Power to the people - from the people

Kaluza is a British smart energy platform, which is promoting the four Ds of energy – decarbonisation, decentralisation, digitalisation and democratisation, reports Simon Duval Smith

Previously named VCharge, Kaluza began life as a technology division within the green energy company OVO Group, but it now provides software and hardware solutions as well as in-home installation services to a range of partners.

Kaluza says its mission is to securely connect all devices to an intelligent zero carbon grid. Alongside its parent company OVO Group, it’s also investing in vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology. We caught up with Tom Pakenham, Kaluza’s Director of Electric Vehicles at the recent everythingEV conference in London, where he started by explaining how the system works. “Take an EV owner who wants his car to be ready by 7 o’clock in the morning, fully charged. Kaluza decides what the most intelligent way of charging the EV is between the moment you plug in and 7 o’clock the following morning to make the best use of renewable energy at the lowest cost to the customer. We then create charging profiles and send instructions to reduce or increase the charging speed.”

Second life batteries

We continue our talk by discussing batteries in second use in domestic and light industrial applications. Pakenham says that Kaluza has the capabilities to optimise electric vehicle charging, heat storage and batteries, "Second life usage will roll into our programmes very well," he says. 

Second life use requires DC to AC inverters installing, which are not inexpensive and I ask Pakenham if he can see a profitable model in this area. "Over a long term vision of where the energy system is going, there is a need to provide intelligent energy technology in order to facilitate that energy system, at the lowest cost to the customer," he says, adding: "So most of the work we are doing at the moment is about moving us, the UK, and indeed the world, in that direction - providing the right advanced technology for efficient energy management."

Speaking on the commerciality or profitability of the business, Pakenham says, "It varies between vehicle to grid, smart charging and heat management technology; there are definitely good commercial opportunities in the sector."

I ask Pakenham if he thinks the future revenue model will be similar to the home printer and cartridge situation - the infrastructure will be heavily discounted and the profit will be in the ongoing services, power, subscriptions and so on. He says that it is too early to formulate particular business models but that, "We are trying different models, other companies are doing the same; we know how competitive the business area is and whichever model that is sustainable and also attractive to customers will be the winning formula."

Customer preference and resistance

I wondered which aspect of Kaluza's offering to the market had the greatest uptake and which came up against the greatest customer resistance. Pakenham says that there needs to be a fundamental change in the UK energy system, "The electrification of heat and transport has to happen, from a decarbonisation point, and it is looking like it will happen, and this is going to incur cost. Thus it is likely that the models that customers are presented with will need to be bundled and financed and serviced but it is too early to say which aspect is the one to be focused on."

Appealing to the OEMs

The Nissan Leaf was cited by Pakenham as the EV best equipped to work in V2G and I ask him if Kaluza is pushing OEMs and indeed tier suppliers, to move towards better V2G integration. "There's a lot of different programmes happening in the EV space and V2G is obviously on many companies 'radar'; I don't think it is their top priority of course," he says, adding: "That said, CCS is likely to go to V2G sooner than was anticipated; the ISO 15118 standard is looking like it is moving faster in that direction and Honda has a vehicle, as has Renault, although theirs has onboard inversion, and BMW is doing a V2G trial in Germany which they have just started publicising. So there is interest but it will take some time for OEMs to come on board."

Charging standardisation - still some way off?

Discussion of the ISO 15118 standard prompts me to ask Pakenham about standardisation of charging and even of plugs. "At some point in the future there will be greater standardisation; at present there are four different DC charging standards globally. Chadamo is the leader in V2G but even their standard is not implemented in exactly the same way across different OEMs and even across vehicle models from the same OEM. This tells one the scale and complexity of the challenge. The decisions in this area will be at a very high level and go way beyond the demands of V2G providers."

I ask Pakenham if companies like Kaluza are lobbying hard to bring OEMs under Kaluza's 'umbrella'. He says that Kaluza's aim is to facilitate the connection between the vehicle's owners and the services that they can offer to the energy system. "This will help make the cost of decarbonisation as low as possible. And that is really all about elements such as machine learning, artificial intelligence and optimisation of the assets rather than the exact mechanics of how that will work.

"It just so happens that, as the industry is in its infancy, we have had to do a lot of the mechanical work ourselves but in the longer term we anticipate that others will do that and we will focus on the energy system and how to help our customers get the most out of it."

EV users - storage aware?

I ask Pakenham if he thinks that many EV owners are aware of the possibility of their vehicle being useful (and used) as an energy storage platform. "What our data says is that very few EV users think of it but when we raise the subject they absolutely love it. I believe it will be very appealing to consumers - you can become your own energy supplier, with solar panels on your roof and a V2G charger you can sell power to the grid. And you can drive your EV for free!"