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Inspire Teams Up with Shell Energy in Bid to Reach 1 MM Clean Energy Services Subscribers

New opportunities for utility customers to choose how and by whom their electricity is produced and delivered are opening up across the US as federal and state market regulators seek to align market structures and mechanisms with new, clean energy technologies, market entrants and the emergence of energy “prosumers.” A growing roster of start-ups and fledgling distributed renewable energy, battery energy storage and clean energy services aggregators are capitalizing on the trend. 

Provider of “Netflix-style,” subscription-based clean energy services centered on the use of mobile apps and a cloud services platform, Los Angeles, California-based Inspire recently announced it had joined with Shell Energy North America in a “multi-year strategic relationship.” As per the agreement, Shell is to provide Inspire with a broad range of services that will support Inspire's ambitious expansion plans. 

Launched in 2014, Inspire is doing business in seven markets and more than 2,000 cities, most recently opening its virtual doors (so to speak) in Chicago. Inspire aims to grow its membership base to over 1 million over the next several years, and its strategic partnership with Shell Energy NA will play a big part in its efforts to achieve the goal, according to management. Energy Central spoke with Inspire CEO Patrick Maloney to get the low-down on its partnership with Shell, the nature of the company and its expansion plans. 

Inspiring clean energy adoption and reducing consumption

Inspire leverages the data and information services capabilities of a cloud-based platform to offer and deliver an expanding range of digital, “smart home” energy services to its members. As the company explains they “are designed to each individual home, based on unique energy usage, details about the home, and weather patterns in the area.” 

Inspire grew out of one simple insight – the average US homeowner burns the equivalent of 8,000 tons of coal to power their home for one year, Maloney said in an interview. “We live in a world where nearly nine out of 10 people believe we should move towards a clean energy future. They are expressing and exercising these beliefs when they shop for and buy products and services. 

“We believe we can make it simple and easy for them to source power from clean energy and create a groundswell of popular change. The concept isn't new, but we haven't seen it fully manifest. Essentially we're talking about building a utility of the future today, one in which consumer-centric technology enables this transformation,” Maloney told Energy Central. 

Inspire's founders concluded that it would be far better to “reinvent the entire model” and build from the ground up as opposed to taking an incremental, gradual approach to power industry and market evolution. As opposed to taking a supply-side, top-down approach to business development, Inspire is taking a demand-side, bottom-up one.

“We started out as tech company, and the first place we started was with customers, and retail utility customers more specifically,” Maloney recounted. “With that in mind, the first phase of our strategic plan involved reinventing the business model. We created a clean energy services company that's the first of its kind.” 

Negawatts

The basic premise underlying all this is the idea that energy companies should gear their business models and business lines to encourage customers to use less energy, and to acquire the energy they do need from clean energy resources.

“Unlike most energy companies that charge customers per kilowatt-hour (kWh), we reward them and offer them incentives for consuming less energy and for purchasing clean energy,” Maloney said. “All our research shows that customers don't really know, or care, what a kilowatt-hour is, or really want to know.”

Taking a cue from the likes of Amazon and Netflix, Inspire then went about developing a state of the art, consumer-centered clean energy services cloud platform. The resulting subscription-based clean energy services Inspire now offers and provides in personalized to the individual level, spanning energy services from the growing profusion of smart home energy devices and appliances making their way into American households, Maloney explained. 

At its root, Inspire's business is based on realizing “negawatts” – the principle that states that the easiest, best way to reduce energy bills is for consumers to consume less of it.

“People are adopting this in anticipation of receiving better energy services, but it's not just a way to adopt new, clean energy products and services. We're providing revenue incentives that are structured and aligned with our customers preferences. We don't impose a volume-based charge for the electricity they consume, but the inverse – the less energy our members consume the more they, their communities and ultimately the world stands to benefit,” Maloney said. 

Inspire's strategic partnership with Shell opens the door and sets Inspire off on the second phase of its strategic plan, the top-line goal of which is to grow its membership base to over 1 million subscribers. That entails evolving its clean energy services and the organization so that it is a comprehensive, wholly integrated providers of subscription-based clean energy services, Maloney explained. 

“We're putting smart home energy devices, products and services into one package so that customers know how much energy they're using, when and where they're using it and decide how they want to do so. We then align and manage these personalized packages of clean energy services on their behalf, and then reward them for reducing usage.” 

A win-win-win situation

The result is a win-win-win situation, Maloney continued. “We win as a company in that we don't have to buy as much clean energy for our customers and we reward our customers for that. As we grow, the impact we have is amplified, In our view, this is a win for the world.” 

Part and parcel of its partnership, Shell will provide Inspire with a revolving credit facility. The strategic relationship extends well beyond gaining access to more and lower cost capital, however. 

Of particular value, its relationship with Shell will give Inspire deeper, inside access to wholesale energy markets and trading services. That should improve its bottom line by reducing costs and enhancing energy commodities portfolio management. 

In addition, Inspire will be able to leverage and benefit from Shell's extensive customer relationships. That should give Inspire a big leg up when it comes to achieving its subscriber growth targets.

Finally, and perhaps most profoundly, Inspire and Shell both stand to benefit if Inspire succeeds in building a comprehensive, end-to-end smart home, clean energy services management platform and subscription-based business. Inspire is the midst of developing its line of mobile and customer-centered smart home clean energy products and services. At present this includes digital climate, lighting and voice controls, which the company is assembling by offering products and services developed by best-in-class, third-party developer/vendors. 

At the same time, Inspire is working to build its own, proprietary line of digital, clean energy products and services. “We'll do that over the near-term, but we'll still remain open to third-party smart home devices, appliances and services,” Maloney said.

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