Changers by Name,
Changers by Nature

January 25, 2012 - Comments

Imagine waking up in the morning and instead of checking your Facebook newsfeed, you glance over at your daily ‘energy production’ feed. You scroll down to see how much your friend has reduced their CO2 emissions that week. You congratulate your buddy for all the credits they have earned, because they are about to cash in on a gift. Welcome to Changers.

The Berlin-based startup has engineered a portable solar panel module equipped with a built-in battery that charges your mobile device. When connected to your computer, the total energy production (the energy produced using the solar panel) and CO2 savings are measured, visualized and displayed. By visualizing your energy consumption, you can develop a new understanding of what it means to consume and produce energy.

So can this one little device change the world? Author and environmental visionary Jeremy Rifkin would probably agree they’re on the right path. He has spoken before about how Europe is ahead of the game in so-called Cleantech and why the Internet presents a tremendous opportunity for future generations to start a revolution. And startups, he argues, are at the forefront when it comes to Cleantech. He told TechCrunch:

“We’re already seeing thousands of startup companies, and hundreds of them successful, who are aggregating green energy and they’re then finding ways to manage their energy with people on microgrids and across logistic lines. So you may see an entire new business where the IT and Internet companies began to merge with energy and began to aggregate a flat, online energy Internet across entire countries.”

Rifkin also highlights the fact that Europe is at the forefront of both this next industrial revolution and the Cleantech movement. To be honest, I really don’t think it matters where it starts, just as long as it actually happens. I’m an optimist, and I believe small-scale renewable energy projects can trigger bigger strides in development further down the line. But startups like Changers will have to work incredibly hard to convince millions of peope around the world to get involved and stay engaged with their product. So how will they pull this off?

For the full interview:

The power of social

I wanted to find out more about the inspiration behind Changers and the long-term vision for the company, so I sat down with co-founder Daniela Schiffer for a cup of (presumably fairtrade) coffee. Why does she believe social connection is such a powerful means for change? At Changers, they aim to create sustainable behavior that is social, measurable and rewarding for everyone. “There are a lot of solar chargers and some that display data, but there is no connection between hardware and social network combined with the benefit of redeeming credits.”

This is where game mechanics come into play. Users of their product can upload data, see real-time stats and quickly learn how much their community reduced CO2 levels that week. The most active user and most active city can also be viewed with simple diagrams within the ‘Community Counter’. The big bonus? With each watt, a user earns one Changers credit. Individuals can take these credits and purchase gifts from partner shops. These include Holstee, a company that produces and sells only environmentally conscious products. For every 100 grams, Users earn a voucher worth $10 (about €7.70) for every 100 grams of CO2 saved.

This idea of creating a currency based on sustainable energy is included in the Cleantech narrative. Changers just takes it to the next level. Daniela argues that it’s important for us as a society to take action against global climate change. Changers not only wants to reward people for what they are doing; they want to fundamentally change the way people think about energy. “If you understand, have the culture of caring about things, it’s empowering for a society. It’s about the mere act of producing your energy and really getting in touch, out of this, growing a consciousness of what energy is,” Daniela added. “You deal differently and this is where behavioral change occurs. The social aspect gives it momentum. We want to invite people to become a part of something bigger. We want to create a movement”.

Daniela doesn’t view Changers as just a hardware or Internet company, rather a catalyst for something much bigger. I’m certainly convinced. I can imagine going to school as a youngster and getting excited to use your Changer device in science class. Not only would my classmates be pumped to earn credits, they would actually have a powerful learning tool to discover how energy is produced and how their community is making a big difference.

Let’s face it: We haven’t been kind to mother nature. We pollute the earth with our plastics, we drive big cars, dump oil into the big blue sea and we don’t discuss steps towards building a healthier environment. I don’t want to generalize; I know many people who do think about the environment and all the issues noted above, but to attack a global problem, we need everyone to be more involved. In my opinion, the biggest problem facing the environment is stance taken by so many people – “What possible difference could I make?”

Added to that is a sense of group blame – why should I bother recycling this plastic bag if millions of other people aren’t going to bother? But with Changers, I genuinely believe this mindset can changed by getting the people closest to you involved – neighbors, friends, fellow students maybe. By getting together, decentralizing the whole process, many people can do a lot with very little. Rifkin says we are paying the bill for two industrial revolutions, but it’s not too late.

So why not set off a domino effect of change and use the technology given to us? Location-based services and mobile are at the forefront of tech. Social connection online is a powerful means for change, something the world noticed when the revolutions of the Arab Spring swept through countries like Egypt and Libya. Every week there are meetings, discussions, summits; why hasn’t anyone taken advantage of the Internet with a grander concept in mind? This is what Changers is doing – hence the name.

I will start using a Changers device over the next few months, including when I go on holiday to Hawaii. I’ve already got my eye on a cute little dress on the Holstee website..

Fun Facts

  • Current users: techies and LOHAS (Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability)
  • Current price tag: 150 USD
  • Target price: Under 100 USD
  • Demographic: 2/3 US, 1/3 Europe
  • Most active countries: USA, Spain & Portugal
  • Launch in SanFrancisco: October 17th, 2011 @Web 2.0 SummitLaunch
  • Launch in Europa: This spring
  • Their next big goal: finding investors for Series B financing round
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