On this episode of the IoT For All Podcast, Evergen’s CTO, Nick McGrath, joins Ryan Chacon to discuss the role of IoT in decentralizing the energy grid. Nick opens the podcast by discussing what a decentralized energy grid is and how it works. He then moves into additional use cases of IoT in renewable energy and how hardware and software operate in the industry. Nick then discusses the challenges of modernizing legacy systems and the overall adoption of IoT in the market. To wrap up the podcast, Ryan and Nick discuss the importance of security and how Evergen goes about it.
Having held senior engineering and analytics roles from global Startups to corporate businesses, Nick has over 20 years of experience writing and delivering Software as a Service (SaaS). With his practical and technical know-how, Nick is an expert in leading and building tech teams. A charismatic leader known for his sense of humor and social skills, Nick has expanded the Evergen tech team to over 21 employees across 7 countries. Along with his daily duties, Nick championed “Coffee Roulette” and “Trivia Nights” for staff during the Covid-19 lockdown periods, a testament to the effort he puts into people. A father to a young son, being part of accelerating the transition to renewable energy and reducing carbon emissions is a massive driver for Nick and his daily work. He is a big believer in collaborative team environments where problem-solving is a collective task.
Interested in connecting with Nick? Reach out on Linkedin!
Evergen provides a software platform that enables digital optimization of the energy supply chain, maximizing the benefit of deploying renewable technologies. These include utility-scale assets (solar farms), C&I sites, and thousands of homes and businesses with solar and storage. Their systems are used by retailers, networks, asset owners and operators, and consumers to ensure the optimum function of their assets. Evergen’s mission is to kill a coal-fired power station in 10 countries by powering the transition to a future resilient, renewable, decentralized energy system.
Key Questions and Topics from this Episode:
(01:51) Introduction to Nick and Evergen
(02:27) IoT role in energy grids
(05:08) How Evergen got into the industry
(08:25) Leading use cases of IoT in renewable energy
(10:13) Relations between hardware and software
(12:39) Modernizing legacy systems
(14:55) Challenges of IoT adoption in renewable energy
(15:56) How security works in renewable energy industry
(20:05) What to look for from this industry
– [Nick] What we’re seeing with renewable energy is that we are getting many more decentralized energy production. So think about things like rooftop solar, right? So if you’ve got solar panels on your roof, you’re producing your own energy. And what that means is that there’s many more pockets where energy is being produced and it becomes a lot more complex to be able to manage how that energy is used throughout the grid.
– [Ryan] Hello everyone, and welcome to another episode of the IoT For All Podcast, the number one publication and resource for the Internet of Things. I’m your host, Ryan Chacon, we would truly appreciate it if you would give this video a thumbs up and subscribe to the channel if you have not already done so. If you are listening to us on a podcast directory somewhere else like Apple Podcast, please subscribe if you have not done so already. All right, on today’s episode we have Nick McGrath, the CTO of Evergen. They are a company that is providing a software platform that enables digital optimization of the energy supply chain with a focus on maximizing the benefit for deployment and of renewable technologies. Really interesting company. We start off the conversation talking about the role of IoT devices in the renewable energy industry and the decentralized energy grid, different use cases that are kind of associated with that, as well as challenges in the space, especially around integrating legacy systems and multiple systems into a solution. So very, very insightful conversation, I think you’ll get a lot of value out of it. But before we get into it. If you’re out there are looking to enter the fast growing and profitable IoT market but don’t know where to start, check out our sponsor Leverege. Leverege’s IoT solutions development platform provides everything you need to create turnkey IoT products that you can white label and resell under your own brand. To learn more, go to iotchangeseverything.com. That’s iotchangeseverything.com. And without further ado, please enjoy this episode of the IoT For All Podcast. Welcome Nick to the IoT for all podcast. Thanks for being here this week.
– [Nick] Cheers, Ryan, lovely to be here.
– [Ryan] Yeah, it’s great to have you. I do appreciate you getting up a little earlier for this. I know it’s quite early on your end, but I’m excited to have this conversation. And I wanted to kick it off by having you give a quick introduction about yourself and the company for our audience.
– [Nick] Yeah, cool. I’m Nick, I’m the CTO here at Evergen. Evergen is a company that builds software for the renewable energy industry. So specializing in transforming to a decentralized energy grid.
– [Ryan] Fantastic, yeah. So one of the interesting conversations that we haven’t had the chance to have on this podcast all that often is around renewable energy, the industry itself, energy grids, IoT’s kind of role in all of that. And I wanted to kick this conversation off by having you talk about the role IoT and IoT devices themselves play in the renewable energy industry and the decentralized energy grid. And also, when we talk about the decentralized and energy grid, could you explain kind of what that means for those who may not really understand it?
– [Nick] Yeah, sure. So let’s start there. So traditionally energy with the electricity grid as we know it has been produced by centralized generation assets. So I think big coal fire power plants or nuclear plants or anything like that. So one central location where we produce this energy and that just, then that energy gets sent out over poles and wires to people’s homes. What we are seeing with renewable energy is that we’re getting many more decentralized energy production. So think about things like rooftop solar. So if you’ve got solar panels on your roof, you’re producing your own energy. And what that means is that there’s many more pockets where energy’s being produced and it becomes a lot more complex to be able to manage how that energy is used throughout the grid. In terms of IoT, the role that IoT plays in all of this is being able to read all the information that’s coming from all of these decentralized assets, ship that information into a centralized place so that you can make smarter decisions about what you do with that energy at that time. And that’s basically where Evergen sits. So we collect all of that information, we couple that with other things like whether information or price information, and basically then use that to be able to make decisions about what we do with the energy. A large part of the decentralized energy grid or an important factor is energy storage. One of the things that we know about renewable energy is that it’s not as reliable as firing up a coal fire power station for 12 or 24 hours at a time. So you gotta take what you get when you can get it. So the key is to make sure that you store that energy when you produce it and then just feed it out when you need it.
– [Ryan] Absolutely, can you talk a little bit about your experience in this space? ‘Cause I’m curious to hear a little bit about the company’s kind of, like, how you all got into this space. I know you have a history of of being a device manufacturer and playing on that side of things, but being a company that is more software focused when it comes to IoT devices in renewable energy, what opportunity did the kind of company see to make that transition and to start playing in the space? ‘Cause like I said, it’s not a conversation or an opportunity that I have a lot of experts on here to talk about, but I think it’s a really important one to kind of address.
– [Nick] Yeah, sure. So Evergen was formed through a collaboration between a finance company and a federally government backed think tank here in Australia called the CSIRO. And the CSIRO would basically come up with a way of being able to optimize the way that energy was used from a battery. And this is way back in 2016 or so. And so AMP Capital funded this and the company was formed which was called Evergen. So while the theory was pretty solid in terms of the optimal way to use a battery and to use the energy stored in a battery that was typically produced from solar power, there was no real mechanism by which to control the battery, and so Evergen started out life developing physical IoT devices that would then be installed onto the batteries and would use those IoT devices to send telemetry back home, run our algorithm and then determine what the battery should do and then send commands back to the battery so that the battery would either store that energy or use that energy or meter it out however it should. So that was all well and good, but manufacturing and installation provides a couple of problems. A, it’s a lot more difficult and a lot slower to sort of, you know, gain a larger footprint. And when you’re talking about, I guess the ambition that we have here at Evergen and what we see with the decentralized energy grid and how we wanna be able to affect it, we kind of had to start growing a bit faster. So in 2019, our CEO Ben Hutt sort of swapped us around from being a hardware manufacturer that installed things into purely a software-driven approach where we could start to rely on a lot of the OEM vendors who were already providing this IoT style information by then. We were able to rely on them and the APIs that they were producing. So we could actually bypass that physical connectivity and just use the software connectivity straight to the manufacturers, get the information we needed from them, and then run our algorithms back in our space and then send that battery command or whatever it is back to the manufacturer’s API and they would then do the heavy lifting onto the IoT device, which is the battery in effect.
– [Ryan] Gotcha, okay. Makes total sense. And when it comes to IoT playing a role in the renewable energy industry, can you talk us through some of the other kind of leading use cases and how IoT devices are kind of really playing a role in the space as opposed to obviously before we had access to a lot of these technologies, it wasn’t available But now that a lot of these new technologies are kinda coming available, what are some of those leading use cases that you’re seeing from an adoption standpoint?
– [Nick] Well, it’s all about the ability to understand what’s happening immediately in control assets. So the number of assets is growing exponentially at the moment. Whether that’s, you know, individual solar panels or an array of solar panels or an entire solar farm or wind farms or inverters or batteries. There’s all sorts of things that need controlling, and to be able to control them, you need to understand what’s happening with them, right? You also, I guess, need to be able to couple that information. So what you know about what’s happening physically at any given site, you need to be able to couple that with what you know from other sources. So being able to sort of collect all of that information from all of those sites is really, really quite important. There’s safety aspects of course. So making sure that assets are operating within, I guess, a boundary of safety, so that you can predict maintenance or predict when things are going to break down. So having that understanding of all of the telemetry that you get from these devices is kind of the important part as I see it.
– [Ryan] Gotcha, and can you talk about the relationship between the hardware manufacturers and the software players in this space, and is this an industry or I guess are the solutions in this industry usually provided by one single organization, meaning that people are building end-to-end solutions hardware all the way through the software side themselves or is this more of a similar to a lot of other industries within the IoT space where it’s more partner-centric and you have the hardware players, the software provider kind of working together to bring these solutions to market? And what does that kind of relationship look like when it comes to these renewable energy solutions that are out there?
– [Nick] Yeah, so it’s a bit of a combination. So we worked really, really well with a bunch of different battery manufacturers, excuse me. We worked really well with a bunch of different battery manufacturers and they’ve been fantastic at, I guess, giving us access to their APIs and helping us as a software provider sort of guide the direction that their API probably should go and giving them guidance on that. We’ve also started working directly with some of the OEMs and providing that capability on their behalf. Essentially if you’ve got a battery manufacturer, they can do the whole thing. As in they can build the IoT devices, they can build, you know, the battery and the chemistry and the inverters and get all those working on site. They can start collecting that information and sending it back. But once it’s there it’s kind of, well there’s not a lot you can do with it, and so you need someone like us, like a software aggregator if you will, of these renewable energy assets to be able to collect information from them as well as a bunch of other manufacturers to provide a much bigger footprint. So if you think about it from the point of view of, say an energy retailer who wants to have a bit of an idea about all of the assets that are within their remit, it’s important that they don’t concentrate on the battery manufacturers themselves ’cause they’ll only get a tiny snapshot of that picture whereas if they come to an aggregator like us who’s got a good relationship with each of the battery manufacturers and they can get a much more complete picture about what’s happening on the energy grid at any given time or within their customers.
– [Ryan] For sure. Yeah, that makes total sense. And when you are, I guess, integrating these solutions and working with companies that are adopting them, how are legacy systems or let’s say just multiple systems that are already interacting with the, I guess, end product actually, how is that challenge usually handled? Because I know in a lot of other industries when you working with legacy systems, you’re working with just multiple systems that are all playing together, integrating something new like an IoT solution could sometimes cause challenges. And I’d love to learn a little bit more about what those challenges are as it relates to the renewable energy industry in general.
– [Nick] Yeah, so like you say, this is, it’s an evolving industry and everyone’s learning. And the battery manufacturers themselves, like they’re typically concentrating really hard on developing batteries, developing their chemistry capabilities, developing their logistics and installations and, like, you know, there’s a lot going on there. And yeah, the software side of things is I guess one of those things that is sort of almost an afterthought at times. And so dealing with that’s been a little bit difficult. But again, you know, we’ve got I guess a really, really good relationship with a lot of our battery manufacturers these days. So we can go to them with advice and we can say, hey, look, you know, maybe you should try doing this a little bit differently or maybe we could cut down on traffic if we did things slightly differently. So we are lucky in that sense. Like we’ve sort of, I guess, layered a lot of the groundwork from that point of view. Yeah, it’s an evolution, like, it’s an evolving thing, it’s an evolving space, there’s always more capability that’s coming online. And so just sort of staying ahead of that curve and just making sure that you’ve got a good understanding of the roadmap that, you know, the battery manufacturers have got and that our roadmap sort of matches with their capabilities, that’s kind of one of the more challenging parts, I guess. And especially given, you know, we’ve got so many integrations now with so many different manufacturers. There’s a lot of a lot of moving parts.
– [Ryan] For sure. And what are some of the other challenges that maybe I haven’t brought up here that you all have seen as it relates directly to IoT adoption in the renewable energy industry? Since I know each industry kinda has their own challenges when it comes to the adoption. What are some of the stuff you all are seeing from your side of things?
– [Nick] I don’t think there’s been too many challenges from the adoption of the IoT, I guess, paradigm. The biggest challenges we face in the renewable energy industry is probably the political challenge and just trying to make sure that, you know, what makes sense for society and for people is, yeah, what’s being, I guess, understood by the community at large. And so that’s a bit disappointing. But in terms of the IoT space, like the technology, there’s no real opposition to it. I think anyone who works in this space is sort of forward thinking as it is and so everyone’s keen to make sure that, you know, everything works as well as it should.
– [Ryan] Right, yeah, no, that makes total sense. And how is security handled in the space? ‘Cause security’s gotta be really important anytime you’re touching any energy solution, energy grid, anything that, you know, we’ve kind of been talking about here. Seems like a lot of the use cases potentially rely pretty heavily on a security element. How is that usually handled or what is that kind of thought process like for these types of solutions?
– [Nick] Yeah, so we take our security quite seriously. So we went through a process of getting ourselves ISO 27,001 accredited a couple years ago, fairly onerous tasks, but essentially what it does is it places a lens over the top of everything that we do to make sure that we’re taking our information security quite seriously and we’ve got really rigorous processes around our security. The IoT space, so everything that the battery manufacturers do, the secure link between say, their devices and their cloud, that’s essentially out of our hands. But basically whatever they do needs to be sort of robust in terms of just a secure connection. Then from our point of view, when we’re connecting to the OEM APIs, they’ve all got very, well, not very different, but they’ve all got different security, I guess, models that they use. And so for us is just to make sure that we’re respecting the security model that they’ve set up just to make sure that we’re doing everything that we can to make sure that there’s no security holes where people can sort of gain access and then essentially gain control of a large number of assets on the electricity grid.
– [Ryan] Right, yeah, I was always curious ’cause it seems like there’s obviously a very high risk there for, we talk about this as it relates to almost any industry that IoT’s playing a role in, but security in when it comes to the renewable energy, the energy grid and things along those lines, seems to be much higher stakes than some of the other solutions that we talk to when it comes to the security elements. So it seems like the security should be at the forefront of all these solutions at any time someone is adopting one of these solutions that should be kind of top of mind.
– [Nick] Yeah, absolutely. I mean if you think about, you know, some of the larger older style physical assets. so like a power plant for example, yeah, the security implications of someone sort of gaining access into one of those sites and doing something nefarious is enormous. I guess the benefit with us is if we do see a breach, like, we’ll know about it quite quickly and we’ll be able to shut it down and the blast tried will be much smaller because it’ll be isolated to probably smaller sites. So that helps but I mean, you’ve gotta stay vigilant, right? Like, you’ve gotta make sure that you’re on top of your security posture and make sure that everything that you do is sort of passed through that security lens to make sure that you don’t have those breaches and that you don’t afford people those opportunities.
– [Ryan] Absolutely, yeah. It’s an interesting challenge, I feel like that’s almost like a moving target at times when it comes to that. It’s from a lot of the conversations I’ve had in the past, security is something that people and organizations definitely stress, but at the same time, there are a number of solutions that get released or get, I guess into the pilot in early stages without security being kind of at the forefront of their mind when it comes to the planning. And most of the advice that we’ve always received and passed along to our audience through these conversations is there’s really not an early enough time that you can be thinking about security and how to kinda handle that when you’re building a solution.
– [Nick] Yeah, well, I mean, you know, things will happen, right? Like, have a look at what happened the last past recently. Yeah, mistakes are gonna happen, mistakes get made. The key is not trying to stop mistakes from happening or anything like that, it’s how you respond it. So making sure that you’ve got a good plan for responding to any potential breach.
– [Ryan] Totally agree. No, absolutely. So one of the last things I wanna ask you before we wrap up here is, so what does the future look like when it comes to IoT playing a role in the renewable energy industry? You know, what are you all most excited about seeing or where do you kind of see the industry going in terms of adoption increasing, technologies, use cases, you name it? What should we be kind of looking out for?
– [Nick] Scale. So this is, like, it’s off to the races at the moment. I mean, if you just have a look around at the amount of money that’s being poured into the renewable energy space and all the new wind farms and solar farms that are being produced all around the world, the effort that’s going into the R&D for things like electrolysis, for, you know, hydrogen, hydrogen storage, hydrogen transportation, like, different battery technologies, like, it’s an exploding industry at the moment. So it’s an exciting space to be a part of. You know, you think about, you know, cars driving around and you think about EV chargers and you think about the way that, you know, we’ve got essentially these batteries on wheels that are able to sort of have positive effects on the electricity grid if we can use them in the right way. And all of this is predicated on being able to sort of gather that information from these remote locations and make smart decisions about what you do with it and then send that information back. And that’s all predicated on that sort of IoT paradigm.
– [Ryan] Absolutely, yeah. It’s a super interesting space to watch. I mean, we’ve talked about energy in general, but obviously the renewal energy spaces is a segment of that that we, like, I mentioned, we haven’t covered a ton, but I think is very interesting to follow because of how the application of IoT technology can play a role in the space and what’s already being done and kind where it’s going. For our audience who wants to learn more about what you all have going on, maybe follow up with any questions from this conversation, anything along those lines, what’s the best way that they can do that?
– [Nick] So the BBC in conjunction with the World Energy Council recently did a series of short videos. I think we feature one of those videos, but that’s probably available on YouTube and I could probably send the link for that, Ryan, but, like, that’s a series of small stories sort of concentrating on different innovative technologies within the renewable energy space of which IoT plays an enormous part. So it’s worthwhile checking that out, I think.
– [Ryan] Yep, I actually had the link. So we’re gonna put that in the description of the video so that our audience can check it out as well.
– [Nick] Cool. And then I assume going to the website and being able to kind of contact the team if there’s any kinda other follow up that would be interesting for our potential listener.
– [Ryan] Yeah. Okay, perfect. Awesome, well Nick, thank you so much for taking the time. Really appreciate it. Again, like I said, a topic we haven’t covered a ton of, but very excited that we were able to have you on to kind of showcase what, not only you have going on, but also what’s going on in the renewable energy space as it relates to IoT, how IoT’s playing a role. So I think our audience is gonna get a ton of value out of this and I really appreciate your time.
– [Nick] Yeah, cheers, Ryan. Appreciate it, thank you.
– [Ryan] All right, everyone, thanks again for watching that episode of the IoT For All Podcast. If you enjoyed the episode, please click the thumbs up button, subscribe to our channel, and be sure to hit the bell notifications so you get the latest episodes as soon as they become available. Other than that, thanks again for watching and we’ll see you next time.