The energy sector is changing as customers push to see the benefits of the digital revolution translating into cheaper, more reliable energy.
But it’s not something that can be done in isolation, says Simone Rossi, the CEO of EDF Energy. The big producers need to work with those small, agile and creative start-ups if they are to make the most of the fast-changing world.
“We have big energy challenges to tackle, from balancing the grid through battery storage to safely extending the life of our existing nuclear stations,” he says. “We spend £50m a year in the UK alone on innovation and research and development, but we can’t do it alone. We need to work with others.”
This is the driving ethos behind EDF Energy’s Pulse Awards, an annual recognition of the small outfits that could have a big impact on the energy sector. The benefits of the awards are two-fold – championing innovation and innovators on the one hand, and funding and supporting the very best of these on the other.
One such innovator is Powervault, which has created a home energy storage system and collected the Blue Lab Challenge award – the final segment of this year’s awards. Blue Lab is EDF Energy’s innovation accelerator, and the winners benefit from a £20,000 prize, help and advice, and a place on the shortlist for the wider group’s international EDF Pulse Awards, with access to a huge potential market.
Born of the quest to find affordable, reliable and flexible ways to store the power generated by the solar panels fitted on more than a million UK homes, Powervault is part of the growing trend to find ways to smooth the peaks and troughs in energy demand and supply. The power packs can be scaled and retrofitted, and with a cloud-based system to monitor and control a plethora of them across the UK, Powervault represents a scalable way to decentralise storage.
Powervault has already installed 400 such systems and has spent the last 12 weeks working with Blue Lab on ways to reach its vast customer base and scale significantly.
Another finalist, Grid Edge, uses cloud-based AI to predict, optimise and control energy use, helping customers adjust when they consume energy to make the most of lower prices. Tom Anderson, CEO and co-founder, started the Birmingham-based business as a spin-out from Aston University.
However, the variety among others shortlisted for the Blue Lab prize is astonishing – and encouraging for a sector that is being forced to consider new ways of working faster than many others. How Do I? for instance, has been delivering video learning since 2016, and the business has been working with EDF Energy to see how its NFC-tagged smartphone app can be used to help its 850,000 customers with safety, communication or access needs.
French firm Lancey Energy Storage combines a battery and an electric heater in one device. Using AI and sensors, the heaters maintain a comfortable temperature at low cost by using energy loaded during off-peak times.
A Pulse Award for a small start-up was a powerful sign that big energy was willing to work with smaller companiesVin Sumner, founder and CEO of Clicks and Links
The data-centric business SMAP (Smart Meter Analytics Platform) Energy, meanwhile, focuses on advanced analytics. It’s been working with EDF Energy to help tailor tariffs and services for SME customers, which Paul Monroe, the business’s co-founder, says “helps utilities transform their smart meter data into business value”.
The other four categories within the EDF Energy Pulse Awards were equally contested, and focussed on tackling wider issues in the energy sector. These winners, picked by a panel of judges from 140+ applicants, have already been collaborating with EDF Energy to deliver specific innovation projects.
Goshaba, the winner in the diversity and engagement category, has developed a tool to help recruiters remove their innate biases, by analysing candidates’ cognitive reasoning rather than simply their background. “We focus on potential rather than pedigree,” said Dr Camille Morvan, its co-founder and CEO.
Integrity of Things category winner Zensor has developed a sensor-based system that monitors structures and sends out alarms when repair or maintenance is required, reducing costs and helping continue the safeguarding of nuclear plants and those required to repair them.
Barac took home the Cyber Security prize, through its efforts in helping organisations detect early signs of cyber-attack and malware in real time, on both normal and encrypted traffic. So huge is this challenge, said co-founder and CEO Omar Yaacoubi, that “if hackers were a country, they would generate $1.5 trillion of GDP – as large as the 10th biggest nation in the world.”
While cyber crime is a high-profile threat for many businesses, Vin Sumner, founder and CEO of Clicks and Links said that the recognition of a Pulse Award for a small start-up was a powerful sign that big energy was willing to work with smaller companies with fresh perspectives.
Clicks and Links was the winner in the nuclear safety category. They specialise in the development of bespoke virtual reality applications for large infrastructure projects and nuclear decommissioning. They are currently working with Hinkley Point C, one of Europe’s largest construction projects, to roll out a bespoke hazard spotting application. “We are a long way down the supply chain, so the Pulse Awards gives us a great opportunity to work with a major company such as EDF Energy.”
In an increasingly energy-dependent world, this championing of expertise will be essential to a cleaner, safer and more efficient future for us all.
To find out more visit edfenergy.com/pulse-awards and join the conversation using #PulseAwards