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Upside Energy to pilot DR software for storage

National Grid, UK government, universities help out

Rockville, MD (January 27, 2015) -- Upside Energy is set to release its hosted-services, energy-storage DR software on Feb 1, Upside Energy Founder Graham Oakes told Smart Grid Today – the leading independent, daily, professional news journal of the smart grid industry – Wednesday from a trade show in San Francisco called Clean & Cool Mission. Smart Grid Today publisher Modern Markets Intelligence, Inc. is sharing the story here, free of charge.

The 18-month-old firm is looking for equipment makers and universities to help it show how its software can help smaller, battery-based energy storage systems communicate with grid operators, Oakes said.

The firm received a $700,000 grant from the UK government-run startup fund Innovate UK and the software's debut takes place as the firm is "just starting to build relationships with people," he added.

National Grid in June chose Upside Energy as one of five finalists in a contest in the UK to identify ways to engage small- and medium-sized customers in DR programs, Oakes said. The firm entered the EU climate innovation contest called Climate-KIC, too, he added.

Oakes founded Upside Energy to expand National Grid's DR program to smaller customers with storage capabilities, which had previously only engaged larger C&I storage-system owners.

"DR is well developed in the US but not so much in the UK, so [National Grid] wanted to see what they could do. The UK has always had a very centralized electricity generation system .... There's this centralized engineering mindset," he added, meaning the grid has "excellent engineering, but that it is overbuilt."

A large amount of Upside Energy's strategy is working with smaller customers to expand the country's DR potential.

"We're certainly doing a lot of innovation, but there's at least as much importance in the way we work with existing equipment manufacturers, so that we can get out to the smaller customers and small energy users," Oakes said, citing the firm's current partnership with Siemens and Sharp. Through them, it plans to find "the channels to small businesses and households" that own devices with backup-power capacity, he added.

The idea for his firm was inspired "by seeing how much storage capacity there currently is on the network, and looking at the type of equipment a small business might own," Oakes said. "It turns out there is about 6 GWHs of uninterrupted battery power, including 2 GWHs of small-scale systems," Oakes said.

In its fully realized form, Upside Energy will coordinate with smaller storage system owners to charge their batteries when demand is low and run equipment from batteries when demand is high, selling the energy as needed to National Grid to help balance the grid, the firm said.

The firm will communicate with the utility via hosted services, "so when they want us to take a certain amount of demand off the grid, they will message us," Oakes said. "We'll figure out which batteries are best for taking demand off the grid and we communicate with the storage systems using OpenADR standards."

Upside Energy works today mainly with commercial owners of uninterrupted power supplies (UPS) systems, such as machine rooms, traffic lights, cell phone towers and other equipment with backup-power capacity. But the firm eventually wants to have a mix of commercial and residential storage system owners taking part.

The vision includes solar PV-connected batteries and EV-charging systems, Oakes said. By the middle of next year, Upside Energy's customer base will be "almost 100% commercial," he added.

"But by 2020, we're looking at more like a 50/50 mix and eventually over time, we're looking at a point where commercial drops down to 20-25%."

The commercial market is a "very attractive starting point because there is a lot of battery [storage capacity] and it turns out that UPS has some good power characteristics for frequency response," Oakes said, adding that UPS systems are effective when "you need to take demand off the grid very quickly."

Various storage systems have their own pros and cons and some systems, such as UPS, are good for taking demand off the grid but not good for storing excess energy generated from renewables, he added. Thus the firm needs a diverse array of storage systems available.

"We're going to be building up a portfolio of different systems, and different algorithms to store them," Oakes said.

Mathematicians needed

As part of this effort, Oakes has been talking to the heads of math departments at the University of Manchester, the University of Reading and Oxford University, he said, noting his plans to this week visit the University of California at Berkeley.

"We're going to have a lot of PhD [holders] in math," Oakes said, adding that having mathematicians on staff would be necessary to develop the algorithms to let different storage systems communicate with Upside Energy.

The firm is working on a funding proposal to see its staff grow to nine by July from four today, he added. The firm is also looking for an equity round of financing this year – and sees itself expanding in the Chinese cities of Wuhan and Tianjin, growing its staff to "15 or so people by early next year," he added.

After that, Upside Energy plans to expand to Japan, North and South America and the rest of Europe, Oakes said.

Upside Energy's customer base this year is "trivial numbers – tens, if that, because we're in pilot mode, which gives us the data to run large-scale simulations," he said. "Looking at the UK five years out, we're looking at hundreds of thousands" of storage system owners taking part, he predicted.

The story has been slightly edited for this format and is included in its entirety here and at  http://ow.ly/HZ8LK. To read more articles like this one, sign up for a Free Trial to Smart Grid Today.

ABOUT SMART GRID TODAY: 

Smart Grid Today's mission is to deliver daily, unbiased, comprehensive and original reporting on emerging trends, applications and policies driving the modern utility industry -- in a signature format our founders have developed over decades in the trade news business, featuring highly concise and easy-to-understand news copy based on trusted reporting, exclusive interviews, informed analysis and strategic insights that our subscribers rely on to succeed every business day.  Smart Grid Today is published by Modern Markets Intelligence, Inc.

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