Start-up Interview: “Our Solution Doesn’t Rely on the Public Grid”

Start-up Stories – Monday, November 23, 2020

Pionierkraft has created a simple, cost-efficient system that allows neighbors to sell their own electricity to one another

Andreas Eberhardt founded Pionierkraft together with Nicolas Schwaab. Their solution enables straightforward sharing of renewable power between neighbors.

The Munich start-up Pionierkraft has combined hardware and software in its Pionierkraftwerk system, which enables solar power sharing within smaller multi-family dwellings. It offers an alternative way to generate decentralized renewable energy cost-efficiently and without too much red tape when tenant power projects are not possible. We interviewed Andreas Eberhardt, the co-founder and managing director, who explained how the system works and how homeowners and tenants as well as private and public utility companies can benefit from it.

Mr. Eberhardt, your first pilot project involves the owner of a duplex sharing their own solar power with the tenant in the other apartment. How does energy sharing work with the Pionierkraftwerk system?

The best way to explain it is using an example. Let’s say the operator of a PV installation consumes a certain amount of the solar power themselves, leaving a surplus of 2 kW. If the tenant needs 3 kW, the Pionierkraftwerk can supply 2 kW from this surplus. This benefits the system owner, who would otherwise only receive a low feed-in tariff for this electricity, and the tenant, who now only needs to purchase 1 kW of more expensive power from the grid. The energy transferred is limited to that amount that the owner has left after covering their own demand and also does not exceed the amount that the neighbor will consume, since it is essential to prevent electricity from being fed in via the tenant’s grid connection point. But our rapid control system ensures that this won’t happen, as confirmed by grid operators during our pilot projects.

One important point is that, unlike other solutions, we don’t rely on the public grid with the Pionierkraftwerk. This means there are no grid charges or any other fees related to the use of the public grid which would affect the return on sales. Both the homeowner who generates the electricity and their tenants or neighbors retain their own grid connection as before. Our solution provides tenants with a supplementary power supply.

How are the energy flows recorded?

We use a calibrated DIN rail meter which transmits the data to the Pionierkraftwerk via an interface. The system itself is connected to our Pionierkraft platform via the internet.

So no smart meters are needed?

That’s right. We don’t want the process to be dependent on the specific conditions at the installation site, so much like with battery storage installations, we use our own power meters to record the tenants’ current consumption and feed-in. But this information could also be taken directly from an existing smart meter or electronic meter if the property has one.

How much work is needed to install the Pionierkraftwerk?

Relatively little. The unit itself is about as large as a PV inverter and is mounted on the wall next to the meter. The cabling isn’t particularly complicated, either. For the pilot project mentioned earlier, we only needed five meters of cable in total. Our solution is suitable for both new and existing PV installations.

How does the system owner bill their tenant or neighbor for the power? And who decides on the price of a kWh?

We provide customers with a template for a power supply agreement that they can use to ensure things run smoothly. They negotiate the price independently with their tenants. We suggest an optimum power supply price based on investment costs, electricity prices and feed-in tariffs, but this is not binding.

The billing itself can be easily handled via our Pionierkraft platform if customers choose this option. The platform takes care of invoicing and any outstanding registration duties entirely automatically based on the energy quantities recorded. It also provides a clear, transparent display of the volume of electricity generated, supplied and consumed.

Who is your target market?

The Pionierkraftwerk system manages the physical flow of energy between multiple households. This means that excess electricity, for example from a PV installation, is not shared virtually or merely for accounting purposes, but is actually transferred from one household to another via a connection in parallel to the grid.

Our Pionierkraftwerk is the ideal solution for owners of small multi-family dwellings where conventional tenant power projects would not be profitable under the current conditions. It offers a cost-effective and user-friendly way for them to supply their own PV power to other building residents without any red tape. We are also interested in mixed-use or commercial properties with high electricity demand during the day at times when solar energy can be generated.

What’s next for the Pionierkraftwerk?

The next stage of development is to integrate battery storage for shared use. This will enable consumption at any time, not just when electricity is generated, thereby increasing the potential supply quantities. That in turn will reduce the system’s amortization time. It will also be possible to make much more efficient use of the battery storage.
Another step is to enable the Pionierkraftwerk to supply multiple tenants. And we also want to expand our customer services to include things like recommendations for optimizing the use of decentralized energy. For example, we could advise customers to turn on their washing machine during the day when their electricity comes directly from their neighbor and is also much cheaper.

Is the Pionierkraftwerk also suitable for other energy generation systems such as combined heat and power stations or wind turbines?

The Pionierkraftwerk is designed so that it can be used with any source of renewable energy. In the next pilot project, for example, we’ll be supplying energy from a small running water power station to a neighboring tenant. Another interesting scenario involves connecting two different generating installations, such as a combined heat and power station and a PV system. This would allow the solar energy to be supplied in one direction during the day and the energy from the CHP station in the other direction at night.

For more information, visit the website of Pionierkraft (in German)

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