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Fresh wind for the wind turbine

Elias Küpper (left) and Jan Philipp Otten (right) from the Aachen-based startup Kerith. Elias Küpper (left) and Jan Philipp Otten (right) from the Aachen-based startup Kerith. Kerith

When the Coal Commission met at the Federal Ministry of Economics at the beginning of 2019, thousands of students gathered outside the ministry to demonstrate for a rapid phase-out of coal as an energy source. The strike was organized by Luisa Neubauer, a climate activist and at that time still a geography student from Göttingen. It was not only directed against coal-fired power generation alone, but against everything that is summarized in Neubauer's words with "climate crisis". Climate crisis here stands for the increasingly accelerating global warming and what she sees as insufficient efforts by Germany and the international community to counteract this development.

"Not every energy source makes sense everywhere"

At about the same time, Elias Küpper, a student from Aachen, Germany, was at the elite U.S. university Stanford as part of his studies. He, too, had committed himself to the fight against climate change and was conducting research here on technology-open energy system planning. In the process, he was driven by one question: How can the use of climate-neutral energy sources be planned in such a way that their cost structure and stability also make them the most competitive option? Early on, he couldn't shake the idea that this shouldn't just involve the additional expansion of renewables such as wind turbines, solar cells and the like. "Not every energy source is optimally deployed everywhere. And politicians are not always able to make these complex decisions sensibly." Küpper summarizes his idea today. This led him to compile the relevant factors for this and translate them into an algorithm. Location, network characteristics, local electricity demand, consumption peaks, etc. were to be correlated in such a way that they interacted optimally.

Algorithm from Stanford, implementation in Germany

In the coming months at the elite university, he and PhD candidate Holger Teichgräber succeeded in refining the algorithm they had developed. In the meantime, it was becoming increasingly possible to predict how much of which technology, at which location and at which time should be used to generate energy. With the algorithm and the idea in his luggage, Küpper traveled back to Germany a few months later. Here, he didn't hesitate for long and immediately teamed up with fellow students from Aachen, Düsseldorf and Mannheim to found the startup Kerith. Teichgräber also stayed connected to the startup as a technical advisor. Together, they further developed the algorithm and looked for partners for its application. They found what they were looking for at the local level: Currently, the concept is being applied locally as part of a case study with the Düren distribution network operator. Initial results are promising. This has encouraged them to turn their attention more strongly to the supraregional implementation of their idea as well.

Concept not just for the global north

To draw global attention to the idea, Kerith therefore took part in "The Futures Project" competition, which is aligned with the UN Development Goals. Out of more than 600 projects, Kerith has now been selected as one of a total of 18 that will participate in the accelerator program associated with the competition in 2021. As part of the competition, the startup wants to prove that their algorithm can be a way to get closer to development and climate goals through innovative technology: "In order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees while providing affordable and reliable energy to all people, we need global approaches. We need to target limited resources both in the global north and especially in the global south, and work together to find the best solutions," Küpper said. He said that planning tools available so far are simply too expensive, resulting in inadequate planning with Excel spreadsheets that cannot meet the demands of optimal expansion planning such as grid stability, optimal energy mix, CO2 emissions, etc.

"Democratization of energy supply"

Kerith aims to change that: "Traditional algorithms have been developed for planning central, fossil energy systems at the country level. Accordingly, these algorithms are also inadequate in planning weather-dependent energy sources as well as storage systems. Distributed generation requires much more accurate planning. But the data processed in this way also makes it much easier to make individual location decisions," Küpper explains his idea. Another advantage is that the algorithm can be hosted in the cloud, which means that the required computing power can be switched on as needed. This is a real advantage over competitors who still offer software that has to be installed locally on the computer and makes the application particularly interesting for developing countries. "Cloud integration allows everything from data integration to results presentation to be done in one platform. Our customers can plan reliable energy systems from anywhere and only need an Internet connection and smartphone. For the first time, we are giving cities, municipalities, and microgrids access to accurate planning. In this respect, we are experiencing a democratization of energy supply with Kerith." Energy supply planning thus appears to be entering a new era. Could the algorithm be something of a booster for the global energy transition? "Maybe." Küpper states meaningfully. "At the very least, it's certainly not a disadvantage if everyone worldwide can really participate for the first time."

 

Kerith is a startup based in Aachen that participated in last semesters MCEI Startup Lounge.

 

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