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Getting to grips with the Internet of Energy

Australia must soon get on board with the Internet of Energy (IoE) if it wants to be at the forefront of the coming energy revolution. That was the message from Enphase managing director, APAC, Nathan Dunn.

At the recent Australian Energy Storage Conference and Exhibition, the term was rolled out as Dunn addressed the changes that are coming to the energy market over the next 5 to 10 years – and he added that he believed the IoE will be the key for the Australian energy sector moving forward.

Like its cousin, the Internet of Things and all its permutations, the IoE is all about smart energy networks, storage technologies and data-driven applications. Talking at a seminar entitled, Global Energy Storage Markets, Opportunities for Australia, Dunn said disruption is the key.

“[Enphase] sees that technology is a key criterion for the evolution of the energy sector and will be one of the disruptive factors in the energy market as we roll through and develop the internet of energy,” said Dunn.

It’s disruption in a good way. What Enphase, and companies like it, are trying to do is empower businesses and individuals to take care of their own energy needs. It’s giving traditional energy companies a run for their money.

Dunn compares the oncoming energy revolution to the telecommunications evolution of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“As we know, early on in the telecommunications industry they were talking about fixed lines,” said Dunn. “You had a box on your desk and you picked up the phone and you dialed a number and you were connected to somebody else. As that technology evolved so did the relationship between the consumers and the hardware. With the telecommunications industry we moved away from being stuck to a fixed line. We started using pagers, then bulky mobile phones. Finally, it developed into phones that everybody’s carrying today. That sort of disruption or transition from a technology perspective and growing consumer sentiment are going to drive the internet of energy and the transformation of the energy market.”

But there is a problem. It’s solvable but does need addressing. Dunn asked the audience what they thought the IoE looked like at the moment. He then put up a picture of balls of wool all entangled to illustrate that it is a mess. This is due to different organisations, government bodies and companies having differing agendas – whether it’s the utilisation of hardware, software applications, standards, or even something as complicated at data sovereignty.

“As this disruptive factor emerges, and the industry itself transforms, we’ll start to pull together the interactions between energy storage and software and data and the applications that can be applied,” he said. “Over time, and hopeful not a long amount of time – probably as quick as the internet of things picked up – we’ll start to see the internet of energy look more streamlined than it does now.”

Dunn says his company has a founding set of principles that he believes will not only be a driver of the IoE, but is something any company serious about the direction of the energy sector needs to take on board if they are going to succeed. Giving consumers autonomy is the starting point.

“To win in the energy space you had to take a decentralised view to the architecture,” he said. “That decentralised architecture takes a lot of work but it’s more intelligent and it essentially pushes the [energy] generation into the network. However, in utilising that aspect of the business, the points at which generation happen become deeper embedded into the network and for that you need a whole heap of smarts. You need a bucket load of semiconductor technology, you need a lot of work to go on in the background in the development of that product to ensure it is connected and working to the best of its ability. An example of this is our standard micro inverter of which we’ve sold more than 14 million units.”

Next, Enphase believes that something has to be part of a system and believes integration starts with component manufacturers like itself. Dunn says that it is not good enough to make a one-off product and hope that other designers and creators of energy componentry will make a device or widget that will compliment that product.

“Everything has to be part of a system,” he said. “So you cannot have a standalone product and hope others create a product that makes yours great. At Enphase we develop a complete system that includes hardware, bidirectional communications and then cloud-based applications software that allows users to see what energy their system is generating. They can also see what energy is being stored and understand the relationship between generation and utilisation.”

And every piece of hardware that the company creates has to be software defined, too. Which means what, exactly? Dunn revisits the telecommunications analogy.
“A phone is a classic example,” he said. “It can be a piece of communication technology where you can talk to people. You can also bring up a GPS system. That is a software defined piece of hardware.”

Dunn says the endgame for streamlining energy needs is that everything will work together. This isn’t pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking, but something that will have myriad effects – cheaper electricity, processes and controls in place to make sure equipment is being maximised to the best of its ability, and a much reduced carbon footprint on the landscape. It will even lead to simple things, like notifications that can help businesses and residential consumers save money.

“We’ll eventually be in a position where you can essentially get notifications remotely where someone has left the fridge door open at home or you might eventually get a notification that your AC system is struggling,” he said. “It gives people the opportunity to think about their investments and their position about how to best utilise their energy and then how to best utilise the funds they have available to ensure they have a good solid energy future.”

What about the future? If the IoE stops being a mess of random woolly threads all mixed together, Dunn says, that the energy future is not only bright, but exciting, too.

“It means you can finally get to a point where you are using AI to manage some of that data too,” he said. “So instead of having a physical reaction and the consumer making a choice, the AI programs that could be applied will enable people to work on their own and operate independently. The consumer will have the benefit of knowing that the system is running optimally without any human intervention.”

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