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Current± Disruptors: Zenobe Energy’s Steven Meersman on integrating storage and EVs

Image: Zenobe

Zenobe Energy is journeying into a new future, bridging together two separate industries: battery storage and transport. With plans to invest up to £120 million in electric bus fleets, Zenobe is expanding the service its storage technology provides and taking its biggest leap into EVs yet.

As part of the project, battery storage will be used to overcome grid constraints associated with a high number of electric buses charging at the same time. Funding will also be available for charging infrastructure, vehicles and vehicle batteries.

Steven Meersman, co-founder of Zenobe Energy, spoke to Current± about the need for storage in the electrification of transport and what Zenobe has in store for the future.

What potential is there in the EV sector, and specifically in electric buses, for battery storage firms like Zenobe?

As priorities have shifted towards achieving carbon-neutral status, electric buses have been a key target for us as they involve using large amounts of energy.

For example, in Guildford we’ve worked with Stagecoach and Surrey County Council to provide the charging facilities for 9 electric buses. Working with us has meant they’ve avoided paying for a huge grid upgrade which would have cost them £3 million.

The battery charges up during the day from the current grid connection and provides power from both the battery and the grid to buses at night, so they are ready to go in the morning for the users of Guildford’s Park and Ride service. Our solution addresses two of the bus operators’ key concerns - having sufficient power to charge the vehicles by utilising the grid and having the battery on hand to address peak demands, and the upfront cost associated with electric vehicles.

Will the batteries in the bus depots be connected directly to renewable generators or drawing from the grid?

It will be a mix. If we look at what we’ve done in Guildford, the battery there is connected to the grid. However, we’ve guaranteed Stagecoach that all the power we source for charging their vehicles will come from renewable energy sources, so hydro, solar, wind and biomass etc. In another project that we’ve just announced in Newport, we will actually be using solar panels that are on the roof of the depot to provide as much energy as possible. We'll still keep the link to the grid, which means if it’s not sunny in Wales we can still guarantee that the buses go out.

How important is it to have this storage element in projects like this?

I think it’s crucial. There’s huge ambitions from the government level, from local councils and organisations, to tackle air quality in not just our urban centres but also in more rural areas. What we often see is our grid, over the last ten, fifteen years, has been more prepared for declining energy demand and at the same time being put under a lot of pressure with renewable generation which means the grid is very much at capacity or under pressure.

We think, with storage, we can create a double whammy because on one side we avoid the huge nightly surge of the vehicles all charging at the same time. And secondly, during the day when the vehicles are out our batteries are actually being used to solve issues on the local grid. So it allows us to make the energy grid a lot more efficient, effective and clean with local solutions rather than just digging up the road everywhere and putting in more cables.

What is the impact of the electrification of transport going to be on the grid? Is it something that storage can mitigate alone or will it need to be combined with other solutions like smart charging?

The impact is going to be quite big because contrary to personal cars, all these vehicles are out there during the day and there’s very limited time for charging which means all that energy that they need to survive in the day is going to be drawn out from the grid in a huge surge for a few hours at night. So the impact of these vehicles is going to be bigger.

It’s a huge market out there and there’s very different bespoke challenges for people, there’s definitely room for different solutions and in some cases it may be grid upgrades, some cases it may be smart charging and demand response type solutions and in some cases it may be storage. I think in a lot of cases it’s going to be all three in various combinations.

Are we going to see more integration of storage, EVs and renewable generation across the energy sector?

If you look at what we’re trying to achieve in the UK, and also elsewhere, there’s this great merging of two networks. On one side, transport and on the other side energy. In order to come to the lowest cost, lowest carbon, lowest emission economy, it’s crucial that we look at things in a holistic way. We need to look at everything together to get the optimal lowest cost solution to the customer and for the system as a whole. We’re quite excited about that as it’s opened new doors for us.

Where is it that Zenobe is heading next?

We’re hoping to make a few more exciting announcements over the next couple of weeks. The first year was about building scale, the second year has been very much about building the team, and in the coming year we hope to really focus on fleet and C&I. We’re hoping to announce a few exciting projects in that area as well, where we’re leveraging the knowledge from in front of the metre batteries into these other applications and build on the success we’ve had with Guildford and now Newport.

Editorial

Alice Grundy Junior reporter, Current±

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