Case study

Upside Energy: balancing peak supply and demand for electricity

Innovate UK-funded firm supports National Grid by harnessing everyday devices in homes and businesses through the Internet of Things.

Upside Energy co-founder Graham Oakes standing with arms crossed on he left, with graph on a white board behind him.
Upside Energy founder Graham Oakes ... aiming for a 50-strong workforce in 18 months.

Upside Energy

Upside Energy has created smart-grid technology that eases peak-time pressure on National Grid by connecting a range of common devices that store energy, from backup batteries to electric hot water tanks.

These devices in homes and small businesses can then be quickly switched on or off at the right times, communicating through the Internet of Things.

The development of renewable energy such as wind and sun means power comes intermittently and from multiple sources, making it harder for power stations to generate electricity consistently.

Volatile energy prices

This causes inefficiencies in the National Grid and leads to volatile energy prices for customers, as well as higher greenhouse gas emissions. The company’s founder and Chief Scientist, Graham Oakes, explained:

Every time you hit a switch, somewhere a power station must work a little bit harder.

Power stations across the country are constantly ramping up and down as people keep turning switches on and off, and that’s really inefficient because power stations are just like cars; they like to get to a constant speed and just sit there.

As the first customer of Upside Energy’s innovative ‘flexibility services’, National Grid can better balance electricity supply and demand as more energy comes from sun and wind and other less predictable renewable sources.

Business mentoring

Innovate UK has supported the company from startup, with an initial grant allowing the company to employ its first member of staff. Graham added:

From there, we’ve grown to 17. A year ago we raised our first equity round but, without the Innovate UK funding before that, we would never have got to the point of getting investors.

Innovate UK also provided access to business mentoring and connected us into customers, potential targets in the energy system and international targets.

Upside Energy developed a pilot of their core service and communication protocols through an Innovate UK-funded collaborative project that received a £470,000 grant. Partners included Sharp Laboratories of Europe, Select Innovations (enLight), Tempus Energy and the University of Manchester.

Homes and businesses as suppliers

The company is now embarking on a major investment round among private investors and venture capitalists and plans to expand to a workforce of 50 within 18 months. They are also developing business partnerships in Europe, with R&D for Germany already under way.

Upside Energy’s CEO, Devrim Celal, said:

National Grid in the UK is our first customer and we are starting to work with utilities as well.

In essence, homes and businesses are our suppliers, so they give us their assets to use at the right times and we pay them money.

A report to the Committee on Climate Change predicts that 20% of the value of the UK energy system will be supplied by flexibility services by 2030.

Published 11 August 2017