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Putting Digital Circuit Breakers at the Centre of the Smart Grid

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - DigiBreakers (Putting Digital Circuit Breakers at the Centre of the Smart Grid)

Reporting period: 2019-01-01 to 2019-04-30

The energy market is ready for change. 94% of the senior power and utility executives in a recent survey “predict complete transformation or important changes to the power utility business model”. Integration of more renewable energy into the grid, creating highly variable, unpredictable and distributed energy production, uneven load and peak demand and transmission losses create significant challenges for utilities and energy service providers to effectively guarantee energy supply. Additionally, the traditional role of customers is also set to change dramatically, with the customer playing a central role in effective grid management. A clear vision of how the future energy market will look is developing. It will incorporate distributed energy resources, often produced on a small scale from renewable sources and with a highly variable supply, integrated with larger, centralized generation facilities. Through ICT (Information Communication Technology) tools, consumers will be given greater information and control of how they consume energy, be supported to produce and sell energy and be given price incentives to consume electricity outside of peak times.

The question is therefore not “where do we want to go?” but “how do we get there?”. Despite the investment of billions of euros in Smart Meters, it is clear they are not the solution. They only collect limited.
The objective of this feasibility study was to confirm the technical feasibility of our solid-state circuit breaker, the DigiBreaker, and the business opportunities available to us. In particular, we aimed to discern the needs and demands of some of our target markets, and to identify the best business model for exploiting these markets. In addition, we have also considered the possibility of introducing additional functionalities that utilities have expressed an interest in.
In order to achieve the objectives of the Feasibility Study, we have examined the market within several European countries, held detailed conversations with utilities, manufacturing companies and ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuit) design firms. The method employed consisted of personal interviews with stakeholders in the BL!XT ecosystem of partners and customers, along with an extensive desktop research exercise, which enabled us to quantify information about target markets, including their sizes, needs and key drivers as well as potential impact.
Interviews were conducted with utilities based in Spain, France, UK, Portugal, Holland, Germany, Ireland and Sweden, as well as non-European utilities in Dubai, Australia, the US, Thailand and Japan. While all the utilities consulted expressed a great interest in the DigiBreaker, for various use cases, we selected three utilities (based in Germany, UK and France) for follow-up workshops to discuss joint collaboration. The choice of these countries was decided because utilities based in France, Germany and the UK are pushing hard for energy transition and are actively seeking solutions for demand-side management at the grid edge. Moreover, they all face rising volumes of EVs and need new solutions to handle disruptive loads. Within the three selected utilities, there is a strong champion pushing for closer collaboration with BL!XT. All three selected utilities have a proven track record of deploying their own HEM systems and smart home solutions.
In addition, we have met with many of the largest OEMs and they are all looking at solid state circuit breakers, however, so far only hybrid mechanical versions and none of them have a product on the residential market yet. Based on the questions we have received from them we understand their main challenges and concerns. In general, most OEMs find it hard to believe that we have managed to overcome all those challenges and want to see to see an actual physical demonstration. A demo in their own lab is essential to move the discussion forward. For this purpose BL!XT launched a dev kit program and started shipping evaluation kits.
The successful commercialization of BL!XT technology will only be possible if relevant stakeholders are aware of its benefits and capabilities. This means not only DigiBreaker customers (e.g. OEMs), but also the full value chain needs to understand the major breakthrough that DigiBreaker represents. In order to overcome this challenge, we have decided to initially focus our efforts on raising the awareness of the utilities and service providers of the technology. BL!XT is continuously communicating about its technology at various innovation events and competitions, which will allow us to broaden our international network of partners and investors. In 2018-2019 we attended 8 European fairs and events in Finland, US, Germany, Sweden and Monaco and won 5 awards including: the SET Awards (2019); Inission Innovation Award (2019); CleanEquity Monaco (2019); and, Innovation Race, Power Circle Summit/ Swedish Energy Agency (2019).
DigiBreaker offers to replace traditional circuit breakers with digital circuit breakers, enabling the realisation of a fully smart grid and eliminating the need for additional sub metering and remote control devices.
Most of the circuit breakers of domestic homes are simple, electromechanical devices that sit idle most of the time. Big players in the circuit breakers current scene (ABB, Schneider, Eaton) and a start-up (Atom Power) are already producing software controlled smart breakers. The problem is these circuit breakers are only designed for specific industrial applications, as, due to their high cost and large size means that these products become unaffordable and unfeasible for residential users.
Additionally, the functionality of the state of the art is very limited, due to the lack of flexibility and programmability of the devices. This means that although current digital circuit breakers can be connected to controllable software, none of them are able to connect with smart home applications, dynamically modulate the power from 0-100%, nor collect relevant data about domestic electrical consumption in real time. Programmability and data collection are considered critical issues for utilities but are limited in current solutions in the market.
DigiBreaker is the first digital circuit breaker for the residential market, increasing safety and enabling a customer centric smart energy grid.