Going to market is an age-old activity when it comes to buying and selling goods – from cash crops to cattle, everything under the sun has been traded in some form or another. Now, you can even take your surplus solar energy to the market, thanks to an innovative solution developed by a team of young Swiss entrepreneurs.
“There is no life on earth without the sun, and it’s there for everyone,” said Anselma Wörner, COO and one of the three cofounders of Exnaton, a Swiss company that develops software for communities trading renewable energy in local neighborhoods.
Wörner was explaining how her company created a smart energy system at the recent International Conference for Utilities, presented by SAP and TAC Events in Munich, Germany. “We have a new generation of prosumers – people who consume and produce their own energy – who are using new connected technologies and renewable power like solar to exchange energy through the grid.”
Humans have always depended on the sun for light, heat, and food, and its all-encompassing power has influenced cultures and religions around the world. Although advances in technology have decreased our dependence, the importance of solar energy in our efforts to reduce our carbon footprint is a reminder that we still depend on it for survival. That’s why the cofounders picked the name Exnaton for their enterprise. Looking for a word that connects “energy” and “exchange,” they hit upon the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten (pronounced Echnaton) who raised the status of the sun above that of all other gods and created an early monotheism that briefly became a state religion.
The goal of Exnaton is to help integrate prosumers into the grid. Currently, the legal framework is very complex, and there is no clear ROI for them. There are no feed-in tariffs or policy mechanisms designed to accelerate investment in renewable energy technologies by offering long-term contracts to renewable energy producers.
“At the moment, there is no value for the community, and we want to change that,” said Wörner, who is responsible for fundraising, data science, and recruiting at Exnaton. “What most people don’t realize is that renewable energy is not always produced when it’s needed most. So, when it is available, prosumers should be able to sell their energy directly.”
People who own solar panels could actually sell a lot of energy to other households, if only they had the means. Wörner and her team believe it should be as easy to sell to other consumers as it is to sell any other products on the market. “Prosumers are faced with fragmented solutions, complex regulations, and frustrating user experiences. What they need are simple solutions, trusted local providers, and proactive community and user groups,” she explained.
Enter Exnaton’s EnergyCommunity software add-on for SAP for Utilities solutions, which won an SAP Innovation Award in the Partner Paragon category together with Best Practice Consulting (BPC) and is now available on SAP Store. This user-centric extension enables utility companies to empower prosumers to buy and sell energy within their local communities and also track all relevant data.
Here’s how it works. Any prosumers in the community can sell their solar energy to any consumers in the grid. The EnergyCommunity tracks their energy data and informs them exactly where the energy is coming from and how much CO2 it is generating. The utility company can easily bill these energy exchanges with their regular SAP billing system thanks to the integration offered by Exnaton in working with the SAP system integrator BPC. At the same time, the utility company can sell additional hardware installations to members of the community, making it an attractive option for all parties.
“The EnergyCommunity makes it easy to exchange energy within the community. Participating in their local community creates a closer bond between people, and the platform provides a new customer channel for the utility company,” said the technology expert, who has a PhD in Information Systems. “At the end of the day, with Exnaton’s energy sharing software-as-a-service platform, energy suppliers can offer their customers more independence.”
Exnaton is responding to the challenge faced by prosumers who currently have no possibility to sell their extra energy directly on the market and the one faced by utilities companies as they realize they must offer new models as they transition to renewables with a decentralized approach. A number of utility companies are already running the solution in communities across Germany, Austria, Luxemburg, and Switzerland, and the goal is to expand to other European countries where there is a strong regulatory framework. More importantly, the solution enables energy companies to equip their customers for a sustainable future.
Over 733 million people on the planet still don’t have access to affordable, sustainable energy, which is why providing energy is goal seven on the list of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. For Exnaton, goal seven is its core business, but at the same time, it is equally committed to goal 11, developing sustainable cities and communities; goal 12, enabling responsible production and consumption; and goal 13, taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impact.
The good news, according to the recent State of the Energy Union report, is that renewables overtook fossil fuels as the number one power source in the European Union for the first time in 2020. Renewables generate 38% of electricity, compared to 37% for fossil fuels. Also, at least two million people in the EU are already involved in more than 7,700 energy communities, and engagement is rising. Energy communities have also contributed up to 7% of nationally installed capacities of renewables, estimated at 6.3 GW.
For Wörner and the team at Exnaton, producing energy where it is consumed decreases the dependence of the region on imported resources. Energy from the sun is practically limitless, and it more than covers the entire demand of the planet. With advances in technology and solutions like the EnergyCommunity, households and small businesses benefit from electricity powered by the sun, making renewable energy accessible and cost effective. What could be more natural, sensible, or sustainable?
This article was first published on forbes.com.