Lightsource Labs - managing home energy

By Pilgrim - February 10, 2022

Harriet Allman-Carter, Business Development Manager at Lightsource Labs shares her career from monitoring fossil fuels to home energy management, Lightsource Lab's Tribe hub and cloud, driving energy efficiency, responding to price volatility, balancing, batteries, EV charging, aircon, PV, fleet management, channels to market, differentiating in an era of price caps, intelligent supply, buying services instead of energy, ToU optimisation, building a closer relationship with the customer for mutual benefit, challenges of rolling-out, technology standardisation (lack of), smart meters, market-wide half-hourly settlement by 2025, sub-metering, embedding management intelligence within devices, itemised billing, key UK dates to 2025. 

Pilgrim: Hello, I'm Pilgrim Beart of DevicePilot and today I'm very pleased to welcome Harriet Allman Carter of Lightsource Labs to share her experiences in Smart Energy. Welcome Harriet!

Harriet: Thank you, nice to be here.

Pilgrim: So can you just tell us a little bit to start with about how you got started in Smart Energy in your career?

Harriet: Yes, my career has been pretty energy-industry centric so far. I started off with an industrial placement in my university degree at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, which is now BEIS. I was managing the emergency stocks of oil at the time and monitoring that on a UK basis. After Uni I joined the Centrica graduate program, so I did lots of placements around the different parts of their business - mostly their retail arms, so British Gas and Hive. And then after that I joined Hive - which you're familiar with Pilgrim! - to manage the British Gas engineer sales channel, so I managed around 8,000 engineers, the selling of Hive. And then I joined Lightsource Labs, so now I look after the business development of Lightsource Labs in the UK, essentially getting Tribe - which is our product - out to market. We're all very early-stage and haven't quite rolled out yet, so that's my job.

Pilgrim: OK so tell us a little bit more about that. How does Lightsource fit into the Smart Energy landscape, what is it exactly? Because the name “Lightsource” originally came from a solar thing I think, but it's a lot more than just solar isn't it?

Harriet: Yes, we sit as part of the Lightsource BP group. Lightsource BP have quite a different remit to us. They look after utility-scale solar development, so we've got sites all over the globe now, expanding really rapidly, which is really great. BP own a 50% share so hence the Lightsource BP, and Lightsource Labs sits wholly within Lightsource BP, but we look after the smart energy management side of things. We tend to focus on residential assets at the moment.

So why that's important is at a household level, our energy management technology enables people to save money and become more energy efficient. It enables them longer term to be able to respond to the volatility and the tariff pricing that they're going to start to see over time. At macro levels, when you look at the really big picture, what this enables us to do is to be able to more effectively balance that supply - so that really peaky intermittent natured renewable generation that we want to have more of, and the increased consumption of electricity that we're going to see through electric vehicles and things like heat pumps - so it’s really enabling us to more effectively manage that energy system on a more flexible level really.

Pilgrim: Great, in terms of nomenclature, I think you briefly mentioned Tribe just now, but what is Tribe? Is Tribe a home energy management hub essentially and a cloud platform that's connected to it?

Harriet: Yes exactly, Tribe consists of a physical piece of hardware called the Tribe hub that gets installed into the home, it gets connected to a range of different flexible assets that you want to control essentially, so things like your residential battery and your EV charging. Not so relevant here but in Australia things like air conditioning units, solar PV, that thing. It consists of a user app, so the user can go in and monitor and control their devices from an app, and Tribe also consists of a back-end fleet management platform which partners such as utilities and installers and housing developers can go in and they can manage their fleet of assets and also control them in aggregate, respond to grid signals, or calls for flexibility for example from network operators, from a range of assets in aggregate, so they don't have to go in and do it all individually.

Pilgrim: Are those utilities your main channels to market, that's mainly how you get into people's homes, through utilities that we all know like British Gas and so on?

Harriet: Yes, so we see a lot of value through utilities, and that's definitely where we see the most value, because there's value for the end customer, there's also value for the utility, because they can respond to the volatility in the wholesale prices and also because they've got suppliers licenses they can enter assets into other markets, the wholesale markets and capacity markets and things like that.

There's also other routes to market, so like I mentioned earlier, you've got the housing developers, we've got installers, so people that are installing solar and battery and EV charging and things like that into homes, that's a big one. At the moment - because the utilities market is quite difficult - that's the one where we're seeing more demand from at the moment. What other things… housing associations are another potential future option, that's probably a bit further into the future.

Pilgrim: So just touching on the idea - you mentioned that the energy markets are quite challenging at the moment, in the UK we've got these price caps that make it quite hard for for utilities to compete with each other on price, so you think well they're presumably gonna have to compete on some other basis? Do you agree with that analysis? Do you think in some ways a world where energy prices are high, and there's a lack of price competition, is actually quite a nice landscape for offerings like yours, because you can come in there and differentiate? You can actually help people to control their energy costs by managing energy?

Harriet: Absolutely. I guess it's two part really. There's the point of differentiation, so typically energy suppliers specialise in electricity and gas and that's it, and there's very little - like you say - other than price to differentiate those two products, so it's really good for energy suppliers to differentiate their product offering and to attract customers and retain customers especially in that way. But also where we know the value is for energy suppliers is actually being able to intelligently supply that customer, because they can supply that customer at a time that suits them, for example really low import pricing periods. You can supply that customer, you can charge up the battery or you can charge up the EV charger at a time that suits that energy supplier, and it makes no difference to the customer. Essentially it just enables them in a world where you've got a price cap that enables them to reduce their costs and therefore increase their margins. So yeah I think moving forward this technology is going to be important especially if there is a price cap for energy suppliers to be able to have a profitable business in this regulated market.

Pilgrim: It sounds from what you're saying… I almost imagine a world where instead of people thinking about buying units of energy, as a consumer I'm thinking about buying the services of having my home well-heated, having my EV charged and so on, which is actually the service I care about - energy is just a intermediary and to some extent if I was less aware of the units that would probably be a good thing all round?

Harriet: Absolutely yes, and we're starting to see that. So the likes of Ovo have an EV charging tariff (I can't remember it's what it's called) but they're essentially using an intelligent charger to charge up that EV at a time which suits the energy supplier, so at the time when the wholesale price is the lowest. And the customer gets a flat rate during that set period, but that charger can operate at any time during that set period to be able to essentially optimise according to cost for that energy supplier. So we are starting to see more innovative offerings in the market, but they're few and far between at the moment. So we're really excited to be part of that transition and be part of that change for customers.

Pilgrim: Quite an interesting dance there, because I can see that in order for the situation you described to work, the customer would have to leave their car plugged-in for a good amount of time, to then be able to charge it when Ovo wants to. That made me recollect a little bit about the journey we went on with my previous company AlertMe and Hive, about bringing the customer much closer - the relationship between the service provider and the customer gets much closer, because there's a degree of collaboration required for mutual benefit. So, lots of exciting things to do, I would guess at the moment your numbers are relatively small still, and there's still lots of market experiments and technology experiments going on, but clearly the opportunity here is to get into the millions and have a really dramatic effect on achieving Net Zero which is very exciting. What challenges are you facing as a company in actually getting that done, in actually getting home energy management rolled out at scale?

Harriet: There's quite a few, as you can probably imagine with an early stage technology and early stage market. One of the main things that we're focusing on is actually getting our technology to be as compatible with a range of different technologies as possible, so as agnostic as we can get it. We think that's really important because it enables the likes of utilities to be able to optimise various different manufacturers without needing to worry about what's installed. However we're finding that integration work quite tricky, because there's no standardisation of protocols and no common way to do that. For example the EV chargers - we're following the Open Charge Point Protocol 1.6 OCPP 1.6, but what we're finding is that manufacturers implement that in a different way, so that almost requires a bespoke integration work for each manufacturer and that's really time consuming, and often you uncover little niggles, each phase that you go through. So I think some standardised approach would be really good.

The next one which I think is another crucial thing is the ability to settle half hourly, so the ability for electricity providers to reconcile the difference between what they think they've supplied and what actually the customer has used in the home. At the moment that's happening at nowhere near that level, most electricity providers don't offer that for any of their customers. There are a few, the likes of Octopus Energy are doing it with their Agile tariffs which is a tariff that changes every half an hour, but really we need that half hourly settlement market-wide to be able to unlock the value of this technology and to be able to offer more innovative tariff offerings.

Pilgrim: Am I right in saying that is it 2025 that's a magic date for half hourly settlement across the whole market, so suppliers have to be able to to offer that by then?

Harriet: Yes, that's the date that Ofgem has put in the ground 2025. But we'd really love that to be brought forward, that's three years away, just looking at the date, so I think that's crucial if we can get that further forward.

Pilgrim: So on that note, presumably smart meters are a key part of that story then?

Harriet: Absolutely, the dumb meters don't offer that ability obviously, you're required to submit a meter reading or somebody comes in and reads it for you. Smart meters are the crucial thing that we need to unlock that ability to half hourly settle, because they provide data on a more regular basis to that energy supplier.

Pilgrim: I can see that. Is your connection to the smart meter - are you going to be talking to smart meters locally? Is it possible to do that? Or is it more just that you'll know which tariff a customer is on via the cloud, what's going on with their their static time of use pricing or dynamic agile pricing, and then the smart meter is the thing that actually does the measurement and provides the fiscal auditable numbers at the end, but you don't have to talk directly to the smart meter in the home in order to do the management?

Harriet: That's absolutely right, we've got our own metering capabilities within the Tribe hub, but that's not talking to the utility in any way. 

Pilgrim: Any other challenges about rolling out that you can think of?

Harriet: The other big one is at the moment we've developed a piece of hardware to essentially - like I said just now - it's got the metering requirements and it's got the processing power within it - that we need in order to have these finer resolution response times and more real-time response times. In an ideal world we would just integrate our software directly with the likes of the EV charger or the residential battery or the heat pump or whatever. But what we're finding is that those manufacturers don't have the metering requirements that we need to do those more real-time responses and to enter things like the frequency response markets. And what we would love is - in order to reduce cost for everybody - is to be able to integrate our software directly, either by the cloud or embedding our software within that device. So yes, having the metering requirements and the processing power within the device itself is something that we're really looking to have from manufacturers.

Pilgrim: I've heard a number of interesting things recently about what could be called “behind the meter” sub-metering, or whatever. I saw in some UK EV charging standards that the chargers are going to have to be able to do metering themselves?

Harriet: I need to brush up on my knowledge, but there's a something called P375 which which enables people to essentially meter at an asset level rather than the boundary, and that will enable people to understand at an asset level what each asset is using and be able to enter assets into different markets that individual basis, so things like the balancing mechanism and things like that. 

Pilgrim: It's long been surprising to me if you look at the amount of money that we all spend on energy, the complete lack of transparency that we have into what it's going into. There's no other area of our life where we happily hand over certainly more than a thousand pounds a year - a lot more than that for some people - without any real idea what it's going on. Clearly ripe for a more itemised billing I suppose. So finally - it's been a really interesting discussion Harriet, really appreciate your time - finally, just looking ahead a bit, we talked about 2025, half hourly, any other dates that are coming up in terms of the changing landscape legislation or technology or anything?

Harriet: Market-wide half-hourly settlement 2025 is a big one for us. There's also a range of different things that are happening in the new build market which we think will be quite instrumental. It's just been announced that EV charging will be mandated and is mandated from 2022, so that's something that new build developers are going to have to contend with and network operators are going to have to contend with. Similarly, the introduction of the new home standards or the future home standard is going to be mandating that no gas boilers will will be installed from 2025 onwards, so that's going to drive the adoption of heat pumps, and that's something that's really helping to shape our product roadmap in terms of integration. So this year we'll be focusing on integrations with both EV chargers and heat pumps as a consequence of these regulatory changes. There's also things like the boiler upgrade scheme for consumers, which provides grants for people to be able to change their gas boilers for heat pumps. I think it's £5,000, so that will really help again to drive the uptake of the technologies that we're relying on, in order to implement and make the most of our energy management technology.

Pilgrim: Yes, there’s another date coming-up I think - the end of March - we're seeing the end of the grant subsidy for EV charging installations outside people's homes, and it's been very interesting to watch the effects of those grants. I remember back in the day with solar PV on people's homes and the government was really struggling to get that right, and was turning things on and off very quickly with short notice, and causing a rough ride for the industry I think. But there's been a lot of learning from that, and clearly these grants do accelerate going down the learning curve and getting this technology mature and cost effective, and then it can really just take off by itself. Well Harriet, this has been a fantastic discussion, exploration of the landscape, very, very exciting indeed, and I'm really grateful to you for joining us today.

Harriet: Thank you for having me!



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