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The future’s smart

How to make our homes smarter, greener and cheaper – without changing our lifestyles
The future's smart

This article first appeared in our COP27 special issue of My Green Pod Magazine, published on 10 November 2022. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox

With a looming climate crisis and energy prices soaring in a volatile market, we need to rethink the way we use power.

‘We are so used to just flipping a switch and expecting energy to be instantly available’, says Jani Leirimaa, founder and CEO of Hiven – ‘but it doesn’t have to be that way.’

Jani created Hiven to bridge the gap between smart appliances, the power system and consumers: the goal is to make energy consumption cheaper, greener and smarter everywhere, with a new product designed to create a new normal when it comes to the way we consume energy.

A people-powered approach

In our current transition – to produce more renewable energy and electrify heating and transport on a bigger scale – one of the biggest challenges we face is the capacity of the electricity grid.

Hiven’s focus on smart tech is based on the broadly accepted understanding that integrated and responsive technology holds the key to a greener – and cheaper – energy system that balances demand on the grid with the electricity that’s available.

Balancing supply and demand can help to prevent surges in electricity consumption that could lead to blackouts if left unchecked, and allows those with smart appliances and electric cars to draw power when it’s cheapest.

The company connects existing technologies in a new product that showcases the holistic interplay between smart appliances, the grid and, crucially, people; human behaviour is front and centre.

‘Today our habits are only based on flipping a switch, plugging in the charger or staying within a set temperature’, Jani explains. ‘Nothing is done to consider the impact of this behaviour on the power system.’

The way we charge electric cars is a perfect example; we tend to plug them in when we get home and leave them for around 12 hours – even though they probably only need to be connected for a couple of hours. ‘For the user it doesn’t matter what time the charging happens’, Jani says, ‘but it could have a significant impact on the power system’.

Smart charging and heating

Smart charging for electric vehicles (EVs) is one of Hiven’s two core offerings; when an EV is plugged in at home, Hiven’s technology calculates the best possible time to charge based on cost, CO2 levels from the energy mix and grid congestions.

The EV will still be ready by the morning when it’s needed – and with as much charge as is required – but the charging will have taken place at the optimal time.

Hiven’s other key product enables smart heating by connecting to heat pumps, panel heaters, water heaters and other home heating appliances that can be connected and steered in a smart way.

This allows the heating and cooling cycles of our homes to be coupled with the daily fluctuations of price and CO2 levels in the energy mix.

‘If the home has solar power installed’, Jani explains, ‘we can also couple heating and charging to harness the full value of the energy that is produced in the home.’

Hiven connects smart appliances over the cloud, meaning no additional hardware or installations are needed.

When an appliance is connected, Hiven is able to observe how it is being used and learn the owner’s habits.

Energy efficiency algorithms minimise excess consumption, and the energy that is needed can be optimised to deliver a cheaper, greener and smarter use of appliances, without compromising on comfort or routine.

Reducing energy bills

These connectivity and steering services are available to businesses that want to offer more to their customers, energy companies that want to couple smart steering with their electricity contracts and manufacturers that want their customers to benefit from more embedded smartness in their appliances.

‘Manufacturers of smart appliances have already started with the first important step – minimising unnecessary consumption with a multitude of energy-efficiency efforts’, Jani tells us. ‘The next step is to optimise and couple the remaining energy consumption with renewable production – which can be done automatically through Hiven. The result is more value for their customers.’

Hiven’s platform also has benefits for energy suppliers; until now, the power system has only ever been able to react to the consumption of energy, with limited potential for optimisation.

‘Hiven presents new opportunities for energy companies to make demand side a part of the entire supply chain’, Jani explains. ‘Demand can be optimised together with energy production, trading and portfolio optimisation, to reduce emissions, protect investments and reduce peak risks.’

Energy suppliers also get an opportunity to offer new value-added services with their electricity contracts – which Jani believes will lead to happier customers who ultimately decide to stay with their suppliers for longer.

‘Customers are the most important part in the puzzle because they are the ones who need to opt to connect and automate their energy consumption’, Jani explains. ‘The benefit is lower energy bills and a lower-than-average CO2 impact, without any compromise.’

The potential reductions in energy bills are significant; while there will be variations according to the energy supplier pricing model and the consumption profile of the consumer, Jani says consumers on a variable price that is based on day-ahead market prices – which is becoming more common in Europe – can save 20-40% annually on their electricity bill.

‘For an electric vehicle in the Nordics, optimising the charging of 50km per night with a 11kW charger can annually save up to €300-400 on the cost of energy’, Jani tells us.

‘Together with suppliers, we can also build models where consumers on fixed-price contracts get a share of the value back for connecting their appliances and letting their supplier steer consumption in a smarter way.’

Smart homes of the future

Every individual’s energy efficiency efforts count, but for Jani real environmental impact will only be possible if tens and hundreds of thousands of users – plus energy retailers and manufacturers across Europe – quickly change the way they consume energy.

‘The opportunity and need to make consumption smarter is a global issue’, Jani says. ‘We’re working with customers across Europe and have engaged with users in Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and France – we are already able to use the tech across Europe and soon globally.’

One key to scaling at pace will involve manufacturers and energy suppliers coming together to promote new services that make consumption more adaptive to the energy system, and then encourage customers to choose them.

Steering consumption away from peaks in cost and CO2 levels often indirectly shifts consumption out of the times when power systems are most constrained.

Smart home appliances can react to sudden changes in our power system for short periods of time; during a sudden change in the power system that could potentially lead to a power outage, your EV – along with thousands of others – could stop charging and help to keep the lights on.

Battery backups

Importantly, Hiven is working with its partners – manufacturers of chargers, EVs and heating appliances – to deliver energy security to every home by leveraging the upcoming vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology of chargers and EVs to form a battery backup and energy store for the home.

This will allow solar installations to push surplus energy to the EV, so heating appliances can draw power from the battery rather than the grid when Hiven’s AI assisted logic determines that it is the most cost-effective option for the homeowner.

Transmission system operators (TSOs), like those demonstrated in California, can also rely on these home energy stores to provide temporary stabilising power to the grid in case of emergency, for which homeowners can be compensated.

A familiar future

‘The future home is only getting more connected and we believe we’re just scratching the surface with the value we can create today’, Jani reveals. ‘At Hiven we want to help these smart, connected appliances to also be energy aware, to change the way we consume energy so it becomes smarter, greener and cheaper.’

The name Hiven itself is a play of the Finnish word ‘particle’ – because the company connects multiple smaller particles to form a bigger system – and the English word for beehive, because the devices connected to its platform are like thousands of busy bees constantly circling the central hive, working together for a greater good.

The platform demonstrates that we make a positive impact without any dramatic changes in our lifestyles.

It automatically shifts heating, cooling and charging to hours with renewable production, without any compromise around the comfort of the temperature in our home or the distance we can travel in our electric car.

For those who worry what the future might hold, Jani paints a reassuring picture of a smart, connected energy system that looks much the same – but doesn’t cost the Earth.

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