Ex utility chief demonstrates smart meter killer app

Voltage regulation and power factor correction at the grid edge offer a low-cost solution to energy saving and a lower carbon footprint
Published: Thu 19 Jan 2017

Smart meters have been around for a good while now but still the question that keeps cropping up from consumers is: “I can see lots of benefits for the utility, but what’s in it for me?”

Nothing, according to Richard McIndoe, executive chairman of Hong Kong-based startup Edge Electrons, in an interview with Engerati: “Smart meters are smart for everyone but the consumer.”

But add his company’s novel energy saving solution to the mix and it becomes disruptive.

McIndoe is an industry veteran of some 20 years with posts including heading up CLP Power Asia in Hong Kong and most recently Energy Australia, who has jumped ship from power provider to technology provider.

“During that time we were defending the old traditional centralised utility model. But renewables and other new technologies started coming to the market, moving the nexus from the assets to the customers,” McIndoe says of his move. “Consumers have choice and so the products that utilities deliver need to change by adapting to consumers’ needs. I think technology is about to hit the energy industry in a big way and it’s putting the consumer right at the centre.”

Improving efficiency of supply

Edge Electrons, which develops energy saving technology solutions, takes a novel approach to these, avoiding the usual appliance management route. Instead, it is focused on improving the efficiency with which electricity is delivered to the customer using modern electronics and software-based technology to greatly reduce the size and cost of what otherwise would be large and expensive utility hardware.

“Delivering the ‘Holy Trinity’ of improved power quality and reliability at a lower cost and lower carbon footprint”, is the company’s mantra.

The two key technologies developed so far are for voltage regulation (eSaver) and power factor correction (PowerSave).

Both are designed as compact and easy to install. Both, which garnered the company the Asian Innovation Award at Asian Utility Week 2016, are also designed to achieve a 12-24-month payback through annual 15-20% savings on power costs.

Voltage regulation an energy saver

The eSaver is positioned as a low-cost means of regulating voltage to a preset level (typically 220V), within the range that most electrical appliances are designed to work.

The logic behind it is that the increasing capacity of distributed generation is pushing up the voltage of networks and today these are typically run close to the upper limit of their operating range, around 250V. Besides causing damage to appliances in the long term, and potentially significantly reducing their lifecycle, consumers are paying for 250V supply when they need only 220V.

McIndoe says that eSavers installed in Queensland with voltages regulated down to 220V are yielding savings of over 10% in both consumption and carbon emissions. No deterioration in performance of appliances at lower voltage has been experienced. On the contrary there have been some improvements in their performance.

“It’s a simple proposition – simple enough for residential customers to understand and simple enough for governments. Go to the customer with a device alongside the smart meter that allows them to save over 10% on their bill without them having to do anything and it changes the dynamic. It provides a more compelling story to the customer and is a way of adding value and improving their trust and loyalty.”

The eSaver, also then acts as an anti-churn device, he adds, pointing to the 25% churn rates in Australia as “the single biggest cost to an energy retailer” and thus “a huge inefficiency in the system.”

A further spinoff is that the eSaver has been found to provide additional yield from solar PV. In this case the inverter needs to export power at 220V rather than at 250V, improving both the efficiency of the system and the operational life of the inverter.

Power factor correction for businesses

The PowerSave device provides power factor correction to eliminate the inefficiencies caused by poor power factors in motors, pumps and other reactive loads.

The device is aimed to broaden the accessibility of power factor correction to commercial and industrial and large residential users. Savings in network charges are estimated up to 30%.

“Once again it’s about improving the efficiency of the system,” says McIndoe. “Customers are happy. Retailers are happy as they are selling the same amount of energy, and network companies are supportive as they don’t have to build the network for peak capacity usage. It’s a win-win for both customers and utilities.”

Energy management in the hub

McIndoe describes the eSaver as “a bit of a Trojan horse to getting to manage customers’ energy needs.”

Plug in solar, storage and an energy management system and it effectively becomes an energy management hub for a home or business.

Edge Electrons also has a solution for that – the eHub, which is offered alongside the eSaver or PowerSave. The eHub provides appliance monitoring and control capability via smartphone and the potential to save a further 12-15% on energy costs.

“The eSaver provides the basic savings without the consumer having to do anything, and then for those who want to be more engaged, the eHub can be added,” he says. “For a minimal monthly communication cost it provides real time visibility of consumption and dollar and CO2 savings, as well as accurate tracking of solar and storage performance. It’s all about customer segmentation and providing them with choice.”

Energy efficiency good for all markets

With the need for governments to reduce energy costs and carbon emissions, these technologies are equally viable in both monopoly and liberalised markets, McIndoe indicates.

“I am very excited. We are looking at what the customer wants with solutions that are easy to understand with clear validations. We are using electronics and software to address issues utilities would normally address with large-scale solutions. And we are getting rid of inefficiencies to save money and reduce the carbon footprint.”

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