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Inventors of the Year 2016

Open Innovation

Open innovation involves developing something new in a collaborative effort in which company boundaries are erased. Caterva has pulled off the feat of establishing itself as a start-up in the field of decentralized power generation – a highly competitive market. Technology from Caterva – a Siemens spin-off – makes it possible to store power generated from photovoltaic sources and stabilize the grid. Dr. Roland Gersch, Technical Director at Caterva, has been named Inventor of the Year 2016 in the Open Innovation category. His business model: Caterva currently has 65 solar power storage units and flexibly offers power reserves to stabilize the grid. Grid operators are willing to pay handsomely for this service. The storage units can be intelligently controlled like a swarm (or “Caterva” in Latin) and are supplied by photovoltaic (PV) systems.

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Cooperation across corporate boundaries

Caterva guarantees its customers that the storage units will remain fully functional over their entire 20-year service life. Caterva believes that it can keep this pledge because of endurance tests that Holger Wolfschmidt, an expert in chemical storage systems at Corporate Technology in Erlangen, conducted on the lithium-ion batteries.

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20 years of optimum operation

After a million hours of measurements, specialists determined the best possible way to operate the storage units. Siemens will profit from the trove of data collected by the researchers during the tests. This data can be used to predict the behavior of the batteries.

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How every PV system owner can contribute to grid stability

Caterva supplies mature technology not only to owners of PV systems but to energy utilities as well. The company also earns money by providing reserve power produced in a swarm to stabilize the electric grid. “We were the first to introduce this business model to the German marketplace,” says Gersch. He believes that if Germany's energy transition is to succeed, a much larger number of decentralized producers must contribute to the reserve power system. This system is used to balance the difference between incoming and outgoing power and to maintain the grid frequency at 50 hertz. Up to now, conventional power plants have done this job.

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Mature technology for the energy transition

Home owners who have a Caterva storage system in their cellars can use an app to check the amount of electricity still available to them at any time. Gersch is proud of the fact that Caterva was able to turn complex technology into a marketable system in a short period of time.

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During our first year, the service hotline was transferred to my cell phone so that I could help members of the pilot project team right away. You have to make that kind of commitment when you start a company. But the phone didn't ring so much after all.

Dr. Roland Gersch, CTO and Co-founder of Caterva