As the electricity sector undergoes its greatest evolution in a hundred years Embrium’s latest innovation is giving lines companies some of their power back.
At a glance
The age of the electric car is almost upon us, bringing with it cleaner air, quieter streets, and an end to angst over petrol prices.
But electric vehicles are also the most energy-intensive consumer appliance ever made. What happens when we all want to charge our shiny new environmentally-friendly EVs at once?
It’s a problem entrepreneurs and electricity sector veterans Dean Gowans and Regan Ryan are addressing with their energy management and control technology venture, Embrium.
Embrium’s innovations in network monitoring are at the forefront of what’s been dubbed the ‘new energy era’.
“If we look at the growth in EVs, it won’t be long before a majority of us have them and if they’re all plugged into the grid at the same time they’re going to wreak havoc,” Dean Gowans says.
“We’re designing technology that allows them to be charged in such a way that their load is balanced, and they don’t add extra pressure on both utility and customer infrastructure.”
Linemen for the county
After almost a century of little change, the electricity sector is evolving rapidly thanks to the distributed nature of ‘new energy’ technologies such as EVs, batteries and solar power.
It’s becoming possible for householders to generate their own power and store it. In time, this will mean less use of the grid.
By 2050 New Zealand will be using twice as much electricity as it does today, and infrastructure providers will need to find more efficient ways to manage both new and existing assets and network demand.
Amid all this upheaval lines companies currently have a limited view of what’s going on in the low voltage (LV) network, the network the average consumer is connected to. They haven’t needed more visibility, because until now they have largely viewed the network top-down. But how to monitor new energy load flow and EV loads is now a hot topic for network operators, Dean says.
GoodMeasure, Embrium’s cloud-connected Connectivity-as-a-Service (CaaS) platform, sits within the LV network and allows for monitoring of energy flows in real time.
One regional lines company is so convinced by Embrium’s technology that it has invested in the business. Te Kuiti-based The Lines Company is a cornerstone shareholder and plans to install a number of GoodMeasure LVSense monitoring devices on its network.
It will provide data they may not otherwise get, CEO Sean Horgan says. “That will support decisions we make as to how we invest in that substation, as opposed to simply relying on the original equipment manufacturers’ specifications or engineering assumptions.”
Embrium’s EV control technology is also of interest. The Lines Company’s region is home to the North Island ski fields and as EVs become more prevalent holidaymakers will need to charge up along their way.
“You’ll have people driving into your area for a short period of time or driving through, so there’s a good chance there will be quite high peaky loads at random times of the day,” Sean says.
Unlike others in its sector The Lines Company owns the power meters in use on its network, meaning it has a direct relationship with consumers. Thus, Embrium’s smart meter monitoring technology has also been valuable, Sean says.
Gowans and Ryan founded Embrium in 2013 and one of its most innovative products is a device that sits inside electricity smart meters, collecting usage data and transferring it to the cloud in real time.
Currently electricity retailers can receive real-time meter data at a pinch, but they have no efficient way of sharing it. Through GoodMeasure retailers, distributors and other energy service providers can get simultaneous access to metering and power quality data. This creates the opportunity for new value-add information services.
Embrium also offers behind-the-meter and control solutions to commercial building owners and retailers with a need for energy monitoring, management or cost analyses within their businesses.
GoodMeasure combines real-time information streams within the grid and the control of EV charging at the grid edge. The two dovetail together, Dean Gowans says.
“If you can’t monitor the grid, you can’t see what’s going to make it more difficult to manage the EV charging loads.”
Partners in innovation
Callaghan Innovation’s Student and Growth Grants have helped the innovative energy management company accelerate its R&D. The speed of change in the energy industry is such that Embrium must be quick with its engineering while maintaining high standards, Dean says.
“It means we end up employing more people, so instead of having a team of four software developers we have six. It means we get there faster.”
The agency has also helped Embrium make connections outside its usual sphere and encouraged it to think globally, Callaghan Innovation Business Innovation Adviser – Energy and Environment James Muir says.
“We challenge Embrium from time to time about the fact this is where New Zealand is going to go, but there are also much larger markets overseas,” James says.
Updated: 8 July 2019