17 November 2020
Habitat Energy are the brains behind Energy Superhub Oxford, applying smart technology to manage the hybrid battery second-by-second and optimise electric vehicle fleet charging. The company’s Co-founder and CEO, Andrew Luers, explains why this flexibility is so essential to achieve net zero, and how in current times, big risk and big change may not look the same as they once did.
Tell us about Habitat Energy?
Habitat Energy are an asset optimiser. We are the first in the UK to blend data science and an algorithmic approach with a deep understanding of batteries and the traded markets and ancillary services in which they operate. We use these capabilities to deliver the greatest value to battery asset owners, both on a short-term basis, minute-by-minute, and throughout the life of the asset.
Why is flexibility important for a net zero energy system?
Flexibility is important on the generation and the load side. It ensures that we can operate the load that’s on the system as efficiently and predictably as possible, but more importantly, as we think about a net zero energy system that’s got a lot of intermittent renewable generation on it, it’s flexibility that enables us to have a resilient grid. It’s been shown in studies that a flexible net zero grid will be much lower cost. If we want a low-carbon, low-cost and resilient grid, flexibility is key to make that happen.
What makes batteries such a good source of flexibility?
Batteries are unique in that they can be generation or load and respond to what the grid needs at any given time. They’re also incredibly fast and so can provide services for grid stability at a frequency level. But they can also be scaled in duration to provide what the grid needs now or over time, whether that’s for very short-term responses or longer-term over settlement periods or throughout the day to move energy from one part of the day to another.
What role is Habitat Energy playing in Energy Superhub Oxford?
We are optimising the assets that are in the Superhub project, including the hybrid battery system and electric vehicles (EVs). We’ll be forecasting market prices, and coupled with our knowledge of ancillary service markets, recommending the commercial strategy for these assets and then executing it day-by-day.
We’re also supporting design decisions for the project. The same tools and understanding that are used to operate and capture value, can also be used to determine the duration of the battery for maximum value, or warranty constraints and how those will impact the value that can be captured. On the EV side of things, we’re looking at how we can apply our capabilities to most efficiently charge fleets and make best use of the flexibility available.
What are you working on right now?
We’ve recently entered the Balancing Mechanism as a precursor to what we’ll be doing with the hybrid battery. We’re also working on the logic of our optimisation, incorporating the vanadium flow and lithium-ion batteries and working with the manufacturers of those assets to understand the specific constraints and specific attributes, because we look at each asset individually and optimise it for its unique characteristics.
In this case, the combination of a vanadium flow battery with a lithium-ion battery is unique and it’s behind a single grid connection. The lithium-ion degrades differently and has different efficiency profiles than a vanadium flow battery. The challenge is to optimise both types of asset behind the grid connection for a maximum combined value and to take advantage of their attributes.
What do you find most exciting about Energy Superhub Oxford?
The project has brought together a great combination of partners, including new, innovative companies, who are pushing boundaries in different areas, Oxford Council, who have been very progressive in driving the move to a low-carbon city, and the University of Oxford. It’s a great blend of high quality partners who are fun to work with.
It’s also exciting to be able to demonstrate these technologies at-scale – at a very tangible level – to the rest of the community, to policymakers, to investors. These aren’t desktop demonstrations, they’re large-scale, commercial demonstrations. And the potential impact of this project is exciting. It’s very visible in the community, I think it will have a very tangible impact on CO2 emissions in Oxford, and hopefully that will allow it to be replicated in other towns and cities in the UK and beyond.
What changes do you hope to see in the energy sector over the next decade?
I hope to see further moves to decarbonise the electricity system, replacing large carbon-emitting assets with further adoption of wind and solar and other renewable technologies. And then, with a decarbonised grid, I hope to see more electrification of heat and transportation, so large scale adoption of EVs and heat pumps. We’re seeing lots of momentum in all of those areas and so I hope that ten years from now, the system looks very different from today.
What are the biggest challenges we need to overcome?
Most importantly we need to make the investment opportunities clear and tangible. Investment communities are getting more comfortable with unsubsidised renewables and storage, and costs are falling. But getting that message out, with more examples of the results via projects like Energy Superhub Oxford, will be important. I think there’s a big pent-up amount of investment that can be unlocked and poured into this, if we can make the investment opportunities clear.
We also need to continue to identify the policy constraints and system designs that are for a different age and a different type of technology. There’s been some recent movement here but there’s still a long way to go.
What gives you the most cause for optimism?
We’ve seen dramatic cost reductions across solar, wind and storage – the key elements for a decarbonised grid. Business cases have just gotten better and better, and if we continue that trend, the momentum will grow. That, and the conversations that I have been a part of with policymakers and system operators, gives me a lot of optimism. The understanding and the desire to put in-place new mechanisms is there.
Can you see any positives coming out of this period of lockdown for the low-carbon transition?
In an odd way, I think it’s expanded our view of what’s possible. Most people didn’t anticipate a global pandemic hitting us, so the fact that that’s possible changes our conception of what’s normal and stable. In a period of stress, things that looked really traditional and stable may look less so, while on the other hand, things that are new and different may be looked at more closely.
In the energy sector in particular, we’ve seen storage and renewables play a part and the system be relatively stable. And I think that that gives investors and the energy community a different lens to look at as they’re deciding, ‘what is a big risk, what is a big change?’ Big risk and big change may not look the same as they did before the pandemic.