The United Kingdom is on the cusp of an energy crisis. A recent study by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) claimed that increasing usage, the loss of coal and the closure of nuclear power stations could lead electricity demand to exceed supply by 40–55 percent by 2025.
Hopes have been pinned on the power of renewable energy to address the gap, but without dramatically improved storage options, it will remain incapable of supporting the maximum levels of demand.
Powervault offers a solution. The intelligent home battery is designed to automatically store solar and off-peak grid electricity, ready to be unleashed whenever it’s needed.
Powervault CEO Joe Warren first encountered the challenges of energy consumption at the beginning his career in the internet sector in the 1990s, where he had to ensure there was enough electricity to keep tens of thousands of computers running. Warren has been working in what he calls the "smart grid sector" for about ten years, investigating new ways of managing electricity on the network.
"About five years ago I realised that we were deploying so much wind and solar energy that we really needed to find some way of storing it so we could use it when we needed it," he says.
"That's because a lot of wind energy and a certain amount of solar energy effectively ends up being wasted because it's not needed at the time it's generated."
He discovered that storage system at Powervault in 2014. The company developed a consumer battery device and appliance for homeowners that stores low-cost solar electricity without having to buy it from the centralised grid. Later that year, Powervault launched the first plug-and-play energy storage device.
Inside the Powervault cube are a collection of power electronics to make the energy usable, a monitoring system to check energy is being generated or consumed, control electronics that determine when to charge or discharge, and batteries to power it.
"If you're generating electricity and that's going back onto the grid, it charges up the batteries," says Warren. "And conversely, if you're consuming electricity then it will discharge the batteries to reduce your electricity bill.
"If you have solar panels, most of the electricity typically goes out onto the grid and our device can keep that in your house."
Data analytics through a cloud-based system optimise the scheduled charging of the Powervault to take account of price variations at different times of the day. This lets customers on time-of-use tariffs save money by charging up on electricity during the off-peak hours while they sleep. The feature should prove particularly useful in light of the government pledge to install smart meters in every home UK by 2020.
The device holds roughly enough electricity to power between one and two-thirds of the electricity most people use in a day. It’s about the size of a slimline dishwasher, and users typically install them in their garage or utility room.
Last year Powervault launched a new version of the product. Alex De Winter, a former British Gas employee from Leicester, was one of the first customers to purchase the new device.
Alex had been spending £15-20 per month on electricity before he decided to install solar panels on his roof. They caused his bills to drop to £6-7 per month in the summer and £15-18 in the winter.
He then used an electronic monitoring system to discover that 90 percent of the energy generated by the solar panels was being exported back to the grid. The Powervault promised to reduce this. Alex and his partner installed the device and made a few changes to their electricity consumption habits to maximise the benefits.
"These smart behaviours become second nature after a while, and ensure we minimise our electricity bills even further," he says.
The changes paid off. His total electricity bill for the month of July dropped to just 60 pence, rising to £4 in November.
Powervault was founded by Andrew Woodsworth of Sustainable Venture Development Partners and currently has 16 members of staff. The company has gained funding from angel investors, venture capital investors and three crowdfunding campaigns set up on Crowdcube that attracted donations from £10 to £90,000.
Another fundraising campaign is planned for later this year, and the investment will support the development of further features for the device, such as second-life recycled batteries to boost its green credentials and reduce running costs.
The company is also working with a number of electricity suppliers and utilities including eco-power networks to see how the technology in its clouds can help direct the energy to benefit both the network and the customer.
Powervault is disrupting the energy storage market at an opportune time. The business models of larger utilities have traditionally relied on large centralised power stations and spending billions of pounds to spend on network infrastructure, but industry developments are forcing them to rethink their practices.
"We're getting to the point now where it's going to be cheaper to generate and store electricity locally rather than necessarily buying it from the grid," says Warren.
"So there’s a general trend towards a more decentralised energy system using smarter technology in people's homes to optimise the use of their battery or the solar panels or electric vehicle."
He describes Powervault as being both part of the existing ecosystem as well as the new player. This balance between the past and the future is a powerful position for the company as an energy crisis looms.
"We're really in the beginning of a revolution in the way that energy is generated and supplied to people," says Warren.
"We think there's a much bigger market opportunity to combine energy storage with smart meters, and that will allow us to achieve our vision of Powervault becoming as commonplace as a washing machine or a dishwasher, and having one in every home, rather than it just being linked to solar PV.
"We're going to be using a lot more electricity in future because as more electric vehicles are rolled out we're going to need to consumer more electricity to power that, and that's going to place a lot of extra demands on the network. It was never designed to have that much put through. We're going to need to look at innovative new ways to help manage those pressures on the grid, and home energy storage is one the key ways of doing that."