote areas. While this particular discussion was around applications in remote villages in Africa, microgrids can increase resiliency and stability in both rural communities and coastal areas around the world. In certain cases, they can also be a more attractive investment within the distribution grid for utilities and can more readily be brought back online to restore power after catastrophic weather events. Additionally, microgrids when managed and operated locally within remote areas can provide a strong benefit to the economy.

The future of automotive lighting:

Ford Motor Company invited me to participate in a panel at their Advanced Lighting Innovation Expo to discuss the role of lighting in emerging vehicle technologies. Specifically, how interior and exterior lighting within vehicles may change as we move towards a more automated and connected future.

My thoughts:

Automated vehicles, while moving us from point to point, can become an extension of our offices or family rooms presenting new opportunities and challenges for interior lighting design. When the constraints of lighting focused on driving a vehicle are lifted, it opens up a world of innovative options to enhance the experience for users/passengers. Think about how you use interior lighting now, and think about how different that will look when you are no longer driving, but using a vehicle to work, play or sleep.

When we design the spaces where we work and play, we are not often concerned with amount of energy our computers, televisions, and other electronics need, or the heat they generate.  The idea of a family room/home office on wheels can create different challenges for the vehicle designers. For example, when the vehicle is electrified what is the impact on range? More lighting and electronics can have a ripple effect on the battery as they use energy and can create heat which may require additional cooling.

If the automated vehicle is shared, how can the interior be customized for each individual to maximize their user experience?  What would you be willing to give up when you opt for shared-use vs. personal ownership? These are questions automakers will have to consider moving forward.

With the right approach both automakers and suppliers have a significant opportunity to differentiate themselves in this space.

Bringing it all together

To round out the month’s activities, we were able to meet with some unique start-ups and investors in smart mobility, smart buildings, and IoT during the Renaissance Venture Capital Un-Demo day, and at the 2018 TechStars Mobility Demo Day, which was hosted here at our campus.

After a month of thought-provoking discussions and activities, seeing these innovative technologies and business models first-hand helps to connect the dots between ideas and implementation.

For example, Priva’s mobile office solution (Techstars Mobility Demo Day) and Powerley’s unique smart home solution (Renaissance Capital’s Un-Demo Day), were great representations of the opportunities available for innovators in mobility and energy to transform and enhance vehicles to serve as extensions of the physical spaces we occupy today.

Ultimately it will take collaboration between these types of innovative startups, major industry players, government, and community stakeholders to create a more robust and better experience for all.

I invite you to share your thoughts with me on any of the above topics. Please reach out anytime via email:, or phone: 313.833.0100, ext. 240


Sign Up to Receive Employment Opportunities