The business model of a 100% renewable energy supplier in the Energiewende era is about building networks. Binding energy and IT networks together, LichtBlick grew to become the German market leader for green energy and green gas, Anke Blacha, press officer at LichtBlick, tells Renewables Now in an exclusive interview.
LichtBlick was founded in 1998 within the scope of deregulating the German energy market. It was the first energy supplier to offer 100 % green energy, but also an energy supplier that had a dedicated IT department from the very beginning. In the first years, the aim was primarily to generate lean solutions for customer management. However, having its own IT expertise allowed LichtBlick to take the energy transition a step further.
"It is not just about expanding renewable energy but also about ensuring plants are intelligently networked and managed in a way that guarantees an optimal energy supply with 100% renewable energy," Ms Blacha says.
INNOVATIONS IN ENERGY SUPPLY
In its nearly 20 years on the market, LichtBlick has developed from solely an energy service provider into an energy and IT company.
It started with the ‘SchwarmDirigent®’ -- an IT platform developed in 2009 as part of the ‘ZuhauseKraftwerke’ (a smart CHP network). The platform is connected to the heat and power plants, links these to the network, and also accounts for energy markets. These days, ‘SchwarmDirigent®’ doesn't just manages Lichtblick customers plants, it can also optimise the work of external plants.
"Property owners today are increasingly generating their own power, which means they only need a minimal amount of energy from their supplier or sometimes they’re even generating a surplus of their own. We want to and we must react to this trend," Blacha explains how the business model of the energy supplier is changing.
"We are already in the second phase of the energy transition," she continues. "The aim is no longer just to expand renewables but rather to find solutions for how we can successfully interlink the generation plants with storage systems and energy markets and thus ensure secure energy supply. That’s why we developed our ‘SchwarmEnergie®’ concept – customers can be part of a ‘swarm’ with their plants and storage systems."
"People who have a photovoltaic system on their roof and a battery in their basement no longer necessarily need an energy supplier. What they need now is someone to optimise how their energy is generated and used and someone who can ideally also offer earnings opportunities by linking the battery to energy markets," Blacha says.
Through its ‘SchwarmEnergie®’ concept, Lichtblick is also looking for customers with a heat pump, night storage heating, or an electric vehicle. "While they don’t generate their own electricity, their storage systems do provide capacity to store electricity that has been renewably produced. We can incorporate them into the ‘swarm’ just like we do the energy producer/consumer."
Our core business is still green energy and green gas, but the customer of today is the ‘SchwarmEnergie®’ customer of tomorrow – and the new world of energy will become a reality more quickly than many may believe," Blacha notes.
"The digitalisation of the world of energy certainly provides us, as an energy company, a large number of opportunities to offer our customers tailored products and services, " she concludes.
One such opportunity is tenant electricity supply or the "Mieterstrom" business model.
FLAGSHIP PROJECT FOR TENANTS ELECTRICITY SUPPLY
LichtBlick was a pioneer for the "Mieterstrom" business model with the „Gelbes Viertel“ project in Berlin.
In the summer of 2017, Germany adopted the so called Tenant Energy Act - a framework legislation which also made changes to the existing Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG 2017), the Energy Industry Act (EnWG) and the Combined Heat and Power Generation Act (KWKG). The move was aimed at opening the solar power market to renters since the homeowners market has started to stall and the pace of rooftop PV installations in Germany was slowing, falling for a third year in a row and running below the government’s annual 2.5-GW goal. Germany also has the lowest tally of home ownership in the European Union (EU) -- just over 50%, so renters have a big role to play in the energy transition.
For its flagship tenant electricity project in the Gelbe Viertel quarter in east Berlin, Lichtblick worked with property manager Stadt und Land to lease roofs to a company which installs, finances and operates the energy generation unit -- photovoltaic (PV) panels on the roof or a CHP unit in the basement. Lichtblick takes on the marketing of the energy produced, feeds excess power to the grid and guarantees the supply.
"Because tenants get their electricity either directly from solar panels on the roof or from CHPs in the basement, grid fees and prorated reallocation charges, such as the German Renewable Energy Act reallocation charge, do not apply. Of course, we pass these benefits on to our customers. This translates to an electricity price that lies both below our standard fee and well below base suppliers’ prices. Customers can also feel good about knowing exactly where their power comes from" Blacha notes.
The Gelbe Viertel project currently involves 8,000 solar panels on 50 buildings, occupied by about 3,000 tenants. The total capacity comes in at 1.9 MWp, roughly equal to 1,000 PV systems on single-family houses.
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