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Interview: Ilén Zazueta-Hall, Enphase Energy

Posted on March 24th, 2017 in News

You’ve heard of the Internet of Things (IoT), but what about the Internet of Energy (IoE)? Similar in principle, the IoE explores the automation of assets to enhance capabilities and create a user-centric business model to support energy consumption and generation. Ilén Zazueta-Hall, Director of Product Management at Enphase Energy, explores the potential of IoE and how it can be applied to solar and battery systems to support the electricity grid.

Ilén Zazueta-Hall leads the management system product team at Enphase Energy, a producer of AC batteries, energy management systems, and one of the early pioneers of microinverters. She is responsible for advancing Enphase’s technology solutions and was the principal software manager of the Enphase Enlighten product, one of the world’s largest cloud-based energy data platforms.

“When I first joined, fighting climate change by making solar easier to install was a big part of the appeal. It still is. But seven years on, I’ve found that what keeps me engaged is that there are so many different ways to make an impact – solar is just part of the picture.

“The way that picture keeps growing and changing – storage, home energy management, transactive energy – means that there is always something new to learn.”

Ms Zazueta-Hall says that through her work at Enphase, she has been at the forefront of the Internet of Energy (IoE) and has seen the potential it could have in the energy sector.

“With the Internet of Things, we saw how connecting physical devices to the cloud to harness additional computing resources can enable automation and enhanced capabilities that are not possible otherwise.

“When we apply this same thinking to distributed energy systems, we are creating the Internet of Energy.”

Automating the energy market

Ms Zazueta-Hall says the most exciting thing about the future of the energy sector is the possibility of the IoE evolving with artificial intelligence (AI) and neural networks, ultimately unlocking the capability to predict and make decisions that are currently made by humans.

“There are already a range of companies doing fairly sophisticated prediction with the limited datasets available today, but there’s also a saying that ‘your AI is only as good as its data’, she says.

“It’s exciting to contemplate what will become possible as richer data sets become more available. I’m particularly interested to see how this plays out in regard to smart cities. We’re already seeing some interesting partnerships between utilities and municipalities.”

The future of storage in the grid

In the past some commentators thought that energy storage would signal the end of the electricity grid, but Ms Zazueta-Hall says even with technical advancements allowing renewable energy to achieve greater penetration into the grid, Australia will still rely on a mix of energy sources in the near future.

“Some form of the grid will always be needed because not all homes or businesses can have locally sited renewable energy or solar.

“The challenges for network operators are not dissimilar to what we saw in terms of the disruption in the telecom industry. In that shakeout, companies that evolved and learned how to deal with innovation at the network edge thrived. The same will be true with energy.

“The lessons we’ve seen from the rise of collaborative consumption has made an impact on many traditional industries we never thought would be disrupted. The growth in rooftop solar in Australia has resulted in utility companies creating new divisions and business models around renewables to serve their customers.

“As for network operators, there is a clear opportunity for them to reform their role in the grid to be prepared for the IoE.”

 Overcoming final obstacles

Ms Zazueta-Hall says that in Australia, she sees an opportunity for regulatory reform to pave the way for innovations like the IoE to develop and evolve.

“I think that energy has become a highly politicised issue here and there needs to be a clear direction for the adoption of clean energy and investment in smart grids to give the IoE a greater push.

“Renewable energy will have an increasing role in any country’s energy security, the challenge remains in whether a clear mandate exists that will give investors the confidence to build a network that supports the IoE, a network that is designed for the future generations.”