GELI is creating the Internet of Energy. First stop: Benicia, CA

The City of Benicia in California launched the first solar powered, grid-tied, battery-backed electric vehicle (EV) Fast Charging Station this summer. Our portfolio company Growing Energy Labs, Inc. (Geli) helped catalyze the project and supplied a critical piece of the puzzle: energy storage optimization software. Geli’s EOS (Energy Operating System) intelligently manages the charging station as a whole to determine when to draw from the solar panels on the roof, when to pull from the grid, and when to draw from the battery, optimizing the system’s use based on available pricing. This project is a watershed moment for energy democracy and the Internet of Energy (IoE).

We asked Geli to share some insight with us on why this is such an important step for the sector, and how the EOS makes it all happen:

Q: First off, what is Geli’s role in the electric vehicle charging station in Benicia?

A: The battery-backed DC fast-charging system at the city of Benicia was developed and designed by Geli. We brought together project partners – CODA Energy, Bass Electric, Ideal Power – as well as state entities and non-profits, to fund and build the project. Geli also worked to secure the California Energy Storage Rebate (SGIP Program) and this is the first grid-interconnected project under 30kW to do so.

Now that the system is online at Benicia City Hall, Geli monitors all automated operations and can control it remotely from our San Francisco headquarters.

Q: Why was the Geli EOS the right system for the Benicia project over other alternatives?

A: The City of Benicia wanted to install a DC Fast EV Charger at the City Hall but did not want the associated electricity load, which would prove to be expensive. The City worked with Geli to harness the power from an existing 175kW solar array and pair it with an energy storage system designed by our project partner CODA. Because the Geli EOS is technology-agnostic, it was able to integrate the best-suited components for the job: an Ideal power converter, CODA 20kW/40kWh energy storage system, and a BTC Level III DC faster charger, as well as two existing on-site EV chargers. That flexibility was critical in ensuring that we could leverage existing infrastructure and use price competitive components throughout. An energy storage developer would have really struggled to tie all of these components together and deliver maximum economic benefit to the City of Benicia. Geli was able to accommodate all the existing and new energy devices with Geli EOS Energy Drivers that work like computer printer drivers to provide interoperability and system architecture flexibility.

Q: Geli is often described as a critical part of the Internet of Energy. What is the Internet of Energy and how does Geli’s EOS relate to it?

A: The Geli EOS is able to make operational decisions based on the price of power and electricity from multiple sources. At Benicia, the new DC Fast EV Charger will have no impact on the energy profile of the City Hall, as the Geli EOS knows when to engage the battery to displace load. The Geli EOS charges the battery from either the existing solar PV array or the grid depending on available resources and price. This is similar to how humans use the internet to price shop airline tickets. The automated software provides us a variety of options constrained by prices, our budget, and other associated costs like time and hassle and we select the best choice for us.

Additionally, when the system is not performing other critical functions, it provides demand response services to the grid. This is a critical feature as we expand the footprint of distributed energy sources and realize the dream of smart grids. Optimizing and automating multiple energy services that are intelligently dispatched in multiple directions initiates the multi-directional power system. This series of events resembles a highly networked Internet of Energy rather than a central power grid.

Q: How does the Benicia project hint at what’s to come as the Internet of Energy expandsl?

A: The Geli-designed battery-backed EV fast charger is an example of a system that performs multiple functions (energy harvesting, energy management and vehicle charging). As time goes on, the City of Benicia could opt to add additional devices or participate in more electricity market services, such as frequency regulation. In effect, each of these energy storage systems become their own microgrids.

As more and more Geli-enabled systems are implemented, a truly distributed grid comes to life. Each system knows what energy resources will be needed according to Geli calculated forward energy profiles. If these systems are connected, they can begin to share energy resources “over the fence.” This will allow the growth of an interconnected network of microgrids with limited dependence on grid electricity.

Emerging markets are particularly exciting because we predict that there will be a “double leapfrog,” bypassing conventional copper lines for wireless communications, and now bypassing bigger copper lines for delivering power from central sources.  Geli EOS enabled microgrids and mini-grids can be ‘right-sized’ and ‘right-structured’ for the local community and combined with applications including cell and Internet access services all wrapped into a single node with remote monitoring and controls for financing entities and networked service operators.

Q: What does the launch of Benicia’s EV charging station mean for the energy sector in the US?

A: First and foremost, the Geli-designed system at Benicia City Hall reduces demand on grid-electricity. What’s more, it enables quick and easy charging of electric vehicles, a critical component of the growth of EV proliferation. The battery-backed, solar powered EV charger has set a regulatory precedent on how energy storage is integrated and operated with the grid. As these systems become less expensive (energy storage pricing is declining as solar did) and easier to install (as Geli has set precedent), these local energy service systems will begin to populate more and more cities and towns.

Ultimately, dependence on fossil fuels will become extremely-limited during daylight and shoulder hours, and eventually eliminated altogether.  The emerging new energy business model will be composed of distributed renewables, electric vehicles, and local loads electrically tied together with the power grid. The Geli EOS provides the networking fabric to create an infinite number of applications and location-specific energy services, enabling any system host to evolve from consumers to prosumers in an Internet of Energy.

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