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sts.components.contact.mr.placeholder Sebastian Webel
Mr. Sebastian Webel

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Pictures of the Future
The Magazine for Research and Innovation
 

Innovations: Inventor of the Year - Dr. Roland Gersch

Open Innovation: Start-up Caterva Turns Private Homes into Power Suppliers

Dr. Roland Gersch, the Technical Director of Caterva, has been named Inventor of the Year 2016 in the Open Innovation category for his archivement in introducing a networked storage system for solar energy.

Open innovation involves developing something new in a collaborative effort in which company boundaries are erased. Siemens spin-off Caterva has established itself as a start-up in the area of decentralized power generation. Caterva’s technology makes it possible to store the energy generated by solar power and feed it into the grid. Roland Gersch, Caterva’s Technical Director, has been named an Inventor of the Year 2016 in Siemens’ Open Innovation category.

Technical director, company founder, manager and software developer: Inventor Gersch wears many hats and works a lot as a result. The 37-year-old and two co-owners established Caterva in 2013 as a spin-off from Siemens. The company is now part of next47, the new business unit at Siemens that will co-found, coach and fund start-ups. New ideas are to be turned into a business success faster than before by stripping away the restraints imposed by a major corporation.

Caterva perfectly exemplifies how ideas that originated within Siemens but that do not fit neatly into the company’s existing portfolio can be turned into a reality: A portion of Caterva's software was developed by Siemens researchers and then passed on to the new company. The 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) units.

The photovoltaic system on top of the roof, not only generates power for the household, excess energy can be fed into the power grid.

While at Siemens, Gersch served as a venture manager and developed new business models for energy and automation. When Caterva was established in 2013, the inventor resigned from his position at Siemens and became technical director at the start-up. Gersch is fascinated by the complexity of the business model. His company does not just provide owners of PV units and energy generation companies with mature technology. Caterva also earns money by providing reserve power produced in a swarm to stabilize the electric grid.

A project launched in summer of 2015 with 65 private households has demonstrated that both the technology and the business model work.

A project launched in the summer of 2015 with 65 private households has demonstrated that Caterva’s technology and business model work. “We were the first to introduce this business model in the German marketplace,” says Gersch, who is interested in much more than the company’s entrepreneurial and technological characteristics. As he sees it, if Germany's energy transition is to succeed, a much larger number of decentralized producers will have to contribute to its reserve power system than is now the case. And this is where Caterva fits in because its system helps to balance the difference between incoming and outgoing power and to maintain grid frequency at 50 hertz. Up to now, conventional power plants have done this job.

A pilot project launched in the early summer of 2015 with 65 private households has demonstrated that Caterva’s technology and business model work. Caterva is now selling its storage system and is generating tremendous growth in the process. The company guarantees the customer that the batteries used in its system will remain fully functional for their entire 20-year service life – the minimum length of a Caterva contract.  The company believes that it can keep this pledge because of endurance tests that Holger Wolfschmidt, an expert in chemical storage systems at Siemens Corporate Technology in Erlangen, conducted on the lithium-ion batteries used in Caterva’s system.

Following 1 million hours of measurement time, specialists determined an optimized design for Caterva’s battery storage system. Siemens will profit from the trove of data researchers collected during the tests. The data can be used to predict the behavior of the batteries. The researchers now want to study other battery types to gain knowledge that could be used in other energy-storage projects being conducted by Siemens. “I’ve known Roland for a long time,” Wolfschmidt said. “I’m really happy that he is being recognized for his great work.”

Roland Gersch is proud of the fact that Caterva was able to turn its complex technology into a marketable system in a short period of time. “In the first year, the service hotline was transferred to my cell phone so that I could help members of the pilot project team right away,” Gersch says. “You have to make such a commitment when you start a company. But the phone didn't ring much after all.”

Katrin Nikolaus