CEO Joanna Hubbard cofounded Electron in 2016 while exploring the idea as a management consultant for McKinsey. In March of last year, Electron secured investment from grid technology firm Kaluza, a business in the OVO group, to accelerate the development of its energy platforms. Electron’s goal is a “distributed flexibility marketplace,” by coupling of blockchain, trading and energy expertise.
Created in 2008, blockchain offers a secure, decentralized platform for all types of transactions. Most famously, it is used to power bitcoin and other types of digital currency. Electron hopes to use it to allow society’s generated energy to be more efficiently directed where it is needed. That would allow homes and other small-output generators to be more active participants and permit the wider adoption of green-energy resources.
The 30-something CEO, universally known as JoJo, talks about the net-zero future and the unexpected boost that future is receiving from the ongoing pandemic. She also shares her recipe for success in a sector dominated by older men.
“You’ve got to speak the language,” she says. “And you’ve got to know what you’re talking about.”
Why did you decide to go into the energy technology space?
In the early days of blockchain, everyone thought it would be great for property rights, for registering people, databases and refugees. And those are all fantastic missions. But for me, the single biggest, most important problem of our time, and also the most interesting problem of our time, is how do we move to a zero-carbon system?
To get there, you have to no longer have centralized, large-scale, thermal power generation. Instead, you have a long tail of smaller connected assets—those become the majority—with several parties sharing data.
You’ve got multiple owners of datasets and multiple owners of markets, and everyone needs to be coordinated. It felt like this distributed operating system was literally the only answer. And yet, no one was doing it.
How did you come to be CEO of Electron?
There were so many new problems being created by this huge growth in energy renewables—problems such as grid constraints and asset connections. I became obsessed with batteries and smart-grid technologies and was considering starting a battery fund and got quite deep into that. But then I realized that there was no route to market for batteries to solve those problems. So for me, the question became how can we fix that?
Then I went to McKinsey and I was doing projects for them for about 12 months and they kind of said, “So it’s going really well. What do you want to do?” And I said I’d like to try to answer that question, to work out how to integrate this long tail of energy assets into cost efficient marketplaces.
They gave me time to really dig deep into it, to start my own project. And we came up with a cool idea—essentially that the point of coordination for all this different stuff is a shared-asset identity system for things like batteries and solar panels and wind.
That’s what Electron is.
Basically, you’ve got all these new players in the market, all these new distributed assets. And no one knows where they all are and what they can do. So, we started an identity system. Then many different types of marketplaces can refer to that shared infrastructure system.
For example, a single battery can help balance supply and demand levels at a national or financial level—but, at the same time, it can also help avoid grid congestion for some local community.
We came across blockchain technology while I was there—somebody said, have you looked at this? Then I met my cofounder Paul Ellis, who was an expert in this space and it all came together. We thought, wow, this is such a huge opportunity and no one’s doing it.