Bart: Hey guys, it’s really nice to meet you again. It’s a technology in renewable series, episode number three. We’ve got another special guest here today with us – Kevin O’Donovan, hey Kevin. Very nice to meet you.
Kevin: Bart, how you doing? It was great to meet you last week in Munich in the real world.
Bart: Yeah, exactly. So, today’s episode is after Intersolar in Munich. Kev, we’ve known each other for three or four years and you’re also known as kind of an industry celebrity. Like everybody knows you, especially witinin the renewables, but for those that are actually doesn’t know you yet, can you just introduce yourself and tell a little bit more about yourself and what you do?
Kevin: Sure. So, I spent my entire career in technology. I came from the it technology worlds of a comeback, Intel. I used to head up Intel sales and the energy sector for about 10 years. And for the last five years I’ve been an independent consultant and people will know me from spending a lot of time traveling around to various events, meeting folks like yourself and lots of other cool people and seeing all the latest and greatest in terms of technology implications of what’s coming down the line. Now, where I spend most of my time is in consulting with companies on how to use that technology and the implications, because as cool as the technology is, it’s not just about ,,it’s cool technology, let’s install it”, right? As you mentioned, it’s technology and renewables. There’s no shortage of technology, but it’s about doing it in way that makes money and makes sense.
Bart: I do believe it also changes the world to a positive, as basically technology is always in the neighbor. So, thank you for that. So we’ve met at Intersolar last week. You know, I was actually positively surprised that we have already got to the normal, which is the trade show. It was absolutely amazing. It was huge. It was big. And there was a lot of excitement and a lot of companies over there. So, I’m wondering what are your impressions?
Kevin: So certainly, you know, the Munich Messe had 12 halls filled. I think that someone said to me that back in the heyday of solar, four or five years ago, maybe they had 14 halls. So 12 is a kind of big event. It was good to see people and it was pretty much back to normal. Now, granted people were being careful and there was face masks and not a lot of hugging and whatever, but it was kind of back to normal.
I suppose, what was good was that while we’ve had the challenges with COVID, lockdowns, the crisis in Ukraine because of the Russian invasion, there’s still no short of innovation. And there was more technology and new ideas and not necessarily new technology, but just using technology we’ve had for a while in ways that now are sustainable and make money, you know, etc. So there’s no shortage of that. But I suppose the biggest, my biggest takeaway from the various sessions, the key notes chatting with folks like yourself, for folks that know me, it’s not the technology that is the problem most of the time. And granted we need different, we need better technology, more efficient, more sustainable.
But I suppose the biggest takeaway for me was that the amount of people talking about the technology keeps advancing at a tremendous pace in some ways, maybe too fast, but the bureaucracy hasn’t changed and now it’s permitting an acceptance. You know, there was comments made in the keynotes about the fact that, you know, the minute you announce a new investment for renewables, be it a solar park, be it a transmission line off shore, wind whatevs, battery storage. There’s probably a Facebook group created against it within five minutes. And that’s the public perception. And then when you got to get permitting and whatever.. it can take, you know, 5, 10, 15 years to get some of the spilled. And then we complain that we’re not going fast enough. So that was probably my key takeaway. Now, there’s a lot of changes being made, right? But it was interesting to have that technology wasn’t the problem. It wasn’t that we need a better solar seller. We need a better wind turbine. Now we need a better battery. It was, we just can’t build this stuff fast enough, given the way bureaucracies working, if that makes sense.
Bart: It does. Some time ago we’ve been actually talking about making a real impact. I think it was two or three years ago. We’ve done an interview and I remember you were telling that basically, what’s needed, it’s not actually talking about how things amazing are, but to make the impact and how to implement them. I understand that right now we’ve got the technology. The technology is advancing in an amazing pace, but basically, as you mentioned, the bureaucracy is what’s holding things up as well.
Kevin: Yes, we’re building a lot of new stuff. If you look at the amount of new solar, new wind that’s being put out there even during COVID. If we were having this conversation three years ago, we wouldn’t have guessed that there would be so much built out, but it’s just that we need so much more, that we need to accelerate the way, the speed at which we build out.
Now that said for the grid we have for the installations we have, all the new EVs etc. Bureaucracy isn’t holding that back, right? So that’s where a lot of the innovation is happening with like software as a service and a better, more efficient ways of doing things remote, commissioning things remotely and so on. So it’s not that everything’s suddenly stalled, but it’s certainly that if you’re building large new infrastructure that we need, especially with the expansion of electric vehicles, the bureaucracy is a bit of a pain there, I think.
Bart: Okay. You mentioned that you spent most of your time at Intersolar at the Siemens booth.I know that you are kind of engaged with Siemens, but you are doing this because you are also excited about the cool stuff that they have. Can you tell us a little bit more of stuff they do and a bit of excitement that is behind the scenes as they will basically change management and that is happening right now within the industry.
Kevin: So for the transparency, yes I do a lot of work with Siemens. I’m part of the Siemens influencer community and I support them at a number of energy events, like ,,The smarter E” and I suppose, as I said to various folks that Siemens over the years, in terms of what Siemens do in the energy industry, it’s kind of what don’t they do, right? They cover a breadth of things. So I was up there last week supporting them, obviously they had the boots and they were doing everything from out of the edge. So now, immobility, the substations, the software that runs everything, they’ve got inverters, they got PV, they got the consulting, so they cover a lot of things. The new thing that I was looking at with the Siemens team there, was the week before The Smarter E, thay had a big announcement from their grid software group. They’re aggressively moving towards an entire Software as a Service model. And a lot of the software that people would be familiar with from Siemens, for managing the grid, managing distributed resources, doing your e-mobility charging, etc. That’s all they’re moving to – a cloud-based infrastructure and a software as a service model. You know, I grew up in the world back in the nineties and early two thousands. When you got some new software, it came on a CD and you installed it in your own data center and you managed the patch that configured it and did it all yourself.
The flexibility that software as a service brings to the entire energy industry and any industry that we see going on right now, that changes the game in a lot of ways, right? It makes things easier. Now, there are some challenges, but at the same time, you don’t have to do everything yourself anymore. You don’t have to run your own data centers, you don’t have to figure out if you’re cyber secure, right? Not to the same degree. So that’s quite fascinating. And if I made, it’s not just Siemens, if you add the Intersolar or The Smarter E, everybody was talking about software as a service and putting stuff in the cloud.
Whether it’s on Azure, AWS or Google or whatever, it’s kind of the way that things are coming together. My own personal opinion is that if you look at a lot of the different software that’s out there today, it’s not that one company can do everything. So you have to have software that works with other people nicely. Now again, in my idea, you’d hire a bunch of consultants to write adapters and middleware, and you know, it was horrendously complex. Now with open APIs, things are working a lot faster and quicker, so you can mix and match kind of best in breeds, so you’re not locked in and you can also change, right?
If, I have software as a service, if I don’t like your service, I can move very quickly, which also keeps everybody on their toes.
Bart: So on the one hand we are talking about like way bigger accessibility to the solutions and quicker deployments, also interoperability when it comes to how they speak together with different things. I agree there was a lot of companies over there that were actually announcing the cloud-based solution. Speaking of which, have you seen any trends or areas of a significant direction in terms of what’s interesting, what’s happening from the whole ecosystems, like connecting battery storage, PVs into one grid systems and complete solutions that are able to manage energy and at the micro and also larger scales.
Kevin: So, I suppose if I look back five years, you had solar and it was a solar farm and it fed into the grid or you have it in your roof and that was it. Then we started seeing kind of separately we had the whole energy storage and battery storage and pick a battery technology, whichever one. And you had wind farms and then electric vehicles started popping off. I suppose in some ways we were kind of looking at them as silos and you kind of got one person to do your electric vehicle infrastructure, and you had someone else doing this energy storage. And now what we’re seeing is that, if we have so many electric vehicles plugging in at this end station at six o’clock this evening, the grid can’t corporate it. How do we do it? Well, we put in some battery storage on site and we kind of manage it there. Now you can call it micro grid, you can call it inter grid, distributed energy, whatever, pick a term. What I’m seeing more and more obvious that it’s not just about having a silos of a solution. And now how do I join it up with everything else? But people are looking for an overall solution. So whether it’s wind, solar, battery storage, I want one piece of software that manages that.
I suppose what I found fascinating was that I I’m around long enough in this industry – 10 years ago, we were talking about how you’d be able to see everything that’s happening over the edge of the grid and you’ll be able to manage it all. And I think then we all kind of figured out that unless we have a quantum computer or something, we’re never going to be able to manage everything because there’s too many things. So it’s kind of breaking it down into that system of systems. So it’s like, the street looks after itself, your building looks after itself, his feeder line looks after itself and it’s only then if there’s excess or too much or too little. One of the comments I heard and I forgot who mentioned it, but they were saying that we got to consume electrons locally. So we don’t need to be transporting every electron around all over the Europe. Fun and game for balancing with transmission and distribution and etc. So I do think that distributed energy management systems are becoming far more important. It’s not just, I need a solar plant or I need a wind or I need a battery. I need them working together and I need them working together without human intervention. I can’t be sitting there watching a nap all day going, what am I going to do if I’m running a facility? So AI machine learning, all this stuff is becoming far more important.
Bart: I think it also is extremely needed when it comes to supporting grid operators with basically enabling more and more renewable sources to be part of the grids, right? They are, very much dependent of the weather conditions and sometimes they just need a piece of software and the hardware, battery transformation stations to work everything out, right?
Kevin: I agree. And you know, again, for those of us that have been digging into this stuff for a while, we often complain that the distribution system operators are not moving fast enough and the bureaucracy. But the laws of physics haven’t changed, right? The European figures last quarter at the end of year 2021, 25% of all new vehicles sold in the European Union were electric vehicles right? I would not have comprehended that number two or three years ago. So fun. Great. Now you need to charge them and it’s not like plugging in your mobile phone.
Depending on where you plug them in, you need electrons to fill it. So do you have them locally? If you don’t have them locally, they need to be transported. They get transported across copper wires. That’s the grid. But you know, again, the, the wire coming down to your house is so big and the wire going to the substation is so. And if everybody on the street gets an electric car and plugs it in seven o’clock in the evening, you need a bigger one. So that doesn’t happen instantly, that has to be planned. The utility has to figure it out. They have to get the connection from somewhere else. And that’s where a lot of the permitting and some, and it’s like, oh, well, it’s going to slow. That’s hard to do. And then you turn around and say, what do we need to build a bigger substation? We need a bigger wire coming into the substation, or we need to put in planning permission. And then the locals go, oh, I don’t want a transmission line over my house. So, the technology is the easy bit.
Now there’s lots of solutions with people going well, you know what, back to the thing, let’s not transport all the electrons. Let’s use the vehicle to grid or the vehicle to home. And that’s where the software piece comes in.
Bart: Sure. it’s fine that you mentioned, a vehicle to greet or vehicle to home solutions as well. I agree that the technology, on the one hand, this is way quicker and easier way to manage.the current capabilities and I guess Chardan, meantime term to overcome all of the obstacles, trying to manage things, without a human, right? I think, it will enhance and, but, all of the other investments and enhancements needs to be done.
So, I completely agree with you. Do you see any specific trends? Because as you mentioned, 25%, it’s a significant amount of cars and they need to be charged, but also at the same time, here in Poland, we’ve just reached 1 million prosumers, which is people that are installing PVs on the residential houses, are using a local battery storage, well more and more as we get a new subsidiaries coming from EU. Do you see any specific advances when it comes to ideas of residential customers and the whole invention around this topic.
Kevin: I think it depends now and here is what I mean by that. You go to different countries. I live in the south of France and yet to the penetration of solar down here is very low. We have solar on the roof for 2008, but when we were putting it, our town hall didn’t like us putting solar on the roof. It’s still fairly low in France compared to Germany or other countries. So it depends on the legislation and whether it’s kind of open season, nobody can stop you. You can just connect it and whatever.
There are technical challenges with everybody just plugging it in because as you say, you get the intermittency and we look at the distribution system operators and they are under legal requirement to keep the grid working. But they’re dealing with kind of chaotic systems when we can’t predict certain things, but let’s say electric vehicles. I can sign up to say I charge and discharge at a certain time, but I’m an irrational person. I might decide I want to go into the shop to get milk and take the car. And suddenly I pulled my car out to the grid. And if 50 people do that in the streets, they have to do all that, manage all that in the flight. So I think we’re coming to a kind of a, I wouldn’t say critical point, but we’re now getting to a stage where there’s so much adoption of electric vehicles of distributed energy resources. We’re starting to kind of figure out that there are some technical challenges we need to fix. Now they can be fixed, but it comes back to that they can be fixed by putting in battery storage and balancing, but that costs money and who’s going to pay for it? Now, the other thing I think is quite interesting is that unfortunately, because of COVID, all the supply chains shocks, the invasion of Ukraine, we’re seeing energy prices skyrocket. We’re seeing people in different parts of the world or even parts of Europe who want to take more control of their own energy.
At Intel years ago, we used to think: make your energy personal. You can do that today behind the meter. You’re seeing more and more companies kind of doing that. But that’s not available for everybody in the socioeconomic bracket, or if you have your middle income, your own house, you can do that. If you’re living in an apartment block in a big city, you can’t. Then they are going to be landed with all the great costs. The advancements are fascinating, but there are some challenges, political and socioeconomic that we need to figure out again. In fact, the technology thing is not the biggest problem we have right now.
Bart: Cool. Again, I agree. Seeing at Intersolar, you can see there is a significant drive to make things happen, which is absolutely fantastic. And I’m very much looking forward to the next year edition as well.
Kevin: I agree. It’s not just about digitalization, right? You see some of the chemical work on our batteries. You see some of the work going on with photovoltaics and the different materials science and my solar panel is 5% more efficient than your one from last year because we’re using different technology. My inverter is better, it saves you 2%. Now, if you have a massive solar farm, 2% of energy not wasted is like whatever. And we’re starting to see people say, do you know how to all this ACDC conversion in the home and stuff?
Hang on a second. Now let’s do DC. Then you end up with less boxes and less AC to DC. So, you’re seeing little incremental steps and then you see people with some new technologies where you replace your windows under a building with a thing that’s basically a solar panel. The innovation, technology and renewables, it’s not slowing down. If you think it was fast for the past three or four years, well, buckle up it’s only getting started, but again, we get back to things. It has to be practicable and feasible. And how do we manage it? And it has to be affordable for everybody, not just for the folks with money.
Bart: Right. Kevin, thank you for your time. That was Kevin O’Donovan, from France. Tell me how people can reach out to you and what is going to be your next conference as well.
Kevin: Folks will find me on LinkedIn or Twitter. That’s where my public persona is. I’m taking a week off, but I know you guys are all heading to DistribuTECH. But my next trip is up to Hannover, Hannover Messe, because a lot of the industrial IT, or IoT, everything to do with future work, AR, VR, a lot of the technologies that we see coming into the energy industry come from industry. So I want to go there and see what’s going on.
Bart: Well, enjoy your holidays. I hope you are going to have a really good trade show in Hannover. And thank you again for your time. Let’s speak to you very much soon as well. Have a good one.
Kevin: Thanks Bart. And enjoy DistribuTECH. Thank you. Bye bye.