Case Study

Habitat Energy – space near Oxford Station will keep start-ups on the right track

To be truly green, the post-pandemic recovery will need to be powered by renewable energy sources.

This raises the challenge of encouraging investment in a sector where output cannot be tied directly to demand. Unlike fossil fuels, a renewable power plant cannot create more wind, sunlight, waves or tides on demand. It has to be harnessed when available and then stored.

This involves a massive investment in, usually lithium ion, battery arrays, housed in shipping containers with a grid scale installation numbering ten to twenty containers. To have confidence to build storage facilities on such a huge scale, investors need to be sure of the financial model over the life of the asset.

Energy algorithm

This is where Habitat Energy and its sophisticated machine-learning algorithms can help. It forecasts energy prices throughout the day and uses optimisation algorithms to dynamically react to those prices to charge and discharge, while also taking into account the physical aspects of the battery and its degradation.

“We’re helping the the grid with the balancing act of meeting demand with renewables that are intermittent and thus providing a key component of a net-zero carbon electricity sector,” says CEO, Andrew Luers.

“Our typical customers will be owners of grid-scale battery storage as well as renewable energy assets like solar or wind, not always on the same site. Our algorithms can predict likely prices as they respond to fluctuation in weather and other conditions and determine when it’s best to charge up or discharge, taking into account the long-term health and economics of the asset and providing the flexibility the grid needs.”

Talent and office questions

The company is typical of an Oxford start-up in that two of its founders met while studying at Oxford University. The business has remained in the city centre because of the wide availability of top talent. However, there is a caveat when it comes to IT skills.

“Oxford is a wonderful city to be in for access to talent particularly for data science and energy industry specialist roles,” he says.

“Like many tech companies we have a need for highly talented software developers and there is perhaps less of an established network and pool for these candidates in Oxford than perhaps in other cities, or I would have expected in a innovation hub like Oxford.”

“Another challenge for us in Oxford is access to office space in the city centre. There are lots of great business parks which suit many companies but we’re a young company with a young work force who love being in the centre of things in a vibrant city.”

“From a business point of view, we travel to London a lot via the train station and when clients come to see us, they like being able to walk from the station,” he says. “So that is something Oxford could really do with, some more great office space in the city centre.”

Luers points out that a wider choice of office space in innovation centres is an issue American cities with strong academic backgrounds have worked to solve. Boston is a good example to follow, he suggests, with the wide city-centre options available to businesses spinning out from Harvard and the MIT.

However, he does point out that Covid-19 has prompted Habitat Energy, like many other businesses, to rethink the balance between office and remote working which could have implications for how much space it requires, and where.

“As Covid-19 has forced all of us to get comfortable with remote work, questions of sourcing talent and office space need to be reconsidered. We’re certainly rethinking these for our own business.”

About this case study - Powering up the Green Economy: Oxfordshire's role in building a cleaner future

This case study was written following an interview conducted as part of Advanced Oxford’s research study, Powering up for the Green Recovery: Oxfordshire’s role in building a cleaner future. Advanced Oxford has been examining the enablers and barriers to growth of the low carbon and sustainable goods and services sectors. We are both showcasing innovation being developed across the region, but also looking at the issues which will support or hinder our high growth potential companies.

Advanced Oxford would like to thank all of the companies that participated in this project for their time and for providing us with images which illustrate their technology and work. This case study was written by Sean Hargrave, working with Advanced Oxford.

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