COO, Peak Power
What do buildings, electric vehicles, and batteries have in common in the fight to decarbonize our electricity system? Toronto-based firm Peak Power is answering this question by harnessing the potential of AI.
The transition to a clean-energy future will involve reimagining how different pieces of the electrical grid work together — and Peak Power believes that its unique optimization of buildings, electric vehicles (EVs), and battery energy storage have the power to radically disrupt the energy sector.
“The problem with the electricity grids virtually everywhere in the world is that they’re overbuilt for moments of peak demand, which can occur just a few hours each year,” says Matthew Sachs, COO of Peak Power. “Imagine if highways were built to accommodate rush hour traffic on Thanksgiving weekend, and those highways were empty most of the time. That’s effectively what’s going on with energy systems — since, of course, traffic is considered tolerable, but blackouts aren’t.”
Building bridges to modernize the energy sector
The solution proposed by Peak Power draws on the alignment of real estate, energy, and transportation partners to forecast grid needs and optimize grid-connected assets. Specifically, the company is developing and testing software that transforms distributed energy resources (DERs) like electric vehicles, batteries, solar power, and even entire buildings into energy nodes that respond to real-time demands from the grid.
The key, says Peak Power, is effectively using and deploying DERs like batteries. “I feel that batteries will revolutionize the energy industry the same way refrigerators revolutionized the milk industry,” says Sachs. “When you add storage to any commodity distribution model, you fundamentally change the economics of that model. And the more storage you have embedded in the grid, the more renewables you can have, since one of the main arguments against solar and wind is that they’re intermittent power sources.”
From electric vehicle to mobile power source
EVs aren’t just fun to drive — they can also generate income for drivers when used as a mobile power source. Peak Power is currently running a vehicle-to-grid pilot in Toronto, which brings together transportation, buildings, and energy sectors to test the viability of treating EVs as mobile power plants. In this project, EV drivers are paid when they park their cars in designated spots and plug into bi-directional chargers — that is, those capable of not only charging the batteries, but also discharging them into the building’s power system. When Peak Power’s software predicts a grid event, the energy stored within connected cars is then discharged energy into the host building, offsetting demand on the grid.
It’s one of the largest demonstration projects of its kind in the world, and it could provide significant insight for a future where everybody drives EVs and millions of cars could be plugged into the grid at once. And the system, which is managed by artificial intelligence that analyzes data to predict demand, is only getting smarter.
Electric vehicles as part of a transactive grid
It’s developed an energy dashboard that provides visibility into how the building is operating, as well as allowing monitors to send notifications to building operators on how to run the building more efficiently. This not only reduces energy bills for building owners, but also minimizes their overall greenhouse gas emissions.
Having such a system in place also helps insulate building owners against the economic impact of increasingly unpredictable extreme weather events, which place high demands on the grid and can skyrocket energy costs. Peak Power’s services allow building owners to put sustainability on their balance sheet through energy savings.
These approaches leverage the firm’s main areas of strength: forecasting and optimization. A data-driven resource economy will be crucial for smart cities, and moving from buzzwords to viable energy solutions requires innovative, forward-looking expertise.
In other words, gathering data is one thing, but knowing what to do with it is another beast entirely. And that’s the niche Peak Power has carved for itself: turning the vast amounts of data made accessible by smart technologies into actionable changes for sustainable cities.