My kids play with LEGOs and work together to assemble puzzles, which is pretty normal stuff, but as far back as he can remember, clean energy enthusiast Ben Hill grew up playing with solar cells. His father was one of the founding fathers of today’s photovoltaic industry, Robert Hill, so that shouldn’t be surprising, but those early years set the trajectory for the rest of his life.
CleanTechnica caught up with Ben on the 2019 Electric Vehicle Road Trip Middle East and learned about how Ben has helped grow global solar companies around the world, including a stint at Tesla as its Vice President of Tesla’s operations in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, where he oversaw the launch of Tesla’s Powerwall and Tesla Energy.
A New Company
To truly tap into his passion for renewables and to maximize the opportunity he saw in the integration of solar and energy storage intelligence, Ben left Tesla in 2017 to build a new company from the ground up. And so it was that B3 New Energy was born.
Ben said that B3 New Energy was created to provide his decades of experience in the solar, energy storage, and virtual power plant industries to companies ranging from global behemoths to small startups to financial institutions as they work to maximize the benefits of the new energy transition. In the year since he launched his consultancy, he has made significant progress in realizing that goal and is working to scale up in the year ahead.
B3 New Energy is providing consultancy services for investment banks on solar, energy storage, and EV charging and infrastructure, in addition to serving as a specialist consultant for other consultancies. These services are critical to helping the industry move forward, but what Ben is really passionate about, and what he loves doing at B3 New Energy, is helping startups get their ideas into the market. “I consult for or I’m in several different companies that are in energy storage or virtual power plants right now,” Ben said.
Virtual Power Plants Solve Problems At Scale
Virtual Power Plants (VPP) leverage the power of centralized intelligence to control distributed energy generation, energy storage, and demand response resources to meet the needs of grid operators. During the peak solar production each day, the grid operator may need all that excess energy sucked up and might activate some energy storage units to store the power. As the evening demand peak surges, the operator might call on a block of EV chargers to throttle back their usage in order to keep things humming along nicely.
The whole VPP is orchestrated by a central intelligence that responds to the operation of its individual units and leverages them en masse to maximize the benefits they provide to the grid. In the new world of distributed renewable generation and energy storage, VPPs are the conductors that keep everyone playing nicely together.
Solving The Right Problem
His passion to create and build comes along with the inevitable need to deconstruct teams and organizations. That’s never fun, Ben said, but it is necessary at times, before rebuilding the right team that can take on the challenges of today.
It took several decades for photovoltaic solar to achieve the scale necessary to challenge incumbent electricity generation technologies, and less than a decade for lithium-ion energy storage to become a serious player. In the last few years, the falling costs and technology improvements with batteries have changed the game for stationary energy storage, which has revealed the secret sauce that holds solar and energy storage together — that is the intelligence that powers the energy storage. This is true for both grid-connected and off-grid applications.
Ben explained that it is not a simple matter of wiring a battery into the grid that solves problems and adds value, but rather, it is the ability to intelligently dispatch the battery to store up power at exactly the right time or to dispatch its stored power to fill a gap that makes the difference. Depending on its size, that battery can be in your home, factory or nearby field, including tapping into the battery of your EV with vehicle-to-grid technologies.
Most recently, Ben joined forces with Solo Energy, in September of last year, as its commercial and technical advisor, where he will work to accelerate the company’s move into the “virtual power plant” space. “I’m incredibly excited to be working with Solo Energy,” Ben said. “The team has a strong vision for the future, and its peer-to-peer trading concept using the latest blockchain technology is cutting edge.”
The future of renewables and energy storage is being built right before our eyes thanks to experts, team builders, and passionate leaders like Ben Hill. Stay tuned to CleanTechnica as we continue to dig and explore the emerging world of smart energy storage solutions, among other topics of interest.
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