Lars Joelsson already lives like an energy customer of the future and uses his smartphone to remotely control the geothermal heat pump in his 1930s detached house.
“I’m no gadget freak, but when technology makes it so easy to save money while preserving the environment, people become interested. We at Vattenfall have to keep up so that developments don’t outpace us.”
Lars Joelsson, today a senior advisor and future strategist, is the third generation of Vattenfall employees in his family. He started 37 years ago and previously headed the department that plans, controls and sells Vattenfall’s energy production in the Nordic region. Over the years, he has seen the Nordic energy system almost double in capacity and six nuclear reactors be put into operation in Sweden. One of the great changes he has witnessed in recent years is that the costs of building wind power have become almost the same as or less than those of conventional energy sources. “And soon that will also go for solar power,” he says.
But development never stops and new major technological leaps are in the offing: “Technology knows no limits, and electricity production will look quite different in the future, with flexible customer solutions and renewable energy generation. Better and less expensive solar cells will give solar power a great upswing, and batteries made of new materials will allow surplus energy to be stored in quite a different way to today.”
Joelsson strongly believes that customers will want to play an active part in the market, both as producers and consumers, and in doing so take control of their power expenditure. His personal and everyday life already reflects this. Thanks to mobile phones and computer communications, a world of smart and simple solutions has opened up to him. The centre of it all is his mobile that remotely controls and manages connected devices via various apps in conjunction with cloud services from dedicated providers. “It’s safe to say that the next energy revolution will take place at home,” he says.
ONE OF THE FIRST
The Joelsson family took the first step ten years ago by replacing the electrical heating in their detached home with a geothermal heat pump – an investment of about 15,000 euros that paid for itself within less than five years. Instead of electricity representing a hundred per cent of their heating costs, the heat pump manages easily with 25 per cent of the electricity previously needed to heat the house – it extracts the rest of the heat free of charge from the ground.
Joelsson recently reduced his energy costs by another ten per cent by replacing the heat pump’s thermostat and outdoor sensors with a computer-controlled system that communicates with the heat pump in a more intelligent way. The system measures how heat is stored and transported in the house and takes the weather into account to find the best solution. It also considers the price of electricity to further optimise usage. “By using the house’s heat storage capacity in the best way, the house becomes a part of a system that evens out the power load on the network without comfort being affected,” Joelsson says.
The system costs roughly 300 euros. “The only downside is that it is not from Vattenfall, instead it was developed by a small Swedish company called Ngenic. In the ‘bad’ old non-deregulated times, Vattenfall ran research projects across a broad front. The development of the heat pump also goes back to that time.”
Joelsson is convinced that the new technology will quickly be embraced by customers: “You do not have to be a gadget freak or an inventor nerd to get these systems to work,” says Joelsson and demonstrates another novelty: a car app he has installed on his phone that allows him to remotely lock and unlock his car, see how much fuel is left, switch the heater on or off and see exactly where the car is located. He also uses Vattenfall’s remote-controlled Smart-Plug to switch various power devices in his home on and off from his mobile as well as monitor their power consumption.
WHAT’S UP NEXT?
His summer house on Gotland is next on Joelsson’s list to control remotely. Until then, he is content with using a simpler form of monitoring: a remote-controlled power switch with a SIM card plugged into a wall socket. The device can send texts to his mobile telling him about the temperature status. It can also be text-controlled to switch a radiator connected to the wall socket on or off.
Joelsson also plans to install solar panels and generate his own electricity. But not on his house in Bromma, as the roof is not ideally angled towards the sun.
“In the future power network, I will be able to generate electricity on the roof of my house on Gotland and use the corresponding amount of energy in my house in Bromma,” he says.
The energy landscape certainly has changed in the last few decades and will continue to change even more: “My grandfather, who was a Vattenfall employee and built the grid in Norrland, and my father, who was an operations foreman on Göta Älv River and worked for Vattenfall 51 years, would hardly have believed what is happening. As for my son, who is currently doing his thesis at Vattenfall, he takes energy efficient and flexible energy solutions for granted. Me, I am happy to have the opportunity to be part of these new possibilities.”