The home, the business and the utility of the future is about to step into a new world revolving around renewable energy. A new power supply dynamic is about to overtake traditional modes of delivery and service, according to Enda Gunnell, chief executive of the smart energy company Pinergy.
In tandem with this will be the constant pursuit of energy efficiency – and electricity as the best price. It means households and businesses will have an array of technology and devices that will facilitate the “prosumer” generation asserting itself.
Gunnell cites tangible changes in consumer attitudes providing much momentum; the era of “conscious consumption” is imminent – reflected in increased awareness and desire to have a positive impact on the environment”. This is manifest in how people get their energy bills; they want to understand how they consume electricity, while there is an emerging appetite for embracing sustainability.
Starting with a smart meter, features such as roof-top solar PV, heat pumps and battery storage will be routine; no longer the hallmark of early adapters. The EV will be outside the house/premises and will soon be a back-up supply for the building, he explains. The ability to supply power back to the grid and get paid for it will be a given.
This adds up to “completely redefining the power systems of the past”. The consumer and place of living/working is the power plant. “So the home is constantly generating and storing electricity to limit the amount of power that would otherwise have to be acquired from the grid.”
Where Pinergy comes in is a wish to be that utility of the future, "facilitating all this" and asking "how do we make ourselves relevant in that environment?" And to those who might insist this is the distant future, Gunnell points to the EU Clean Energy Package which means solutions to enable excess power back into the grid must be in place during 2021. So microgeneration is finally coming of age in Ireland.
The Government will have to provide the supports to help get this new way of power generation in place, and help with rollout of battery solutions, he adds. The national smart metering programme is a key element too – 2.25 million smart meters are due to be installed by 2024.
It’s all very real, though Ireland is behind what has already been achieved elsewhere. That said, he is optimistic it is realisable.
The scale of the transition is nonetheless immense. It’s no longer about big utilities being rewarded for delivering kilowatt hours –“we give juice at 12.5 cents” – with inevitable wastage. Since the foundation of the State, he notes, there has been little questioning of where we get our power from, apart from deregulation in the late 1990s and early noughties.
Pinergy entered the Irish market in 2013; initially as a pay-as-you-go metered electricity supplier. Over the following years, there has been a phenomenal amount of change in the marketplace, yet Ireland is “only at the start of the energy transition”, Gunnell says.
It now provides clean energy – wind, solar and hydro power – to thousands of businesses, homes and farms while using sophisticated metering to reduce consumption, “by up to 20 per cent within the first year”. This is backed by detailed practical data and full oversight of their energy use through its smart systems.
They “translate data into meaningful and actionable insights” and provide energy-efficient testing technology recommendations and advice on optimising energy use by deploying their own dedicated data energy platforms including real-time usage monitoring. This comes with a 100 per cent renewable energy guarantee, on the basis “energy is a resource, not a commodity”.
Pinergy knows its place. It’s not going to invent the next smart meter, he says, but is going to optimise its use, all rooted in data, and provide lifestyle products to best equip customers. “The smart meter is not a sophisticated device; it depends on how you use it.”
Increasingly that involves the smartphone, which facilitates easy graphical representation of your energy use, and increasingly will be tied into energy spending.
Everywhere there are indications of big changes; Ireland is at the forefront of integrating renewable power onto the electricity grid, solar is about to come on board as indicated by the recent Renewable Electricity Support Scheme. The solar farm is going to be a feature of the Irish landscape: “It has been a long time coming.”
All this reinforces his fundamental point: “Electricity is going to be the fuel of the future”, while facilitating decarbonisation and a marked decline in fossil fuel use. Within that new reality, Pinergy operates in the residential market and provides “sector-specific solutions” for commercial customers.
This was part of the finance function in the past; now it’s a priority at the highest level of an organisation, while people are looking for different things from their energy provider. Where the expertise is not in-house, as can be case with smaller businesses, Pinergy provides necessary know-how – “all rooted in a vision where we believe everybody has a role to play” in using energy more efficiently.
The sustainability agenda varies depending on the sector, he says, but food manufacturing and agriculture, already tasked with improving their carbon footprint, are to the fore. The hospitality sector and hotels, which have significant energy consumption, have some way to go, Gunnell believes. But that is changing, their customers for example want to know about the sustainability of their venues or seek EV charging solutions.
In providing solutions Pinergy has partnered those who can help move along the sustainability path, such as Elight in assisting businesses invest in energy efficient lighting. Elight installs and manages energy-efficient LED lighting, while supporting Pinergy in the design, supply, installation and maintenance of energy-efficient lighting projects.
In September, it announced a partnership with the UK company Ohme, bringing the latest EV charging technology to Ireland which will help Irish customers to find the best EV charging tariff available to them through its Pinergy drive's smart metering technology. It enables drivers to charge their EVs during low peak hours and/or when the grid is at its greenest.
With these time-of-use tariffs, Pinergy can price electricity at variable prices at different times of the day, based on demand.
“We’re very excited to be working with Ohme,” Gunnell says. “Using the Ohme intelligent cable in conjunction with Pinergy’s unique time-of-use tariffs offers EV drivers a fantastic opportunity, particularly those drivers who want to charge their vehicle at home. The future of EVs in Ireland is huge and the potential for what Pinergy can do for its EV customers is very exciting and we’re looking forward to unveiling many more promising possibilities.”
Pinergy Drive offers complete energy packages for smart electric vehicle charging at home, in the workplace and in communal parking areas. With its smart meter technology, residential customers can now benefit with separate EV charging tariffs from their home energy supply.
The coming decade, Gunnell accepts, will be challenging, especially in power generation and the electrification of heat and transport. “The ability to store electricity at local and grid level will be a big requirement.”
Likewise, the combination of solar, wind and battery is going to provide the sustainable solution, he says. Offshore (floating and fixed) wind “has to be a big opportunity for us”, if properly planned and informed by strategic vision.
All this will need to be backed by the right policy and regulatory framework, not to mention investment. He is happy the programme for government indicates steps in the right direction and is not lacking ambition – but delivery will be critical.
The necessary technology is available internationally and costs are coming down year-on-year which will help make the task easier.
The age of carbon accountability has also arrived where companies have to report their CO2 emissions with transparency, he underlines. “A lot don’t know what their carbon footprint is – not that they are hiding stuff.” Separately, a lot of greenwashing is evident in his opinion.
For those wanting to face up to the new reality, he advises the first step should be sourcing renewable power, followed by asking “how do we operate in a sustainable way?”, which inevitably means looking at transport. For those who feel there is a binary choice between investment in new plant or sustainability, he suggests doing both.
Pinergy’s purpose is to empower everyone to play their part in a sustainable energy future by providing the individual or business in a particular sector with a bespoke proposition, Gunnell says, whether it’s a family-friendly energy supply or a dairy farm availing of discounts when they need power most through time-of-use tariffs. The same principle applies in a commercial setting, he says, whether it’s hotels, property management or the retail sector.
It’s a competitive marketplace, he admits. Pinergy has 1 per cent of the domestic and commercial markets with ambition to grow both substantially. If all their smart meter customers became their electricity customers, he points out, it would have a much bigger market share.
There are, however, strong indications that those who want to be more sustainable in their power use and to optimise their energy consumption are increasingly looking to Pinergy, Gunnell says. They want a combination of renewables, whether it’s wind, solar or heat pump, for “a given set of circumstances and all-round energy efficiency”.