From LEGO Bricks to Grid Solution

An interview with Artur Löwen, the CEO of Gridhound

14. December 2017 Aachen

A big fan of Game of Thrones and medieval history, the founder Artur Löwen spends most of his time following the hottest energy tech, or better said, creating it himself. All for a good reason – to successfully run his startup Gridhound that develops a solution to monitor and estimate the state of power distribution grids.

Tell us a little bit about yourself – where does your eager for innovation come from?

Since early childhood I seek to understand how things are connected. I love to build and create. Back then LEGO was all the excitement. Then I started to invent computer programs for fun and to automate tedious tasks, steadily increasing my work efficiency. Inevitably I became a software developer by profession, with a passion to enable energy revolution.

What brought you to the energy industry?

During my 15 years of software engineering, I spent the last seven in the energy domain. Software development is a very agile business and I like the idea of transferring this approach to power system engineering. For three years I worked at the Institute for Automation of Complex Power Systems (ACS) at the E.ON Energy Research Center at RWTH Aachen University. This is where the business idea of Gridhound was born.

What inspired you to found Gridhound?

The idea for a machine-learning based power grid state estimation was triggered by a discussion with a distribution system operator (DSO) in 2013 during my time at the Institute for Automation of Complex Power Systems at RWTH Aachen University, where power system and information and communication technology engineers very fruitfully combine their unique abilities. The DSO expressed the need for an affordable capacity management, but did not know how to ensure full grid transparency in an economic way. This very input and its implications for the future readiness of power grids sparked mine and my ACS colleagues to pair machine-learning with grid operation. Two years later, after a lot of research, planning and a proof of concept within a dissertation, we founded Gridhound.

What does Gridhound do?

Gridhound accelerates the energy revolution and enables distribution system operators to optimize grid operation and avoid failures. It uses a machine-learning approach to monitor and estimate the state of low and medium voltage grids in real-time. The energy transition or energy revolution, however you want to call it, is something we cannot hide from, thus distribution system operators need to be ready to face challenges that are coming along the way.

What are these challenges?

Grids were never designed for distributed generation or e-mobility. They were designed with some reserves, but those are reaching their limits with more and more heavy loads. Let me give you some practical examples. In Bavaria there are over 250.000 photovoltaic units. On sunny days at noon they cause congestions in the medium voltage grid. Another real-life example. There are 8 engineers, each owns a Tesla and live in one city district. They all want to charge their cars after work. At full charging speed this would completely overload the grid. Current network control solutions are not able to solve these problems, at least not economically.

Gridhound is a spin-off of E.ON Energy Research Centre in Aachen. Are you still working together?

We still keep a close connection with the research center. It allows us to be aware of the latest research and integrate it very, very early. We are proud to be part of three EU-Horizon-2020 projects together with the research center, all with the goal to allow more renewable energy sources in the grid and enabling the DSOs to solve the challenges of e-mobility.

What is your biggest challenge of working on grid solution?

For us the biggest challenge is not the technology, but rather a very complex market in which we are working, which deals with critical infrastructure. The role of the DSO is changing, just as the way of the energy flow itself. It used to come down to the medium voltage grid from the transmission system, now it goes up from private households. The DSOs are in a very different position than just a few years ago. And the energy transition is not going to stop here. This is the first time, since decades, that the participants are forced to change the way they used to work. What is more, current EU regulations do not really support DSOs anymore. For example, investments in cable and hardware are encouraged, investments in software and efficient processes are not. Although I am sure we will see improvements here sooner or later, DSOs have to stay open-minded on how to bridge the gap, test and accept new ideas and concepts. This is where we want to guide and support them.

What are the next steps of Gridhound?

The next steps are field trials, further analysis, funding and market entry. We have already scheduled 4 field trials for 2018 to improve and finalize our product. After that, still in 2018, we will bring the product to the market. Of course, to bridge the time to break-even we are in need of additional funds. Our vision is to grow the solution into a full “active” distribution automation system for power distribution grids, being the most valuable, accurate and affordable service on the market.

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