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When is your car not a car? When it’s a power station


British company Moixa has landed government funding to scale its smart grid platform, which enables homeowners with battery storage or electric vehicles (or both) to make money from helping to balance the power grid.

The firm wants people with home batteries and electric vehicles to let it manage those batteries in return for a share of the money it can make from providing services to National Grid and energy suppliers.

Moixa (which is axiom backwards) is building what is known as a virtual power plant, or VPP in industry jargon.

These are essentially different types of power sources connected through the internet which, aggregated together, can act like a power station.

Batteries can take power from the grid when, for example, there is more wind or solar power on the system than is required. When the power system is oversupplied, electricity is very cheap –  and in some cases, battery owners can actually be paid to take power. They can get paid again to discharge when the power system is short.

Additionally, the ‘backbone’ of the UK power system – the transmission system – has to maintain a constant frequency of 50 Hertz. If it deviates much (which happens when there is too much power coming on to the system, or if a power station unexpectedly stops generating) it can lead to power failures in extreme cases.

So battery owners can get paid for providing very short bursts of power (or taking power for a few minutes) to help manage frequency. Because batteries offer very fast response times, they are ideal to provide these kinds of services.

Many companies and some policymakers believe these virtual power plants – using a mixture of batteries, solar power and some other forms of generation and flexible consumption – will become a cornerstone of the energy system.

That is because as the amount of power provided by wind and solar increases, and large-scale fossil-fueled power stations dwindle, the need to balance the power system and store energy for when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind does not blow increases in tandem.

Moixa is trying to recruit more homeowners with batteries to its virtual power plant. It has an ambitious target of 200 megawatts (the same output as a small traditional power station) by 2020.

That would require it to manage tens of thousands of individual household and electric vehicle batteries via its Gridshare platform.

At present, Moixa has installed less than 1,000 home batteries. Convincing customers to let it manage those batteries is proving a challenge for the company, according to power industry magazine New Power.

Fundamentally, the market is nascent; very few households actually have batteries. While there are more than 100,000 hybrid and electric vehicles in the UK, owners may be reluctant to cede control of their car batteries to somebody else.

Ultimately, however, they may have to.

Otherwise, local power networks will struggle to cope with increased demands placed on them by EVs, and the national power system would require lots of expensive new power stations to generate the necessary extra power. So it may be that network companies and regulators enforce ‘smart’ charging on electric vehicle owners in future.

But owners will be financially rewarded. Nissan, for example, is ramping up what it calls ‘vehicle-to-grid’ activities. Trials in Denmark with its Leaf vehicle suggest allowing third parties to control battery charging could be worth up to €1,300 a year to EV owners.

Meanwhile, there are almost a million UK homes with solar panels and retailers such as Ikea have started to sell battery and solar packages to customers.

So there is certainly scope for a sizeable addressable market.

For now, however, Moixa will use its new funding to bring other third party batteries and electric vehicle batteries into its platform. By using the Gridshare system to manage other manufacturers’s batteries, Moixa hopes other companies can act as a route to market and create scale.

The company is working on trials with batteries and renewables on the Scilly Isles, and also has trials in Barnsley and Oxford.

Find out more about the company here.

Energy Republic: Power from the people.


Brendan Coyne

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