Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

Ovo buys smart-grid start-up VCharge

Steve Rogerson
February 16, 2017
 
UK energy supplier Ovo Energy has acquired US smart-grid start-up VCharge for an undisclosed sum. Headquartered near Boston, VCharge has developed technology that changes how electric grids are controlled in preparation for the transition to renewable energy and energy storage, helping solve the problem of renewables intermittency.
 
The technology uses algorithms to balance grid requirements with individual user requirements. The first application controls electric storage heating in social housing to manage resident comfort and address the issue of fuel poverty in local communities, while simultaneously supporting the widespread adoption of renewable energy by providing grid balancing.
 
VCharge heating controls are fitted to new or existing electric storage heaters and can be controlled via a smartphone. When coupled with a smart tariff, residents experience improved comfort and lower bills, and have control over their heating systems.
 
VCharge has completed a number of trials of the technology over the past year with major social housing landlords in London, Scotland and north-east England, and, with Ovo, will begin later this year offering free heating control upgrades combined with a new smart energy tariff to the 1.5m households in the UK with electric storage heaters.
 
"VCharge's vision is to help electricity grids around the world with the transition to becoming 100 per cent renewable, as the cost of renewable energy becomes more competitive with that of unsustainable fossil fuels,” said Toby Ferenczi, managing director of VCharge. “Joining forces with Ovo will dramatically accelerate how quickly we can achieve this goal, and will also enable us to address other important issues such as alleviating fuel poverty in the UK."
 
The acquisition, the first in Ovo’s seven year history, underlines the company’s focus on developing future-facing services that it says harness the disruptive power of technology to solve the problems facing the energy industry for the benefit of its customers.
 
“I’m thrilled to bring VCharge into the Ovo family,” said Stephen Fitzpatrick, CEO of Ovo. “The team have been doing incredibly exciting and important work in developing technologies that answer the enormous challenge of how to bring more renewable energy to grids around the world. We believe this platform will harness the potential of energy storage in reducing dependency on fossil fuels, while helping to make energy more affordable for all.”
 
Ovo was founded in 2009. A couple of friends sat around a kitchen table listing what they wanted from their energy supplier, but weren’t getting; things such as fair pricing, great service, clear and simple information, technology to make managing energy easier, and, above all, honesty and transparency. Seven years later, Ovo now has nearly 700,000 customers.
 
Also founded in 2009, VCharge provides balancing and stabilisation services to grid operators and other electricity market participants by controlling electrical loads coupled to energy storage. It has developed projects on six electric grids in five countries. The company has also built and operates the world's largest aggregated residential virtual battery, delivering ancillary services comprised of thousands of electric thermal storage heaters for the PJM Interconnection grid operator in the USA. This virtual battery provides balancing services to the grid at a 30th of the cost of a comparable lithium-ion battery.