We interview Pivot Power’s CEO Matt Allen

BY RICHARD HEAP:

“We think the UK can move faster than a lot of other countries.”

Matt Allen is confident. The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the world economy might slow the shift to electric vehicles, due to drops in consumer confidence and oil prices.

But Allen, co-founder and chief executive of battery storage and EV charging infrastructure firm Pivot Power, is confident in the UK’s long-term prospects.

“Around 65%-80% of all Europe’s wind comes through UK shores. That’s a fantastic resource… and there are some great pockets of solar irradiation around the country. On top of that, it’s a relatively small country that is population dense,” he says. “It is by no means easy, but it’s much easier than other countries than are much larger.”

Using renewables and energy storage to support an electric vehicle storage network is Pivot Power’s main business focus in the next two years. Energy Storage Report spoke to him to find out more about that plan, whether the strategy is being affected by the acquisition by EDF Renewables, and its flexibility around revenue streams.

Pivot Power last month ordered two 50MW lithium-ion battery storage systems from Finnish manufacturer Wärtsilä to support the first two schemes in that EV charging network, in Oxford suburb Cowley and Kemsley in Kent.

Construction is due to start next month despite the UK’s Covid-19 lockdown, and they are due to be operational by the end of 2020. Pivot Power plans to build 2GW of storage for the UK grid.

Allen says that Cowley is the more significant of the two projects.

Pivot Power is working with consortium partners and Oxford City Council to develop a scheme called Energy Superhub Oxford, which is set to showcase innovative energy storage, EV charging and low-carbon heat systems.

Allen calls this Pivot Power’s “ground zero” to make sure it can replicate the model across the UK. The Superhub is set to include a hybrid battery that supports a 10km EV charging network in east Oxford.

He says there are similarities between this and Pivot’s previous work, which included the installation of a 3MW battery storage system at Arsenal Football Club’s Emirates Stadium last year.

He explains: “The 10,000 ft view of what it is doing is essentially very similar to what these large front-of-the-meter 50MW batteries will be doing. That is looking at pricing signals and opportunities to collect during cheap times and discharge during more expensive periods. There are other opportunities for behind-the-meter for avoiding transmission Triad times and distribution costs, and different uses of electricity.”

Allen is excited by the wide range of potential revenue streams for storage projects: “The day ahead, the intra-day, the balancing mechanism, ancillary services, capacity market – there are lots of different products and services we will be able to provide or have access to, and a big part of our job is to make strategic decisions over time,” he says.

It doesn’t just have itself to think about when making those decisions. In November, EDF Renewables bought Pivot Power for an undisclosed sum to support its rollout of renewables in the UK. It is still relatively early days, but Allen is positive on the relationship so far.

“In the UK, EDF has gone from zero megawatts to over a gigawatt of renewables deployed in a relatively short period of time, and with incredible ambitions moving forward to increase that number substantially,” he says. This means that intermittent renewables in EDF’s portfolio will need access to Pivot Power’s storage capabilities.

Allen adds that EDF is “one of those few companies that really understands the core fundamentals of the renewable power market” and has been “really supportive” since the buyout: “They’ve been hands on and added a tremendous amount of value.”

This tie-up between EDF Renewables and Pivot Power is a microcosm of how the renewable energy and energy storage industries rely on the other for growth. More renewables on the grid means more intermittency that storage can manage, but also more price arbitrage opportunities created by that volatility for storage operators.

“The wind doesn’t always blow, the sun doesn’t always shine, and there are different price signals in the market to reflect that,” he says. “That’s where they come together with a vision of what we are trying to achieve, which is a net-zero electricity system.”

However long the current upheaval lasts, that goal remains.

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