Start-up Interview: “It’s Fascinating to Discover How Much Energy is Consumed and what for.”

Start-up Stories – Friday, January 10, 2020

Annett Keith and David Eitzinger founded Berliner Energieinstitut in 2016. When they were unable to find any suitable, easy-to-use equipment for the temporary metering of electricity flows, they decided to develop their own. In this interview, David Eitzinger explains how Emonio fills a gap in the market and why the readings it collects are often full of surprises.

David Eitzinger, Berliner Energieinstitut

As a start-up, you attended EM-Power for the first time in 2019 and were amazed by the constant stream of people flocking to your exhibition booth over the three-day event. You told us at the time that numerous clients wanted to walk away with the case you had brought with you. What was inside it?

Yes, this was one of the things that surprised us the most. The case contained our energy measuring device, Emonio, and we had numerous clients coming up to us, some even with bank notes in their hand, asking if they could take it away with them that day.

What can your meter do that others can’t?

Emonio stands out for its small, compact size and affordability. There are only two or three other companies that offer something similar but their devices are not directly comparable to ours. While developing the product, we deliberately left out everything that wasn’t strictly necessary.

In principle, Emonio is a small computer connected to an energy measuring chip. It is supplied with power directly from the test leads. This means there is no need for an extra power socket. All you have to do to get the device up and running is connect the power leads. The device also does not require a battery, which would reduce its service life or recording time. It is designed in such a way that it can be installed and removed quickly and easily without any need to interrupt the power supply. Emonio also has a magnetic back so that it can be attached to the inside cover of the electrical distribution box. It records the measurement data internally and can transfer it to our online portal, provided that a WIFI connection is available. The device must be operated using a laptop or smartphone because it doesn’t have its own display panel. We made a conscious decision not to include a display panel in order to reduce the price of the product. What’s more, such a panel would hardly ever be used, since the device spends 99% of its time recording data in a dark distribution box.

What made you realize that the market was in need of a device like this?

Before we founded Berliner Energieinstitut in 2016, my colleague Annett Keith had spent a long time advising companies as an energy and efficiency consultant. However, one thing became clear in the course of her consultations – going through a company taking photos of rating plates and estimating power-on times is all well and good, but it would be better to know exactly how much electricity all the devices were consuming.

I started thinking about whether there was a way of measuring this. We had to find the right technology – something other than a straightforward power meter that’s installed and simply left there. We initially spent a year experimenting with a piece of open-source hardware from England. However, this was far too complicated to be handed over to clients to operate, and it also had technical deficiencies. We ultimately decided to develop a suitable device ourselves.

What were the next steps?

We designed a prototype in 2016 and founded Berliner Energieinstitut the same year. From that moment on, we have had two lines of business – energy consulting and measuring technology. This is our unique selling point. We are energy consultants and we are offering a tailor-made device for ad hoc measurements.

How are measurements taken without interrupting the power supply?

Emonio measures alternating current and voltage and uses these readings to calculate electric power and energy consumption. To measure the voltage we use various clamps for the contacts, or the magnetic tips, to reach the main contact. We use two different technologies to measure the current. The first of these is a Rogowski coil – a flexible tube that is looped around a conductor or a power cable and takes measurements using induction. The other option is a clamp-on current transformer, which is nothing more than a transformer that can be clamped into place. Although it is less expensive than a Rogowski coil, it isn’t as flexible. The clamp-on current transformer is an excellent solution for low currents but is less ideal when working with thick cables, because it’s a heavy, rigid metal instrument and it’s very difficult to position around larger cables.

Emonio measures current using Rogowski coils or clamp-on current transformers. The device does not require the power supply to be interrupted, cables to be severed or a dedicated socket to be fitted in the distribution box.

Where are the measurements taken?

Generally speaking, they are always taken at the distribution box. These devices are predominantly used in industry, by everyone from SMEs to companies operating in heavy industry with several levels of distribution. In the main distribution panel, large Rogowski coils capable of dealing with 1,000 A or more are used to measure the energy demand of the entire company and to record how much energy flows on to the individual sub-distribution panels. Most factory buildings contain several of these sub-distributors. Various loads will be connected to each sub-distributor, for example a paint-spraying line, two conveyor belts and a crane. To find out how much electricity each load requires, we can use a second Emonio to take readings at each individual cable outlet.

This allows measurements to be recorded throughout an entire production process, not just for 24 hours but over several weeks. We can then see how much energy a particular piece of equipment requires when operating at full or half capacity, and work out whether all the machinery is functioning as expected. Our readings always seem to uncover a device or process that isn’t working as it should be.

Can you give us any examples of this?

We’re constantly being taken by surprise. One example was the discovery that a large department laser printer left on stand-by most of the time would suddenly consume large amounts of electricity twice every hour. It was automatically switching itself on and heating its image drum to 170 degrees before allowing it to cool down again. Lots of laser printers do this in order to increase their service life.

Another example was a spray paint booth that was supposed to be heated by gas and only use electricity during peak times. Our measurements revealed that the reverse was actually true. Of course, it’s impossible to find out information like this by looking at the rating plate alone. And this is what makes our work so fascinating.

You’ve already mentioned that your clients include SMEs and heavy industry. Who else and what other applications is your device suited for?

Emonio can be used by anyone who wants to gain highly detailed insights into their power consumption over a limited period of time. Examples include SMEs or start-ups looking to increase their efficiency or become carbon neutral. We also work with energy consultants who are implementing energy efficiency measures or auditing large companies. Another major client group consists of municipal utilities that use our devices either to improve their own energy efficiency or to advise businesses and end customers. For instance, Emonio could be useful when someone is interested in installing a solar system, combined heat and power plant or battery storage solution. If you know how much energy is needed at what times, you can tailor the system’s dimensions to meet your needs exactly. Simply knowing the annual power consumption isn’t enough to do this.

Emonio is also very popular for monitoring off-grid systems abroad, such as solar installations and generators in Africa. In recent months in particular, we have sent numerous devices to Nigeria and the MENA region.

In these cases, isn’t the device being used more than just temporarily?

Yes, the devices are often being operated permanently in these instances. But they are also used temporarily when systems are being set up or adapted. Examples here include hybrid plants consisting of old diesel generators and PV modules in remote country hotels or production facilities.

We have two new projects with municipal utilities that want to fit their substations with our measuring devices in order to obtain more precise data about their own grid. This application is a very interesting one, as it enables the utility companies to measure how much of the distribution grid’s capacity is being utilized on each block. They can identify where there are sufficient reserves and where power could be in short supply if, for example, lots of people want to charge their electric cars on the same day. This is a step towards the development of a smart grid.

What is Berliner Energieinstitut planning to work on over the next two to three years?

We currently have three new types of device in the pipeline. One of these will probably be released this year and the other two next year. They are new versions of our existing measuring device which will offer greater capacity, Bluetooth support and an app for easy operation. Now that we’ve really refined our device, we are also planning to turn our attention to the software behind it, i.e. our online solution, which can be used to analyze the data. We also hope to widen our international reach. To date, we’ve focused largely on Germany and Austria, but we’re receiving more and more inquiries from Africa, which is a very exciting market for us.

Following on from the success you enjoyed during the 2019 event, you immediately registered as a start-up for EM-Power 2020. What inspired you to take part again?

We were thoroughly impressed by the event. Our booth was so busy over the three days that I almost lost my voice! We made lots of outstanding business contacts – it was very exciting. It was also fantastic to see what else was going on in the industry. We were in no doubt that we would be attending again.

This interview was conducted by Simone Pabst.

For more information, please visit: Emonio

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