How low code can help to create a sustainable future with renewable energy

Charlotte from variate.energy

In this episode, we are talking about a very important topic – renewable energy. Charlotte is the CO-Founder of variate.energy. Her start-up is developing a risk assessment service that helps companies to calculate the business risk associated with types of renewables energy based on its location.

They are two very interesting aspects about their solution. First, the service can help companies to overcome the hurdle of finding the right renewable energy resource and location. The second is that they built the service with a combination of low code and programming. It is a perfect example that your horizon is expanded once you combine low code with programming.

We also talk about how an acceleration program can start-ups getting off the ground and which acceleration programs variate.energy is attending.

If you want to know more about how to combine low code with programming, you can find multiple resources here:
https://www.biberei.de/integrate-bubble-with-aws-amplify/
https://www.biberei.de/low-code-with-aws/
https://www.biberei.de/risikoanalysen-aus-der-cloud-webanwendung-von-variate-energy/

Charlotte is using the following low code tools:
Bubble.io

Variate.energy participates  in the following acceleration programs:
https://accelerator.copernicus.eu/
https://www.wista.de/gruenderwerkstatt/

One book recommendation I mentioned during the podcast:

Bill Gates – How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need

If you have feedback or ideas on which topics need to be covered at this podcast – you are more than welcome to get in touch with me.

You can find more information on www.lowcode-founders.com, or you can drop me a message at sarah@biberei.de 

Enjoy and keep on building new digital products. 

Sarah 

Support the show (https://www.buymeacoffee.com/lowcodefounders)

Transcript of the episode: How low code can help to create a sustainable future with renewable energy

Speaker Charlotte (Intro): 

I think solar panels are always a good first step, but in general with the energy provision or supply um I think it’s very important to look at it also in a more differentiated manner. So because nowadays, it’s good that we see a lot more companies that are trying to achieve 100% renewable and that’s a really good development, But also it’s not easy. So for example, Google, which is an enormous company um has said that they have achieved 100% renewable energy consumption but only annually. So what this means is that on an hour-by-hour level um they’ve actually only achieved 60%. So that means that 40% is from non-renewable energy sources, so there’s a mismatch. So I think it really, again it matters to look at um when do we need it? And is it renewable energy? When do we need it? Because otherwise of course you can achieve 100% renewable but still there’s gonna be, It doesn’t it doesn’t fit the target of achieving 100% renewable when you look at it in a more specific manner.

Speaker Sarah:

Hello everyone and welcome to a new episode of the low code founders podcast my name is Sarah from the Biberei and I’m your podcast host. Today we’re talking about a very important topic. We are talking about renewable energy and how we can have a sustainable future. That’s why I’m very happy to have Charlotte from Variate Energy here with us today and we have both know each other quite a while for a couple of months and we met, I think in February or March, I’m not sure about a networking session for female founders and since then we are working together, so welcome Charlotte,

Speaker Charlotte:

Thank you very much for having me

Speaker Sarah:

Charlotte. Tell us a little bit about Variate Energy and what is the vision behind it?

Speaker Charlotte:

Yes. So what we want to do with variate.energy is to develop data-driven tools to incorporate weather dynamics into decision-making of renewable energy. So, um, what this basically means is we need to look a bit further back. So what we’re currently experiencing is a shift away from plannable energy production from conventional power plants and um, into more energy production from more intermittent energy sources like wind and solar. So this means that energy is not any more available on the push of a button that is really fluctuating. So when we look at how decisions are currently made in the industry, it’s, you take a location and you get the historic data from solar radiation or wind speed and then you get an estimate of how much the energy-generating potential is at that location. And this approach works really well if you have a fixed fee and tariffs, so you get money per unit produced and what’s happening currently is that we’re shifting away from this fixed fee in tariffs and the value of energy now is really dependent on when you produce it. So it’s really dependent on basic demand and supply, So it really matters um if you produce at a time where other people need energy and how much energy is produced by other plants in the region. And this has of course a lot of uncertainty. So we do not know how much wind will we have in at every hour in December next year. We only have an approximate idea of how much energy we will need at that time. So we don’t know for sure. But what we can do is we can replicate both processes and really get the dynamics and then use that to evaluate how we can maximize energy coverage from each plant. So that’s what we’re kinda aiming of to do with variate.energy. And so really enabling an assessment of renewable energy based on how well it covers your energy demand.

Speaker Sarah:

And are your clients for which you are serving your service. Are these governments or private companies, or what kind of target groups do you aim for currently?

Speaker Charlotte:

So we’re actually currently working with a governmental um so the Berlin Senate on a project. Um but what we’re aiming to do is less offering a service um for a specific target group, but more enabling a decision-making platform that gives you the necessary information to make informed decisions.

Speaker Sarah:

And this is a very complex topic. We have to put a lot of explanation in the show notes so that everyone can follow. So why did you join this field? So how did you come up and with this idea and get yourself into this very complex field?

Speaker Charlotte:

So we got into the field of renewable energy but also risk assessment whilst we were working at an engineering company when we were both still students. Um so I founded the company with my partner and during that time we were really lucky to work with really innovative and really passionate people and we worked together on a project for Autumn Izing Project management and also risk assessment in hydropower and I’m also off-grid island system. So that’s a bit how we got into the energy part and then later on we both finished our studies on energy-related topics at Fraunhofer Research Institute and part-time we were working as freelance data science consultants. So that’s where we kind of um noticed the potential of data solutions in different industries, but we also at the same time saw that the potential was not fully utilized in the energy sector. So that’s kind of how we got the idea of developing variate.energy. And um on a personal note, I think what motivated me to take the risk and found variate.energy is because we were working with a lot of um companies that we’re trying to really innovate things, how they were done. And I think that also gave me the courage to really want to do it myself because um of seeing how other people did it

Speaker Sarah:

I mean the topic you are facing, I mean with all this climate crisis, climate change, you can only have been depressed, I think this is the topic which will be much, much, much more important in the future. So you really hit a trend and this brings me to the next question. Iam currently reading a lot of books about the climate crisis and climate change. With all those yeah, nature disasters we currently see unfortunately and the books are from different authors with different perspectives, but they all agree on one point that we need more clean energy, renewable energy, not only for the energy we are using in our private households and not only for the mobility sector which we talk about most, but actually we do need it most of the time for industries and which have a high, high, high energy consumption. And I’m asking myself and I’m happy to ask you today because you’re so much more in the field than I am. Why did we not did it sooner? Why do we still have so few renewable energy resources already in Germany? Why is this the case?

Speaker Charlotte:

So um I think on that matter, it’s also important to mention that it’s a really big task, so what is basically needed, renewable energy is really restructuring the energy system because it’s quite a big shift from having energy available in a very controlled manner and now having energy available in a very fluctuating manner. So um it’s a very big task and it involves many different stakeholders and it’s a very complex regulatory framework. So I think at this point it’s important to also um cut everybody some slack and um and yeah, but what I think it is really a problem and it has really been neglected in the past is that we look at um renewable energy, but we were missing an important dimension I think because it does not only matter um what the absolute number of installed capacity is. So that’s always discussed what’s the absolute number of installed capacity, but it’s not even about the total amount produced, I think it’s really about how much of what is produced can we actually use and using that really efficiently. So um climate change and sustainability, that’s really important. But if you look at solar panels and wind turbines, they all have a cost associated with them. So it’s not only financial costs, but it’s also cost of raw materials and um also for wind power, especially you have land use. So that’s also always a trade-off. Right? So I think what is really important in the whole discussion is to really shift away from how much do we install two. How can we also install it in a manner that really fits the purpose and really takes out the maximum potential to fit the purpose which is essential um using it not just producing it.

Speaker Sarah:

 It’s good that you mention it. To think about how can we use energy more efficiently. Right. So maybe and you also said the word if if the energy um availability is fluctuating. Maybe we need to adapt our lifestyle as well. So maybe we have to think about not only restructuring the energy market but also restructuring our lifestyle when it comes to you know when we are working or maybe we are working only when energy is available. And I mean that sounds very crazy year if you think about it but maybe this is also the case right? That we yeah that energy has a new worth for us so that it’s not like okay I switch on the button and it’s their but rather if I want to use it I need to use it where we efficiently and think about what I’m gonna do with it. Yeah, I think that makes it really interesting

Speaker Charlotte:

It’s an aspect where it’s very complex and that makes it difficult but there are so many areas where you can make improvements and they all add to make it more efficient. So there are the months. I bet there’s also when you plan it when you produce. So if we make improvements in every area, I think that can have a huge impact and that’s definitely the way forward.

Speaker Sarah:

Yeah, very interesting. Um So for example, if if I think about the companies I worked for, these are very industrial companies, they have a high energy um consumption. So if I would be the CEO of this company, uh how can I and I want to have more renewable energy? I think how can I start substituting what I’m currently using with the new, more renewable energy? It’s just that I call my energy provider and tell them I only want to use renewable energy. Or maybe how can companies also start? They were producing their own energy.

Speaker Charlotte:

I think solar panels are always a good first step. But in general with the energy provision or supply um I think it’s very important to look at it also in a more differentiated manner. So because nowadays, it’s good that we see a lot more companies that are trying to achieve 100% renewable and that’s a really good development but also it’s not easy. So for example, google, which is a ginormous company Um has said that they have achieved 100% renewable energy consumption But only annually. So what this means that on an hour by hour level they’ve actually only achieved 60%. So that means that 40% is from non-renewable energy sources. So there’s a mismatch. So I think it really, again, it matters to look at um when do we need it? And is it renewable energy when we need it? Because otherwise of course you can achieve 100% renewable, but still there’s gonna be, It doesn’t, it doesn’t fit the target of achieving 100% renewable when you look at it um uh, in a more specific manner. Um yeah,

Speaker Sarah:

But that’s a good point because in the, in the books I’m reading and also if you’re following the press were always gonna always talk about that we want to have 100% of renewable energy, but based on what you just said is just just even achievable at all to have 100% renewable energy someday in the future.

Speaker Charlotte:

I think so I think the storage of course is a very important component. Then grid is also a very important component. Then again you have to adapt like you can adapt your demand um on it. So there are so many components where we can like all involved to achieve that goal, but again, it needs a coordinated view on it. So we really need to assess it holistically and not just separately because more energy and less demand doesn’t like if it’s not in the same time, it doesn’t, it doesn’t fit the purpose, right? So it really, it really includes all stakeholders to work together on that.

Speaker Sarah:

Yeah, we need to kind of balance out of it and you say google and I think also one company to have a look at this is Microsoft of course with Bill Gates and I also read about book from him about climate change and yeah, I can only recommend this book, I will put it also in the show notes. And it’s also interesting how now the tech companies starting and they change because I mean the tech companies, even though they’re not producing something, I mean Microsoft also producing something but they need high energy, they have high energy consumption for all those cloud services or streaming services as we are currently using it. So I think it’s also interesting what the company’s on its owner already doing, even though maybe they don’t have this pressure from the government. Yeah, let’s see how this turns out in Germany uh yeah, From September one. The title of this podcast is also low code founders. So how did you build your application and which kind of local tools did you use and why?

Speaker Charlotte:

Um so we used a combination of um amazon web service and Bubble.io and so maybe to go a bit um go a bit back. Um so obviously being a startup, we have a very limited resource and in time and money, so and our main focus is obviously the algorithm that lies behind the analysis of vary it, but um we were at the point where we also approached you and marco um where we wanted to create an application that was very easily adaptable because we wanted to effortlessly always include customer feedback and really just um adapted often and improve it continuously. But at the same time we had the restriction that it needed to integrate a rather computational intensive algorithm as well. Um so this is where also I heard the I heard of low code to the first time and honestly I was a bit skeptical at first because um you’re always told that oh it’s not it’s not customizable, right? It’s really um you have like blocks of components that you can use and um and coming from um from a perspective where I always heard that it’s very um was really skeptical but we were really surprised to see that um it was able to involve um the algorithm quite seamlessly and also that it’s really customizable. So it’s not low code. Low Code does not mean that it’s an alternative to code. Actually, it just means that you have the option of not not using code if you do not want to. And I think I’m really understanding that this is what low code tools are about um made it really fun to work with and you have the certainty that you can adapt it in the future and really grow and not just restricted to a to a small application and that is really hard to to customize in the end. So that was great for us.

Speaker Sarah:

I think it also depends highly on the tools because there are low code tools which doesn’t give you so much customization possibility but they don’t want to because every customization possibility also increases the complexity of the system and um yeah I think there are some pros and cons with it. I mean if you have very simple use case not like yours,  maybe you don’t need so much customization but I I agree in your case it totally makes sense. And I really love your example and every time I pitched low code, I pitch your company and your application. Not only because I’m a big fan of renewable energy but also because the best example how to combine low code with advanced programming. Not only from a technical perspective, but mostly said you that we’re nicely from a business perspective. Because what makes your system or solutions unique is your algorithm. This is you know, the thing you really have to focus on and this brings business value. I mean the service is not unique because of a nice interface. I mean it needs to be done but it’s you know not the USP you are aiming and we’re using a low code as you said, you can use it for certain items and then focus and having more time on what’s really valuable to the company. We’re posting this issue just so many articles about this subject because I think in the public we don’t have so much marketing about these possibilities. We either have marketing. Okay. low code is easy and everyone can do it and this is true but it also gives you the possibility to combine it and integrated with AWS services or your own programming, your own algorithm, whatever you want to do. And um, yeah, that’s, that’s I really love your example and every time I’m somewhere at the speech or something, I’m talking about low code, um, I’m always showing your example.

Speaker Charlotte:

Yeah, we’re really, really happy with the solution and really amazed that it’s so customizable in the end.

Speaker Sarah:

Yeah. But bubble.io is also, I mean I’m not getting paid by a bubble.io just to say that, but it’s it’s really a tool which gives you this freedom and gives you this possibility to do this customization which has a downsize that, of course, it sometimes seems too complex, especially for beginners who might have not so much experience in developing products. So maybe this can be overwhelming, but on the other side, if you know how to use it and then it’s endless. You can, whenever you, you hit a boundary, you can develop it yourself if you want to and you think this is uh, yeah, well worthwhile. Um, so I’m very happy to have this example here. Um, you are also in an acceleration program, which I think is very interesting. So in which acceleration program are you currently with your company and how did this help you?

Speaker Charlotte:

Um, so we’re currently into acceleration programs were in the Copernicus Accelerator program and that’s a program for startups and that is offered by the European unions of observation and monitoring program. Um, so what’s really great is, um, well, it’s a great european program and what it does is it makes weather and climate data accessible to users. Um, so I think that’s a that’s a really good example of a great european program um, in that program, we also got connected to a really good mentor for us. So that has been really helpful for us as a, as a young startup. And the second accelerator program was part of is a Berlin-based accelerator and it’s called Gründerwerkstatt Adlershof. So for this program, we’re getting financial support, but what’s also been great, it’s just the team running the accelerator because they’ve been really helpful and supporting us, connecting us with people from the industry and really supporting also um, the administrative side of running a startup, which is not always that easy.

Speaker Sarah:

So true. And also for the audience. How hard was it to be accepted by? Especially the second and accelerated programs. So maybe you can give some advice to future founders who are afraid of founding a company and then it support every company’s needs support here and then, um, to, to apply for some kind of exploration program. Um,

Speaker Charlotte:

I think there are quite a lot of programs available in Germany and in Europe as well. And now it has many also digital, so there is no need to restrict yourself to the location. I think what’s really important to find a program that also is connected to your topic somehow or that can to really make sure that you look for one where the, where the topic is somehow of used to you because there are a lot and a lot of them also require from your time. So it’s not just about getting into one, but also because your time is valuable, you have a lot to do, right? And most of the time the team is very small, so really choose a program that where you also see the benefit for you and not just being in a program. So, I think that’s very important.

Speaker Sarah:

Yeah, absolutely. And also you can see or meet other startups working in the, in the same field as you are to Yeah. To maybe combine certain services, which is other or share the knowledge you gained. Okay, so, um, what do you think if that what do we need in Germany or maybe for the whole startup system to have more companies like you, because I think what we, what we need in the future in order to overcome this huge challenges we’re having with climate change in climate crisis, what can we make maybe as a society also easier so that more people, founders like you’re starting their own company and making something valuable for the climate.

Speaker Charlotte:

So with respect to climate, I think um the Copernicus Accelerator program is a good example because it really focuses on on supporting also on the, on the technical data side. So, and there are, I think a lot of accelerated programs where the focus is really, really technical, so and also supporting in terms of expertise, um, so that’s, I think definitely needed, but in general, I think because it’s always a bit risky and um of founding a startup and there’s a lot of mental stress, I think that’s like the biggest barrier probably for many. And I think a good example is, for example, the event where we met, so really creating an environment where it’s worth supportive and not focused on, on competition or on, so, really trying to support each other as well. And I think it’s great to see for example, universities they are increasingly more um more, I think it’s accelerated programs or, or courses that are dedicated to really encouraging students to think about entrepreneurship and really, really trying to make that in a viable option as an alternative to just starting a job or, or starting an academic career. So I think that’s important to just really presented as a, as a viable option to people that are smart and that are passionate about the climate, for example.

Speaker Sarah:

Yeah, I think it needs to be a normal thing to become an entrepreneur and not something special.

Speaker Charlotte:
It’s definitely stressful.

Speaker Sarah:

So, Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And I I think we it the mental stress comes also from the opinion that we’re having if we fail that it’s something really bad, which is very often not the case, it’s just the opinion we have in our mind and also maybe what society thinks of us. But if you look at it from a rational perspective, most of the time, it’s not a bad thing to fail and you learn so much out of it, which you can apply for a new idea. All right. So we talked about so many interesting topics which are, which topics do you want to tackle in the future? What are the next steps for your company? Maybe some projects in in on the hand.

Speaker Charlotte:

Yes. So, um, we’re planning on releasing the first version of the very data platform, hopefully before the end of this year. So that’s the main big project, which I hope to conclude this year. And um at the same time, we’re also working with the billion-strong net, which is the burdens grid operator and the Berlin Senate Department for Economics, Energy and Public Enterprises. So we’re working on a project and that is currently in the finalizing steps. So hopefully also finished before the end of this year. And um, in general, I would love to start a product with innovative companies that are looking to achieve 100% renewable and on an hourly level. So we already have a few companies in mind, but nothing is said yet. So I’m really excited about how that will turn out.

Speaker Sarah:

So for the audience, if you’re working in an innovative company who really wants to achieve this ambitious goal, um, you know, now charlotte and her company. Yeah. All right. Thank you so much Charlotte for your time. Um, and talking about is very, very important topic. I really, really hope that more companies, well, we’ll take this opportunity because I think it’s an awesome business opportunity for you to subsidize your high energy consumption with renewable energy.

Speaker Charlotte:

Yes, definitely. Thank you very much.

Speaker Sarah:

All right, thank you audience.