Senfal acquisition

Harnessing AI for renewable energy trading

Vattenfall on the acquisition trail alights on the Dutch software services provider Senfal.
Published: Fri 22 Mar 2019

Much of the thrust of artificial intelligence in today’s energy system has been around weather forecasting for use cases such as dispatch from wind farms, outage prediction and building energy management.

Another use case that is ripe for AI is renewables trading, which has brought complexities to traders with the variability and challenges in forecasting output and demand and the consequent prices. Considering this, and with the growing trend of the larger energy companies to look to grow their businesses into the future with new services, Vattenfall has acquired the Amsterdam-based software services startup Senfal.

“Senfal has gained a wealth of experience and shows innovative thinking in automated demand response and robotic power trading,” says Erik Suichies, head of Vattenfall’s European wholesale customer business. “Adding their competence and solutions will strengthen Vattenfall’s position of being the preferred energy supplier for industrial customers and renewable operators in northwestern Europe.”

Energy trading solutions

Senfal’s (current) machine learning and artificial intelligence-based power trading solutions are two fold. The automated demand response offering comprises machine learning algorithms to predict per individual asset the energy market prices and control and adjust production schedules to monetise flexibility. The trading robot is developed to make buy or sell decisions on short term energy markets in a fully autonomous and automated way.

Senfal trades on various energy markets in Europe in its quest to secure the best price, among others the EPEX day-ahead, EPEX intraday and the ETPA energy markets. The company also takes customers’ imbalance into consideration and the prices on the imbalance market.

As an example of Senfal’s activities, it offers successful delivery of frequency containment reserve to Nuon’s Echteld wind farm in a pilot with TenneT in the Netherlands. One of the requirements for supplying FCR is the ability to quickly adjust the energy production upwards or downwards to balance the grid. To make this happen, Senfal developed software to manage wind turbines in a pool with other sustainable energy sources, including electric vehicles to which the four wind turbines were connected through charge point operator Elaad and Tesla Powerwall batteries. Senfal claims its model allows accurate predictions of wind supply within 10 seconds.

“Partnering with Vattenfall enables Senfal to scale our technology to a very large customer base, thereby creating the desired impact,” notes Managing Director Sander ten Kate. “This is a very logical next step for our company.”

Senfal asserts that its services are able to substantially reduce energy bills for the large industrials and realise improvements in power trading profits for wind and solar farms and battery owners.

Electric vehicle development

To date Vattenfall’s acquisitions have focused on energy companies with which it has broadened its customer base by growing its presence in existing markets or expanding into new markets and the generaiton supply options available to them. Among such acquisitions are of Vindstø in Denmark, iSupplyEnergy in UK and most recently Delta Energie in the Netherlands while with a 35% share of BrainHeart Sweden Vattenfall initiated a geothermal supply option to customers in that country.

Senfal appears to be Vattenfall’s first technology acquisition but more can be expected. In is 2018 report in reference to planned activities, the company says its portfolio of energy solutions will be scaled and it will continue to grow its customer base while also working on retention initiatives with acquisition opportunities acted on as they arise.

A specific area Vattenfall has indicated is to expand its electric vehicle charging capability. Currently the company operates some 10,000 charging spots in Europe, most in its home market and the Netherlands but has the vision to become one of the region’s biggest operators.

In a January interview with Reuters, President and CEO Magnus Hall was quoted as saying the search was on for “strategic, reasonable acquisitions that can really push us into a growth platform or a technology that we need… We’re not talking about bolt-on acquisitions”.