Two graduates and an idea about a consumer-centric energy sector
“One of the great things about InnoEnergy is the idea that research for the sake of research is not enough. You have to think about how your work will have impact in the real world.”
So says Simone Accornero. And he knows a thing or two about having impact.
Together with Grzegorz Bytniewski, Simone is the driving force behind FlexiDAO, a Barcelona-based startup that is harnessing the power of blockchain technology to get smart about demand response in the renewable energy sector.
Graduates of the MSc Energy for Smart Cities, Simone and Grzegorz are part of a wave of InnoEnergy innovators who are using their engineering smarts and business know-how to tackle some of the most intractable challenges facing the energy industry. And they’re operating right on the cutting edge – where new technology meets emerging business models and markets.
“We started thinking about how to apply blockchain solutions to energy problems a year and a half ago, before anyone really knew what blockchain was or what its potential looked like,” says Grzegorz. “And we believe we are right at the beginning of a brand new renewable energy market.” One that he and Simone believe to have “massive growth potential,” as well as the capacity to disrupt the traditional electricity sector.
Disruption, as an objective, has long featured in these young engineers’ plans.
The Leuven Link
Simone and Grzegorz met in their first year of their MSc studies at KU Leuven. Driven by a shared sense of imperative about climate change and “doing things smarter,” the pair quickly joined forces to collaborate on their Master’s thesis. And to develop a business concept.
“Doing research for the sake of it isn’t enough,” says Simone. “At the core of what we do at InnoEnergy there is an imperative to find how your work will have real impact on our environment.” Putting ideas to work, he says, informs the Entrepreneurship Journey that is woven into the MSc programme and runs all the way through it. “The idea is that you not only develop your technical skills and knowledge, you also acquire the business understanding and tools to exploit market opportunities.”
The pair consolidated a friendship and a work ethic that quickly began to yield fruit, says Grzegorz.
Blockchain was still in its infancy at that point, and there was little information and few resources available to the pair. Nonetheless, Grzegorz’s interest was piqued. He wanted to know how this new technology could be deployed in an “energy market” – where energy could be bought and sold in a smarter manner, all of it facilitated by blockchain.
The MSc provided classes on business planning, customer discovery, business models and the energy sector as well as access to industry experts. In addition, the pair decided to take their idea to the Cleantech Camp – an acceleration programme within the InnoEnergy ecosystem. This, says Simone, was a “turning point.”
“We were able to test the feasibility of our idea within the InnoEnergy startup ecosystem, merging what we were learning at the Cleantech camp with what we were learning on the MSc. So in parallel to the academic piece, we were now actively working on the business development: working on the hardcore coding – the idea architecture for our academic thesis – which at the same time was feeding into what was about to become FlexiDAO.”
FlexiDAO: Getting Smart About Demand and Response
FlexiDAO uses sophisticated and powerful blockchain technology to share data about demand for energy from unpredictable sources. As energy still cannot be stored, it must be consumed as it is generated. For the renewable sector this is highly complex: balancing the supply and the demand while ensuring continuity and consumer comfort is a massive challenge.
It’s also a massive opportunity.
“We saw a business case with the potential to grow exponentially in the energy sector – to tackle barriers between demand and response in renewables, adapting consumption to generation,” says Grzegorz.
To thrive, the solution would have to be transparent, cost-effective and flexible, adds Simone. “We have to service the needs of the grid operators while at the same time driving the flow of green energy into the system. This is where the Blockchain technology and our expertise coalesced.”
Today, FlexiDAO is supported by the InnoEnergy Highway programme – the world’s largest energy accelerator. As the company prepares to consolidate its second quarter as one of the newest players in the renewable energy scene, the team is growing and plans to pilot the blockchain platform with electric vehicles are imminent.
Simone and Grzegorz are sober about the challenges ahead – not least among these being regulation and consumer behaviour. But they are also optimistic about the future of FlexiDAO.
“The energy sector should be consumer-centric and it’s not. The big disruption will happened when consumers are empowered to take their consumption of energy into their own hands. This is one of things that we want to do. We want to be part of empowering the consumer to take an active role in the creation of the grid.”
“This is where it’s hard,” says Grzegorz, “because it’s complicated and people resist more being asked of them for the same thing. At the same time we all have to realise that the way we live now is not sustainable.”