Start-up interview with Lukas Prenner, founder of EnergyFamily.
Founded in Austria in 2022, the start-up EnergyFamily is a breath of fresh air for energy communities. The company aims to facilitate the creation of energy communities by providing an online platform and by optimizing electricity production and consumption through a satellite-based energy management system. Another current project is Power2Go. Find out more in our start-up interview.
The composition of energy communities can be very diverse. Your target groups include private individuals, companies and municipalities. What can you offer each of these groups?
It’s true that the target groups are quite different. But with our platform and our service, we can essentially provide the same level of advice and support to each group. Our goal is to make management and billing as simple as possible.
Each target group has a slightly different focus and different reasons for joining an energy community: Companies can benefit when the energy generated at one site can be used at other sites. This reduces costs, and by involving employees in the energy community, a company can present itself as an attractive, sustainable employer. Municipalities can save electricity costs, increase their energy efficiency and involve their citizens to strengthen the community and local value creation. Finally, private individuals can benefit from attractive, fair and transparent electricity prices and get the opportunity to make an important contribution to the energy transition – even without their own PV system! Our platform makes setting up an energy community quick and easy for private clients and families.
Which target group are you most interested in right now?
We are seeing huge potential in companies and municipalities, as they are hit particularly hard by the high cost of electricity. What’s more, we can offer them added value in the form of feasibility studies and help with more complex issues.
What differentiates your start-up from competitors with similar energy community solutions?
We want to make forming or joining an energy community as easy as possible for our clients. Our intuitive platform, a checklist for establishing an energy community and our personalized consulting service set us apart from the competition, as does our upcoming energy management system for optimizing energy use within an energy community on the basis of satellite data.
That sounds exciting! What’s special about this system and how does it work?
There is currently no energy management system for energy communities based on satellite data on the market. Satellite data and solar nowcasting are predominantly used for large-scale PV systems, but for households and small systems, these services have until now been too expensive and therefore not profitable. We’re working on a system that uses a combination of high-resolution satellite data and AI to accurately predict output. By matching this with consumption data and forecasts, the system can optimize the energy management within an energy community by directing excess energy to heat pumps, charging infrastructure for electric cars, etc.
How are energy communities formed?
Establishing an energy community requires careful planning and coordination and, admittedly, involves a fair amount of red tape.
The first step is to assess the energy demand, production and consumption of potential members. This helps us determine what type of energy community is the best fit, and whether it even makes sense at all. Furthermore, anyone interested in being part of an energy community must have a smart meter – this is a prerequisite.
The next step is to establish a legal form for the operation of an energy community. In Austria, most energy communities choose a Verein (registered association) or a cooperative, depending on their size. In addition, a number of internal agreements regarding pricing, usage contracts and allocation keys as well as external contracts with the grid operator, must be put in place.
The final step is integration with market communication to enable consumption reporting and invoicing. Our intuitive online platform guides clients through the process step-by-step and provides assistance. We have automated and digitalized many of the steps.
How is the community’s electricity invoiced?
Invoicing is based on the smart meter readings of consumption and production at 15-minute intervals. This data is provided by the grid operator. The allocation of electricity can be either pre-determined or flexible, depending on the amount produced and consumed.
Our system automatically generates invoices, which can then be paid via our platform using SEPA direct debit. Reminders are also generated automatically.
According to your website, one of your ongoing projects is Power2Go. The idea of charging your car at work during the day with electricity generated at home sounds great. What’s the principle behind it? How far along is this research concept?
This project is a collaboration with a University of Applied Sciences in Lower Austria. The goal is to make the electricity generated on your own roof available through your employer’s charging infrastructure and perhaps even other charging points to charge your e-car. Energy communities can make this possible. The research project is still ongoing and initial results have generated a lot of interest, but the technical implementation is still a challenge. We’re currently looking for pilot customers to help us refine the implementation options.
Will it be possible to market flexibility through your system?
We definitely want to offer this option in the medium term. Heat pumps and e-charging stations would be ideal elements. We are building on our projects and developments in the areas of electromobility and satellite-based efficiency enhancement to enable the implementation and marketing of flexibility in the future.
What potential for energy communities do you see in which European country?
In our view, energy communities are indispensable for achieving the European climate targets. That’s why it’s only a matter of time before this concept is adopted in all European countries and the national laws allow the establishment of energy communities. Austria is currently leading the way, but other countries such as Spain, Italy and Portugal have also made substantial progress in terms of legislation. Its high PV potential makes southern Europe a particularly interesting market.
Germany is also an important and exciting market for us. The government is working on a legislative package to facilitate the implementation of tenant power from next year. Once the legal framework is in place, we hope to gain a foothold in the German market!