Simon Daniel is passionate about batteries. The founder and chief executive of Moixa – a British smart technology company – believes battery energy storage is the next big disruptor to the energy sector and he fully intends to be at the forefront of the revolution.
In fact, Daniel’s vision for Moixa is that it will “manage all batteries in the world, from household and IoT (Internet of Things), to electric vehicles and robotics”. “We have depth and breadth of experience in batteries,” he tells Utility Week, as we sit drinking tea in the speakers’ lounge at Utility Week Live 2018. He is about to make a presentation in the Network Theatre at the exhibition about the need to embrace storage to meet the demands of a flexible power system, and keeps checking his watch to make sure our interview doesn’t overrun.
Daniel, along with now chief technology officer Chris Wright, launched Moixa in 2004 to “design the future of mobile IoT devices”. The company, which is backed by a small number of energy entrepreneurs and won a £250,000 government grant, started out by patenting smart watches, rollable displays and control devices. What gave the two entrepreneurs the idea for Moixa Energy was the realisation that each of these devices needed a smart battery to allow them to be charged more easily. The name “Moixa” is a deliberate play on “axiom” spelt backwards. “That’s how we invent – by rethinking core assumptions – or axioms – in the market.”
Moixa Energy launched its first product, USBCell (a battery that charges via USB) in 2006. “We then did a lot of research between 2007 and 2010 on smart homes and energy. We won more than £5 million-worth of projects that developed and had pilots of smart home batteries in the UK in 2011,” he explains. “We have expanded through various generations of hardware and smart software to control and manage how behind-the-meter batteries optimise and deliver energy system benefits.”
Moixa has often been described in the media as a rival to Tesla. However, Daniel doesn’t see it that way. During his Utility Week Live presentation, he tells delegates: “Our batteries tend to be small and compact for every home.” He argues that a Tesla battery, “while it’s lovely”, is “too big for the average home”. “On average 20 per cent of a Tesla battery is used on a daily basis,” he claims. “Homes on average don’t use that much energy, so an aggregate of small batteries can balance an entire home when it’s needed.”
The UK energy market has changed a great deal since Daniel and Wright launched Moixa. However, Daniel insists the amount of evolution is no surprise. “The market has evolved pretty much as we expected in our patents ten years ago,” he says. “But perhaps slower on regulatory change and in local UK markets.”
The theme of Utility Week Live 2018 was “disruption” [see p8-11]. And, as the utilities industry braces itself for a potential revolution – driven by developments in smart technology, rapid real-time data and increasing customer expectations – the door stands wide open for truly innovative companies to step to the fore.
Daniel believes Moixa is one of those companies. He says the company’s disruption is based on its “insight into how to manage batteries” for multiple beneficiaries and over a long period of time.
“Being in the UK, we see a whole bunch of different benefits of batteries – not just the niche benefits you see in a country where you’ve got a back-up problem, or you’ve got an arbitrage problem. Therefore, we’ve built our system to manage different kinds of batteries in different kinds of environments.
“We think our approach is disruptive because to manage batteries well is difficult, but everything has batteries in. Most Internet of Things devices are battery based, EVs [electric vehicles] are battery based, and controlling when these are charged is a very good co-benefit for the grid.”
Recent media coverage about trials of vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology sent a wave of excitement through the industry. However, Daniel says the early challenge is that of “grid-to-vehicle”. “Strategically, the short-term challenge is grid-to-vehicle in terms of how you manage large fleets of vehicles charging at a suitable time – either to reduce peak demand, to get low energy costs, or to minimise constraints. That’s a significant challenge.
“In terms of using the vehicle backwards to have your vehicle power your home, it is more of an early theoretical case. We’ve done projects like that, and there is definitely economic value to doing it in, say, Japan as a back-up solution and occasionally for peak issues, but it’s not really a daily solution.”
He claims the economics of using vehicle-to-grid as a solution are “tight”. “Each electric vehicle has a high-end battery in it, so it might cost you between 5 and 10 cents per depreciation cycle in terms of the chemistry. Therefore, before you’ve even put any of the energy into your vehicle, you’ve got a 5-10-cent reduction in your asset.
“This means the energy coming out of your vehicle is that plus the wholesale or retail price, which may equal 25 cents – a value which is always going to be above the wholesale rate, and typically above retail rate.
“There is maybe a rare exception where you get a retail or wholesale rate above that. But up until 2030, from a design process, it doesn’t really make sense, unless batteries in vehicles are the same.”
Moixa, although UK-based, is involved in multiple projects globally in the area of V2G/G2V charging and, Daniel claims, “we’ll probably have better evidence on what you can and can’t and shouldn’t do in a year or so”.
So how does he see the UK energy industry evolving over the coming years? And how will Moixa ensure it is at the forefront of the change?
“Over the next ten years, battery prices are falling, and energy prices are rising,” he says. “We have the new RIIO period. There’s also the shift from DNO [distribution network operator] to DSO [distribution system operator], and the separation of part of the function of National Grid. And there’s increasing electrification of vehicles and heat. There’s a lot more strain on the grid and a lot of investment needed.”
Daniel explains that, in order to respond to rising challenges, you need not only flexibility, but also “things you can do quickly”. “Solar and battery you can put out per gigawatt-hour in a year,” he says. “Whereas a new power station might cost £1 billion and take 15 years.
“The role of consumer technology as a grid-edge aggregate is very significant because there’s nothing stopping me, in the regulations, from putting out millions of batteries and turning them on and off just for fun. Ultimately, if I turn them on and off usefully for the grid, it’s going to save the network money and it’s going to save the nation money.”