What we learned about cleantech at Ecosummit Berlin
Disrupting big energy, empowering “prosumers”, introducing breakthrough tech and bringing better solutions to developing and remote locations.
This is just a sample of the main cleantech trends pitched by start-ups at this year’s Ecosummit Berlin, Europe’s premier cleantech conference.
As official media partner, Life Size Media was not going to miss this year’s Berlin event – in the obvious home for European cleantech and home turf of conference CEO Jan Michael Hess – which brought together investors and start-ups.
Opening the two-day conference was Michael Wilshire, Director of analysis at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, who updated the audience on the latest green investment activity around the world.
Renewables are getting really, really big, Wilshire concluded, with power generated from the sun currently representing 3.6 percent of global energy generation – a rise he could only describe as exponential.
The Bloomberg expert said that in 15 years solar had doubled in capacity seven times, while wind capacity doubled four times. And for every doubling of capacity, costs have fallen; for solar costs dropped by a quarter, for wind costs fell by almost a fifth.
Disrupting the energy market
Introductions over, the massive reshaping of the energy market was also apparent in many of the five-minute pitches from start-ups developing new businesses in the wave of decentralisation for power generation and distribution.
One such business is Kiwigrid, an energy IoT platform built around an algorithm that optimises energy management in buildings, connecting consumers, businesses and utilities.
Founder Dr Carsten Bether said the platform has attracted the likes of BMW, EON, Sharp and LG, and can deliver potential savings of up to 25 percent of energy costs.
A common criticism of decentralised renewable power is the need for storage. German market leader, Sonnen, explained how their integrated residential storage systems, including batteries, helped store solar energy captured during the day for use around the clock.
Sonnen’s systems can control energy remotely using “virtual power plants” and hardware network connections. Their systems store energy generated during the day and can switch running homes from the battery or the grid according to when rates are cheapest to save money.
From consumer to prosumer
In the past homeowners would buy energy from one power plant. With homes and businesses able to capture energy with renewable technology, there are now millions of plants feeding power back into the grid.
The traditional energy utility market model is being disrupted and this transformation has turned once passive consumers into “prosumers” – with every homeowner part of a decentralised network re-shaping the energy transaction.
Empowering the new prosumer was also a big focus for many start-ups at Ecosummit, including Lumenaza, which connects producers and consumers in a digital marketplace, providing transparency for how electricity is produced.
Their “utility in a box” software connects the new energy players with utilities, to ensure regional energy is linked, enabling the sharing of electricity within a community.
But what about those who don’t own their own home? Only a minority of houses in Germany are owner occupied and more than one million apartment buildings are suitable for solar but are currently not being utilised.
A smart start-up working to deliver the benefits of solar power to tenants of rented apartments is Prosumergy, just one of the innovative young companies supported by Climate-KIC’s cleantech incubator in Berlin.
Prosumergy Co-founder Christopher Neumann explained the main premise was to connect landlords to utilities, creating a win-win for tenants and landlords, by acting as solar project managers and covering all legal, regulatory and billing duties.
Landlords cash in on unused rooftops by installing solar panels and selling the generated electricity directly to tenants. Meanwhile, tenants get access to locally produced solar power and save money on utility bills.
Remote and developing markets
Berlin-based start-up Qinous, is helping to bring some of the benefits of renewables to off-grid locations that relied on diesel generators, through small plug-and-play energy storage solutions.
Using L-ION or salt-water batteries in a box, their battery storage and microgrid management offers flexibility for small-scale projects for applications such as island resorts and commercial and industrial facilities.
Fellow Berliners Mobisol explained how people in emerging African markets went from having no phones to mobile technology, bypassing landlines altogether.
Corporate Development Manager Klaus Maier said that his start-up recognised that the same was true for energy, with the potential for emerging African markets to go from no power to decentralised renewable energy, bypassing the need for large fossil fuel-based utilities.
Mobisol aims to deliver solar panels to households, who ordered and paid off the hardware via their mobile phones, with installation possible by “one person, with one hammer, in one hour”.
Tech rules ok
It wouldn’t be Ecosummit without a raft of exciting breakthrough hardware technology to make things greener and keener.
Dresden-based Sunfire has developed a power core, consisting of a stack of high-temperature solid oxide fuel cells that convert chemical energy into electricity through a chemical reaction.
The cells can offer heat and power for households, commercial buildings, remote locations and for mobility and electricity.
Meanwhile, Estonian-based start-up Ubik Solutions has developed unique micro-inverter technology that improves the energy harvest ability of solar photovoltaic modules by up to 20 per cent.
Their solution offers higher energy harvest at a lower cost with more durable and reliable solutions than what’s offered on the market, with on and off-grid options.