Electric power industry pivotally impacted by solution from Estonia

Georg Rute demonstreerib hiljem imepisikeseks muutuva koduseadme prototüüpi.

PHOTO: MIHKEL MARIPUU/PM/SCANPIX BALTICS

Sympower, a company of young UK-educated men has created a solution offering up to third in savings for electricity sellers and consumers while helping balance out entire electricity system thus boosting use of solar and wind energy. 

«We were seeking a solution for the main obstacle for use of renewable energy sources – namely, electricity production and consumption must always be in balance. We will be changing the times when home devices are using electricity and will thereby help balance electricity consumption and production. This is a way to save money in homes, electricity companies, and the entire electrical network,» explains a Sympower engine Georg Rute.

The core of the solution is a central server, another element being a mini-device* in people’s homes setting electricity consumption by water boiler, air conditioner, heating system or even pumps to the cheapest hours. The home-use controller is attached to each definite device to alter its electricity consumption.

«For home user, the idea is to cause the devices to consume electricity when it is at its cheapest. Electricity market price is monitored in real-time while naturally considering the habits of humans – like when they take the shower or heat water for whatever other use, so warm water would definitely be at hand at these very times,» says Mr Rute.

National switch

However, he says, the usefulness is not limited to homes alone. If needed, all power-plugged devices in the land can be switched on all at once just when the power network needs it most.  

«For instance, a situation may occur when Estonia is exporting electricity into Finland and something happens with the cables – as a result of that, Estonia will have much more electricity than we actually need. To prevent the system from breaking down, we may call for help from the connected home devices and switch them on for 15 minutes, say. From there, our electricity producers will be able to adjust their systems,» explains Mr Rute.

Pursuant to plans by Sympower, the home-controller is free for end-users, as is its Internet use – SIM-card based mobile data connection. The device offered for homes is actually very simple, consisting of a €27 mass market processor, electric meter, Internet stick, and a switch.  

«The home client will pay nothing, and all he sees is a win in electricity bill. Mainly, we will be creating value for power network administrator – for instance, Estonia has 300,000 water boilers and if these all were switched on at the same time, the aggregated wattage would be half of Estonia’s electricity consumption. Thus, by switching them all on and off together, the entire system can keep itself in balance,» adds Mr Rute.

Alas, the device will not be usable in Estonia for the decade to come, our electricity system being linked to Russia’s for balance’s sake, and that’s the time it will take to desynchronise from their system. However, nations like Finland do have an independent electricity system and there, with Sympower devices, every household could save €75 a year on water boilers i.e. 20 percent of yearly electricity consumption.  

«We have talked to the Finnish operator Fingrid (of equal status of Estonia’s Elering – edit) and their system is ready to receive our product,» says Mr Rute. «For power networks, our system offers reserve wattage at favourable prices, such as can be switched on and off in a moment. Secondly, it would take hundreds of millions of euros to build complementary power stations to balance out the fluctuation.»

Not limited to directly benefiting power networks and end users, electricity sellers will be blessed as well. Namely, the latter must purchase electricity from the market a day in advance, at exchange price. «When they know when people are consuming electricity, they can purchase it at prices more precise. Their profit margin may rise up to 30 percent and this allows offering cheaper electricity for end users connected into the system. All win out,» says Mr Rute.

Already, Sympower has done market research in Finland and discovered that close to two thirds have taken steps to cut electricity costs: buying more efficient devices, pulling plugs.

Already, negotiations are underway with Nordic boiler producers so that from factory the devices would be ready for Sympower’s platform.

Befriend wind, sun

Difficulties in balancing electricity network are also the main hindrance for more widespread use of sustainable energy sources – solar energy cannot be used for balancing as the Sun cannot be switched on when needed – it shines or it doesn’t.

«Ideally, solar or wind energy should be used up when the nature offers it. Our solution makes that possible. At the moment, our boilers only go to work when the water is cold, and that is the only criterion – we are also offering the option of cheaper and more environmentally friendly electricity which will also help balance the entire electricity network,» explains Mr Rute.

Mr Rute created Sympower with Simon Bushell, an Englishman. Himself, Georg Rute has graduated from physics faculty at Nottingham University, and gotten his Master’s in energy at Imperial College, London. Mr Bushell is a Cambridge-educated chemist who went on to study energy together with Mr Rute in London. By now, Mr Bushell has become an Estonian e-resident and has actually moved over to Estonia for the sake of the project.

Already, the idea has attracted a considerable amount of attention in various places in Europe. A week ago, they took regional 1st prize at sustainable technology competition Climate-KIC Accelerator Venture Competition in Poland. In October, they will be representing Estonia in European finals.

* the prototype on picture will shrink to be tiny

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