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The first step isn’t always the hardest

Speed dating for start-ups

As well as presenting themselves at small exhibition booths and at the start-up forum, young companies also had the opportunity to network with investors and potential partners during a speed dating event. (Copyright: Solar Promotion)

Many of them were sporting sneakers, an untucked shirt and a six-day beard, most are young, and every single one is passionate about what they do. That sums up the start-up entrepreneurs who presented their products and developments at EM-Power as part of The smarter E Europe in Munich in mid-May. Around 60 percent of all the start-ups at the event work within the categories covered by EM-Power. This is because intelligent energy use in buildings, industry and properties is primarily based on digital and networked solutions, a field which is growing at a rapid pace.

One of the young companies is mondas GmbH, whose appearance at EM-Power ended up being particularly lucrative. Founded just last year as a spin-off of the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE, the business won The smarter E AWARD in the category Outstanding Projects. mondas’ prize-winning project was the installation of an intelligent heat grid with 38 decentralized solar thermal systems connected to 525 residential units in a new neighborhood in Freiburg, Germany. The grid also feeds heat into the local heating network from a biomethane-powered cogeneration plant. mondas was responsible for the acquisition of measurement data, yield, and demand values for all of the solar thermal systems using artificial intelligence-based control algorithms in its proprietary analytics software.

Boosting energy conservation and comfort with artificial intelligence

Fresh Energy and vilisto, whose talks at the start-up forum drew an attentive audience, also rely on artificial intelligence. Christian Brase, vilisto’s founder and sales manager, began his presentation by asking the audience who among them turns the heating down when they leave the office in the evening. As it turned out, almost no-one does. Companies and public institutions are wasting huge quantities of energy by heating rooms that aren’t in use. The three-year-old start-up has developed a self-learning thermostat called ovis to combat this waste. Ovis is fitted with noise, light and motion sensors to detect whether a room is occupied. It also measures humidity and detects whether any windows are open. This data is sent to an intelligent gateway dubbed “shepherd” at one-minute intervals.

The gateway uses self-learning algorithms to process the information collected. It then combines the results with the latest weather report to automatically calculate a dynamic heating calendar. For example, if an office is generally used from 9am to 5pm, ovis ensures that the heating is turned up early in the morning and down again in the evening. In good weather, the heaters are turned off early to save energy while maintaining an optimal temperature for office users. Digital thermal management is also possible. The potential savings are huge – the utility company RheinEnergie, which has been using the system for two years, has cut its heating costs by 28.6 percent, while Baker Hughes has managed a reduction of 32.4 percent. Vilisto has recently installed the system in a Berlin school and is expecting to see the property’s energy usage fall by an impressive 40 percent.

Fresh Energy uses artificial intelligence to break down power consumption data. A smart meter captures data which the system then analyzes with the help of complex algorithms, pattern recognition and machine learning. This helps to determine the power consumption of individual appliances by taking into account each device’s consumption behavior. The system constantly improves its ability to disaggregate the appliances as the algorithm analyzes and continuously learns from the stream of new data.

The Fresh Energy app tells consumers how much they have spent running their fridge or dishwasher over the course of a month, for example. This increased awareness alone often leads consumers to reduce their electricity consumption by a remarkable 10 percent, says Adrian Beyert, Business Development Manager at the start-up. The company is building on this foundation to develop data-driven services. For example, Fresh Care is aimed at older people living alone. The system detects anomalies in power consumption, for example if a user breaks their usual routine of turning on the coffee machine at 7am, and notifies relatives. Re:Fresh can even automatically trigger an order for dishwasher tablets based on the system’s record of how often the machine has been run. Fresh Energy offers its system as a customized white label solution to energy distributors, who can use it to provide new services and strengthen customer loyalty.

Digitalization requires us to pay more attention to IT security

With so many devices communicating over the internet, digitalization is not possible without data protection. That is why Connecting Media, founded in 2017, specializes in security in the Internet of Things (IoT). Connecting Media’s CEO and founder, Andreas Kunz, spoke about the importance of data security for the energy industry, drawing on the example of a standby generator set that can easily be hacked into over the internet. As an IT security and service provider, Connecting Media advises businesses on their vulnerabilities and helps them address these with a comprehensive security strategy. An information security management system requires monitoring and control of many different hardware and software components, networks, cloud solutions and other internal IT systems. To make things easier for users, Connecting Media offers a service cockpit, which is a standardized interface that provides user-friendly summaries of countless data sources in one place.

Metering made easy

B.E.I. – Berliner Energieinstitut displayed hands-on technology with its energy meter Emonio P3. The start-up specializes in energy audits and energy consulting. Frustration with the lack of suitable high-quality, easy-to-use metering equipment led to the young company coming up with their own device. Managing director David Eitzinger explained how the team set to work themselves and developed a device which does not require the power supply to be interrupted, cables to be severed or a dedicated socket to be fitted in the distributor box. The device is simply attached to the inside of the distributor box with a magnet. The Emonio P3 is a three-phase data logger. It non-invasively measures alternating current and alternating voltage and calculates the electrical power, power factor and electrical work of main distribution panels and subpanels, appliances and installations. Current is measured via flexible transformers (Rogowski coils) or hinged transformers. Voltage is supplied and measured via magnetic probe tips and terminals or test tips, doing away with the need for an additional voltage source. The data can be loaded in CSV format without an internet connection and then visualized and interpreted on a mobile device using an analytics program. With a WIFI connection, the data can also be analyzed directly on the platform my.emonio.de. The energy logger starts at €399 and is suitable for both temporary and long-term metering in all energy efficiency projects. For Eitzinger, EM-Power was a resounding success – many of the visitors to his stand would have bought the device on the spot if they could have, he said.

Storing solar power as heat

Excess solar power can be converted into heat using the system presented by Askoma at EM-Power. The Swiss company has been working in HVAC since 1967. The Askoconsole-Wall consists of a hydraulic unit and a heating insert and is controlled via the cloud. “We wanted to develop a system that contains as few elements as possible and that can generate useful heat from even small amounts of excess energy,” said general manager Martin Hausin. It enables high storage temperatures without disrupting the stratification in the storage tank. The Askoconsole-Wall can be easily mounted on the wall and connected to all common heating and hygiene buffer tanks. A smart meter notifies the Askocloud via LAN or WIFI of how much excess energy is available. The Askocloud then instructs the IoT-enabled seven-stage heating insert which of the seven heat settings to activate in order to convert as much excess energy as possible into heat, which is then stored in the buffer tank. Consumers can use the Askoconsole-Wall thermostat valve to set the temperature at which the storage device should be charged to any temperature within a range from 50 to 75°C. If enough surplus energy is available, the heating circuit water will circulate within the hydraulic unit until it has reached the preset temperature. The thermostat valve will then open, allowing the hot water to be transferred to the storage tank for as long as the desired temperature is available. Finally, the valve will close and the process will begin again.

Self-sufficiency with a wood-burning stove

Thermoelect generates electricity not on rooftops but in stoves, and the model on display at EM-Power attracted a steady stream of interested visitors. The water-heating log burner supports the heating system and also produces electricity via thermoelectric generators, using the Seebeck effect. This is why it is called the Seebeck 250W. The 250W refers to the potential current output of 250 W. This is enough electricity to power the stove itself and also to supply a gas burner, modern circulation pumps and LED lamps, for example. With additional components such as a battery and an inverter, the Seebeck can generate electricity, heat, and process water as a stand-alone system. It is therefore being marketed to regions where the power grid is unstable, as well as for small-scale plants on farms. The stove has a maximum thermal output of 20 kW and contains two combustion chambers. Logs are burned in the upper chamber and the resulting gases are fed into the second, lower chamber for post-combustion. As a result, the flue gases are very clean. Last year, the Seebeck 250W won the Wood Stove Design Challenge, a competition in the USA that is known for having the most stringent measuring and testing criteria in the world, recounts Dr. Ernest Mitschke, project manager at Thermoelect, which developed the stove in collaboration with partners. The appliance was measured with four different devices because the testers at the competition couldn’t believe the outstanding flue gas results. The particulate matter and CO2 levels in the flue gas were below the detection limit.

Runs better than clockwork

Capstone’s co-generation plants with micro gas turbines generate large volumes of electricity and heat. The plants were presented at EM-Power by Wels Strom and E-quad Power Systems, the operators. The key components are a compressor, a heat exchanger, a combustion chamber, the turbine itself, a generator and an inverter. All rotating parts are mounted on a single shaft supported by air bearings. “That means we don’t need any lubricants or coolants, there’s less wear and tear, and less maintenance is required. What’s more, there are no vibrations, which makes the micro gas turbine quieter than a gas engine,” explains Christian Steininger, who is responsible for energy system sales at Wels Strom. The microturbine has a projected service life of around 80,000 operating hours. The flue gas is so clean that no purification systems are needed. This makes it perfect for direct drying, e.g. of bricks, grains or animal feed. Other areas of application for the turbines are the generation of process heat with steam boiler plants, self-sufficient energy solutions, or heating and cooling systems.

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