Facing multiple paradigm shifts, the energy industry is increasingly under pressure to find and implement innovative technologies in order to adapt their existing business models. Studies have shown that the global demand for energy will continue to grow, with fossil fuels continuing to dominate the energy landscape until 2050. However, technological innovation is expected to bend the demand/supply curve, with Internet of Things (IoT) leading this disruption and reaching a valuation of 20,54 billion Euro in the Energy Industry by 2020.

As innovation is our business, cutting-edge startups are the focus of our attention. At StartUs Insights, our unit dedicated to Innovation Scouting and Open Innovation, we conducted a detailed analysis of 15.000+ startups and discovered several innovation areas which will impact the energy industry in the near future. To shed light on the application and potential of the most disruptive of these technologies, we decided to outline the six most dominant innovation areas that influence the entire industry. As our focus lies on introducing emerging startups, we provide one example for each innovation area to highlight existing cooperation potential.

Blockchain

Blockchain is generally adopted in peer-to-peer transaction platforms, making use of decentralized storage to record transaction data. In the energy industry, blockchain is expected to transform existing transaction models by moving them from centralized to decentralized structures, eliminating the need for intermediaries. This clears the way for other functionalities of blockchain, such as asset management, emission allowances, renewable energy certificates, or serving as the basis for metering, billing, and clearing processes.

UK startup Electron aims to advance the shared infrastructure of energy markets by using decentralized technology. The company has built two products on the Ethereum blockchain: The Flexibility Trading Platform encourages sites to decrease energy use and sell excess energy while their second solution, Meter Registration Platform, makes it about 20 times faster for consumers to switch energy suppliers than current rates.

Blockchain

Will this innovation area disrupt the industry?

Big Data

Despite the wide deployment of big data analytics (e.g. to estimate oil storage levels), there remains even greater potential. Taking the electricity system as an example, big data allows for the appropritate anticipation of energy needs. This comes in especially handy due to the cost of renewable energy being subject to limitations related to weather conditions, as energy suppliers periodically have to rely on conventional power sources. Renewables with big data analytics, on the other hand, manage to crowd out traditional fuels. Industry experts are already working on solutions, including big data and machine learning, to overcome this challenge. This results in the use of sensors on wind and solar facilities that gather real-time data on wind and sun levels, transmitting the information and combining it with satellite, radar, and weather station data to accurately predict energy needs.

One startup that integrates big data into their solution is Finnish Nukka Solutions. The company’s platform proves beneficial in improving energy efficiency in commercial and public buildings. Their Software as a Service (SaaS) is capable of automating data collection from energy meters, to IoT and building automation systems and even utility companies.

Big Data

Will this innovation area disrupt the industry?

Microgrid

Today’s energy grid genesis can be traced back to the industrial revolution, making it an outdated provider of the backbone for the current global energy infrastructure. A promising alternative is a decentralized microgrid, which is open to power contribution from anyone. That, combined with Internet of Things devices, allows not only the generation but also the buying and selling of energy. Not only does this system lead to a more efficient energy production, but it also makes redundant the both inefficient and expensive current energy transport system that is.

CHAINErgy, decentralizes the marketplace from suppliers to people, promoting an interface for peer-to-peer energy trading. The Berlin-based startup allows users to manage their own energy supply consumption, production or trading, and to perform transactions via a digital currency wallet.

Microgrid

Will this innovation area disrupt the industry?

Storage

Storage is and will remain one of the key factors in providing and handling energy. One leading candidate is Concentrated Solar Power (CSP), which supplements PV and allows for the collection of solar energy even after sunset using heat storage in molten salts. Another solution that’s already being developed is air-breathing batteries. Using bismuth, these iron-air batteries are ten times more efficient and can be used to store energy off solar panels on cloudy days or during the night. Furthermore, numerous energy storage technologies like lithium-air batteries, thermal storage, lithium-sulfur batteries, or fuel cells are currently being explored for better efficiency and smaller dimensions.

French startup Sylfen is actively working on creating capabilities necessary for storing energy generated from renewable sources. Their solution, Smart Energy Hub, is designed to facilitate the management of sustainable buildings by storing power as hydrogen, to later cover later energy needs, or sell to the local smart grid when in excess.

Storage

Will this innovation area disrupt the industry?

Smart Meters

Smart meters have already been extensively implemented throughout Europe. By the end of 2020, the UK aims to have installed smart meters in more than 30 million homes; Denmark aims to even go further and is planning for every home to contain a smart meter within the next three years. The electronic devices recording energy consumption and allowing for lower energy consumption are presently altering the energy industry as we know it.

The home energy monitor system created by London-based startup Ecoisme provides information on the energy use of home appliances and analyzes user behavior with the help of machine learning technologies. The system has the capacity to detect whether solar panels can keep up with energy needs while additionally giving tips on how to save money.

Smart Meters

Will this innovation area disrupt the industry?

Renewable Energy

Currently, hydropower is the main foundation of renewable energy, covering about 16% of global energy demand. However, there is room for more as developing countries have the capacity to double hydroelectric power generation by 2050 utilizing hydropower. Progressing hydropower technologies include run-of-river hydropower plants, pumped storage plants, and reservoir hydropower plants among others.

Solar and wind power are two more examples where entrepreneurs are finding creative solutions to build a bridge to a more sustainable energy economy. While wind power was the most installed form of power generation in 2016 Europe-wide, good examples of already available solar solutions are photovoltaic cells, solar-powered water pumps, and printable solar panels.

Icewind – an Icelandic startup the developmental phase – designs and manufactures the vertical axis of wind turbines which are placed on telecom towers, as well as homes, cabins, and farms. Despite a more common perception, this company aims to demonstrate that “turbines can be an elegant, quiet, durable, cost effective and nearly maintenance free solution for energy production”. – an Icelandic startup in development stage – designs and manufactures the vertical axis of wind turbines which are placed on telecom towers as well as homes, cabins, and farms. Despite a more common perception, this company aims to prove that “turbines can be an elegant, quiet, durable, cost effective and nearly maintenance free solution for energy production”.

Renewable Energy

Will this innovation area disrupt the industry?

The six outlined innovation areas are just a few of the crucial digital drivers we identified in the Energy Industry. Others include advanced analytics, AI and digitalisation transformation of the electricity market. A good market illustration is as follows: 2TB of data on average is predicted to be produced per power plant globally in the near future dominated by Big Data and Cloud services – more than any other industry, according to General Electric. As these emerging technologies grow further, challenge existing structures, and transform the entire industry, companies that act proactively will emerge as industry leaders. As demonstrated within this breakdown, disruptive startups are the main driver behind emerging innovation areas – and collaborating with them provides companies with a strong competitive advantage. StartUs Insights supports this process by providing actionable innovation intelligence on startup driven innovation, enabling and facilitating collaboration with these disruptors in the energy industry.


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