E-SIMS plans and pools renewable energy storage
October 3, 2016
Electricity storage systems are probably one of the keys that will unlock growth potential for renewable energies in energy mixes.
These storage systems mostly use batteries to iron out creases in photovoltaic output, smoothen generation ups and downs in windfarms, balance local supply and demand, or even contribute to “service systems”, i.e. distribution grid management (controlling frequencies, principally). As the advantages are scattered across several players, some people say it is difficult to find business models that will keep everyone happy.
Kelli Mamadou, whose start-up E-SIMS develops simulation and management tools for this budding sector, disagrees. Here’s more from this electrifying entrepreneur.
Did you want to be an entrepreneur from the start?
I think I rather wound up here in the end. I started my career as a research engineer, working in several places including the CEA in Grenoble (at the INES lab), where I first got a sense of the technical and economic issues associated with storing electricity in batteries, back in 2007. I soon realised there were no offers for two things I felt were essential: simulating storage system usage in the broader environment, and managing storage systems using generic tools. And I had this firm belief that, as several players would share the value added by storage (power producers, network managers, communities, end users, etc.), they should all pool the management tools and data. So I got to work alone, moonlighting at first, and started writing the initial software code. But the CEA soon put me on its Challenge First Step intrapreneurship programme to fast-track the market survey, build the business plan and finalise the prototype, and E-SIMS was founded in the summer of 2015.
What are you “selling” today?
We provide two services during the project preparation phase. First, we run a digital simulation of the project. Here, we build a business model for the various stakeholders and size the technical requirements, investments, etc. Then we support the project management team by identifying suppliers, drafting the system’s specs, checking metering and overall subsystem efficiency and so forth. Then, during the operation phase, we provide two software applications. The first one is a plug-in storage system management tool that works in real time (and even in forecast mode). In practice, the software enables users to communicate with the storage system as easily as they communicate with their printer. The second application is a management platform for one or several systems (which run on our storage plug-in). This application organises the various strategies to store energy and feed it into the grid, sends instructions (in seconds) monitors performance, and so on. Lastly, we recently introduced a cloud-based service that takes things to the next level, by enabling users to share activity reports, monitor performance across a set of storage devices, bill services, etc.
Any customers yet?
We’re still at the proof of concept stage in partnerships with the people in the places that are most exposed to these issues, namely islands (meaning non-interconnected energy islands). We are working on several projects in Martinique, Guadeloupe, French Guyana and elsewhere. Our medium-term strategy is to target islands, mostly. Did you know that 1 billion people live on one of the world’s 100,000 islands, not counting the big ones (Australia, the British Isles and the like)? That was one of the reasons why we teamed up with KIC InnoEnergy. Their international firepower has been a great help to us. We need a solid network to convince people in the energy world that our new business models make sense.
What do you mean? How will business models change?
We could talk about that for ages but there are two key points: first of all, production is of course decentralising. As a lot of that production comes from renewables, capacity and output also vary a great deal. That is changing the game. For example, managers are having more and more trouble balancing the grid (i.e. keeping supply and demand at the same level). At the same time, local governments are back in the decision-making and financing circuits. Then, it’s not easy to figure out how much value storage is actually creating for each player and find a business model that everyone agrees on (for example to decide who invests and how to bill energy).
The only way to answer these questions is to pool information, knowledge and, of course, data. But, here again, we still have to figure out how to cooperate. The second point is that these uncertainties are unhelpful when you are trying to make technical and economic plans for the next half-century! I think we need to design much more flexible systems, so that we can review objectives, indicators and even business models every three years or so. And, as we see it, the key is in the algorithms and… pooling data.
E-SIMS in a nutshell:
Based in: Grenoble, Martinique
• iLab 2015 award for innovative enterprises from the French ministry of higher education and research, in the Creation and Development category
• ADEME Investissement 2016 award on its call for SME projects and initiatives, in the Smart Electric Systems category
Incubated at KIC InnoEnergy since May 2015
Partners: CEA-INES, AME (Agence Martiniquaise de l’Énergie), INES (Institut National de l’Énergie Solaire)
References: EDF, SARA, CEA-INES