We joined Eddie McGoldrick, co-founder of PowerOn Technologies, to ask him questions about this early stage growth company. He hopes that through innovative domestic battery storage solution, they can put the power back in energy consumer’s hands and create a revolution of prosumers.
Q1) Could you share with us, a little about your background and what inspired you to get involved in the energy sector?
I am one of the co-founders of PowerOn Technologies, which trades as The Electric Storage Company. My background is in electricity where I have worked since the late 1970s, and my partner Anne Marie’s background is financial services. I was inspired to get involved in this area of the energy sector from years of experience of customers not getting a good service – both people on low and fixed incomes who need affordable electricity the most and those living in rural areas that do not always get the reliable power supply they need today. We recognised the scope in combining financial services and big data thinking with energy, in such a way that we can address both these challenges.
Q2) Could you give us an insight into what a day to day role within an early stage growth company looks like?
Being part of an early stage growth company requires a lot of quick thinking and the willingness to do absolutely everything. From collecting battery devices, visiting customers, making sure batteries are installed correctly, ensuring the customer is happy, negotiating with the bank and raising funding fromInvest NI, I have been involved in it all. Luckily, Anne Marie and I, and our team, have the skills and enthusiasm for it. The key thing about a role in a start-up is having belief and stickability. There are many days where we question why we bothered because we could easily go and do something much easier. Yet, when customers call to tell us they are delighted with their product, the service they received and the savings they have since made, it is a magnificent feeling, and these are the days when being a part of this is like nothing else.
Q3) The Electric Storage Co. has launched the very first and only field trial in NI, supplying and installing battery storage in homes. What has been the most challenging aspect(s) of getting this trial up and running?
The most challenging aspect is that we sit within a complex regulatory area. Two years ago, Anne Marie took the lead on setting up a stakeholder group. These stakeholders include representatives that influence the energy market and have an interest in good outcomes for consumers) and Ulster University. Whilst the stakeholders have no ownership of or responsibility for the company, they have been working with us for the last two years to better understand what the potential for domestic storage may be, what the barriers are and what might be possible in terms of reducing or eliminating those barriers. The great benefit to having this group is that they are both interested and knowledgeable about energy. They are willing to discuss and work through any problems we have and so their expertise is a wonderful asset to have.
Q4) There are various energy storage battery brand options currently available on the market. Why is the Sonnen device the system of choice for your home installations?
We began with two test houses at Ulster University in Jordanstown. Occupied by real, faculty families, we tried six different batteries and the one that was by far the best was the Sonnen. It was the most efficient, the safest and gave us the most data flexibility. In terms of data flexibility; once the Sonnen is installed, we gather data from it every 10 seconds and pull that data on to a financial trading platform. This allows us to understand what the customer is using, what the Photovoltaic (PV) is generating, what the network is doing in terms of power quality and therefore what positioning we might want to take in the Single Electricity Market (SEM) market. We would suggest that since October, the SEM market has been paying a premium for predictability and flexibility, and if you can be predictable and flexible in the market, there is more money to be made. At the minute, the only people receiving any value are the big power station and wind farm operators. Our argument is that with our customers’ data coming together, we too should be able to acquire better value for our customers in that market. It is also interesting to see that a few weeks ago, Shell or Royal Dutch Shell to give them their full title bought over Sonnen, so if Sonnen is good enough for Shell, it is good enough for us.
Q5) One of your aims is to put power back in consumers’ hands. Could you give us an example of a success story of installing battery storage in an NI home?
When our very first customer bought a smart battery from us, he already had a 2.5kW of PV on his roof and a plug-in hybrid Toyota Prius. With our battery, we advised him to begin at the entry point with one 2kWh hour battery pack. He very quickly came back to us and asked for a second 2kWh hour pack. He has now bought a third and is planning on purchasing a fourth. This customer has informed us that he has since been able to reduce his electricity bill by 67% and his retail electricity provider recently phoned him to say his bills were so low that they were removing him from his direct debit budget plan, and he was delighted. This is what is great about our product because people can come in at an entry point and add capacity as they wish. We have other customers who are aiming to get their electricity bill to zero and are very close to it. These customers are getting what we call a good ‘invest to save’ proposition. Whether they have invested in solar panels, plug in hybrids or in air source heat pumps, they are willing to pay for our product as they see storage as a way of accelerating and maximising that return.
One of the issues surrounding batteries is their quality and lifespan. There is a very well known, ambitious company who do lots of interesting things but only warrant a battery if it is cycled once a day. If a customer cycles it more than once, their warranty lapses. However, our customers are cycling their batteries two/three times a day, which is what you want to do to get the maximum out of your renewable energy sources, by cycling it through the battery. This is the beauty of the Sonnen, and the data analysis we do for customers as it helps them to see how to cycle the battery several times each day.
Q6) Is there a goal that The Electric Storage Co. has met that you are most proud of?
To date, what we are most proud of is what we experienced at the recent Self Build Show 2019. We had dozens of customers queuing up, wanting to buy our product because it allowed them the choices and freedom they wanted. It was also interesting to see that 1 in 3 of them were from the Republic of Ireland, where there are now incentives via Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI). We currently have no such incentives in Northern Ireland, but we have signed up over 100 people to get a detailed quotation from us at the show, wanting to join the revolution and become prosumers. Overall, it made me extremely proud to see a great product beside a great team of people, with customers literally queuing up for our stand.
Q7) How do you see battery storage in Northern Ireland homes progressing?
I believe that this will become standard, particularly for rural homes but also for new build. In Australia and California, where new developments of homes require and benefit from renewable sources, storage and smart purchasing from other renewables; people no longer worry about how much electricity they use or how to pay the next bill. Instead, they pay a flat fee and receive all the energy they need to keep their homes warm, safe and comfortable. This future is now only a few years off for Northern Ireland.
Q8) Where do you think the future challenges lie for The Electric Storage Co. and are there any outside factors/influences that might make it difficult/easier for your company to grow?
The future challenge for PowerOn involves scaling our business up. At present, we are a small company and have financed it all ourselves. We are talking to investors about scaling the company up to exploit both the Irish market and potentially the GB market, so that is a big challenge. We don’t want to be gobbled up by some company who just want to sell devices quickly and cheaply. What we want to do is drive the revolution in this corner of the renewables market. However, there are outside factors and influences that make it difficult for us. When you look at the Irish market, you have one semi state organisation who own power stations, windfarms, and the grid- they are also selling retail energy to customers. They control the four corners of the game and it is very difficult for a disruptor like us to compete against. Yet, on the other hand, we do have experience and faith in the regulatory system in Northern Ireland and Ireland and so feel that they will see the potential here and ensure that the small new ideas get on to the pitch as well.
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