Smart energy09 / 2011, Industry & Suppliers | By: Shamsiah Ali-Oettinger
Interview: ProxEnergy is a young company that has been established by a man who has had years of experience in the solar industry. Knowing that current grids are not designed for bi-directional transport of electricity and information, the founder of the company felt it was important to think about energy transition. Frans van den Heuvel talks to pv magazine about his new setup and what he aims to achieve with the company slogan 'Produce it-Control it'.
What motivated you in the founding of ProxEnergy? What was the drive behind this new company after Scheuten?
I have been in the solar business for about 13 years, having established Scheuten Solar. I left the company after selling my shares about five years ago. I thought, there is so much going on but I did not want to do what everyone is doing. Seeing where things are heading, it was clear to me that energy management was going to be of major importance since more and more decentralized production is going to put a lot of pressure on the grid. The grid is forty to sixty years old and needs to change so smart grid solutions are essential, storage and the flexibility of the energy portfolio in general as well. The smart grid market is still small, in the phase of demonstration projects. This is basically where solar was ten years ago. We have to look at the total energy management in a building. There is a need to optimize energy between all the devices. If you have an electric car at home, you roughly double your electrical consumption. The grid has no storage so with the introduction of the electric car, storage opportunities are created. That is the direction we are heading towards: taking a holistic approach.
The development of storage systems has been slower than the development of modules and so on. Why has the issue of grid intelligence taken so long to catch up?
By introducing technologies like storage, you create flexibility of the energy portfolio and are able to benefit as a user from the unbalanced market, the imbalance between demand and supply.
ProxEnergy is a systems solutions provider. Where is the production of your modules?
We are a developing company and hence our modules are manufactured by OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers). [The] production is all outsourced, enabling us to focus on relevant propositions like R&D (Research & Development), EPC (Engineering, Procurement and Construction) and market solutions and strategies.
Considering that neighbor Germany is the ‘solar giant’ in the region, why did you decide to be situated in the Netherlands?
Well it is a simple answer. Firstly, I live there. But yes, we are opening offices in Germany because there is a good market. We want to cooperate with German partners too. The solar sector in the Netherlands is very disappointing. We have natural gas and other resources. The Shell headquarters is in the Netherlands and these sectors have a huge impact on energy policies. Yes, renewables are stimulated but not to the extent [of]... Germany. What I expect is that within the next few years, grid parity will be reached here as well for residential and it will pick up. There is a lot of interest from the public point of view.
Moving to the product portfolio of the company. How does the ProxControl Marvin help consumers?
What it basically does is [replace] the clock thermostat and it manages your heating system. It monitors your energy consumption per hour, day, week, month and year, not just electricity but gas and water as well. It converts this into carbon dioxide value and just as [importantly into] euro. This helps the consumer understand how [they] consume moneywise. Often people are disappointed with the bill they get from the utilities, and this is too late. However, if you can see it real time and manage your energy usage, then it will be beneficial. We are building a service platform where all data is logged...on rooftop PV systems or when devices are over consuming. [Thus], it is a complete management system for the home and SME’s.
How is the ProxCharge fast charging station different from other similar solutions in the market?
There are different chargers in the market, [such as] slow chargers [with] AC currents [at] 16 Amperes, for example, that you use at home. These take about an average of seven to nine hours to charge. What we can offer for the professional market, is to fast charge with DC [in] 15 to 20 minutes.
Your company has embarked on a pilot project. Can you tell me more about the local smart grid pilot that is located in Breda, Netherlands?
It is a project with a PV system on the roof. In total, there are over 350 houses involved. The Breda project measures how these households consume energy and how they change their energy consumption over time, so they make active choices. I think this is currently the largest project in Europe [in relation] to smart grid.
What, in your opinion, is the biggest challenge the solar industry has to face in terms of establishing a smarter grid for the future?
You can see it on different levels. What we do is in and around the buildings. But of course you have the area where the system operators look at it from the point of the central power plants into the building. At the end, you need a total integration where all the stakeholders are involved and we get into a state of dynamic pricing. With dynamic pricing, there is a real benefit for the end user. It creates new value propositions and solar energy will achieve grid parity sooner.
Your company was present at the Intersolar in Munich this year. How has the response been toward your product portfolio so far?
People have been very interested. What you see is that people are filled with a lot of questions still. It is still not a mainstream product like solar is today. I remember very well from ten [to]thirty years ago where a lot of people were interested and did not know how to go ahead with solar energy. You need conferences, discussions, and demonstration projects and from there people started getting comfortable with it. And also business cases are developed. The economics of a total energy management system, with storage and so on, needs to be [proven] in the various circumstances.
Do you think that doubts are being spurred on by the uncertain policy situations towards solar?
Of course there are doubts because the situation is unclear. But in general, solar is a snowball effect that cannot be stopped anymore. And with countries like Germany deciding to forgo nuclear, solar is certainly going in the right direction.