COP27: Protecting the IP behind smart grids

In October, electric vehicle (EV) charger manufacturer Andersen, went into administration. These devices are supposedly smart; they communicate with servers and in the future, will offer a way for the electricity grid to balance usage of EV charging, based on electricity demand.

The company has now found a saviour, in the guise of EVios, which has announced its intention to acquire Andersen. Crisis over. Well not really. The demise of Andersen raises important questions on the viability of the services startups build around their products. If a buyer had not been found, what would have happened to Andersen’s existing customers and the smart charging software they rely on?

In July 2021 NCC Group posted an article discussing the risks of cloud software. In the article, NCC Group wrote that if the supplier defaults in its service obligations, pulls the plug, or becomes insolvent, its customer loses access to the software. Even if the application code is available through a form of cloud escrow arrangement, NCC Group warned that the software provider’s customers would most likely have difficulties deploying and managing the application since they have only ever experienced it as a user.

While the NCC Group has focused on the professional software buyer, consumers are unwittingly buying cloud-based software-powered services when they purchase smart products. A smart speaker or doorbell is only useful when it is connected to a service. Without it, the device is just a powered brick, which is what happens when an Amazon Echo loses its internet connection. Such devices may be considered “disposable” and can be replaced without major disruption, with one from an alternative provider. The same is not true of smart EV chargers, heat pumps, PV batteries and smart heating systems, which offer a way to manage energy consumption and lower our reliance on fossil fuels for our heating and hot water.

Among the discussion topics coming out of the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27), is the idea of using innovation and technology to transition to low carbon energy systems. Cumulatively, every smart energy device we choose to install in our homes and business premises plays a small part in helping the UK meet its Paris Agreement commitments to lower greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

Andersen was founded in 2015, and by 2022, it ran out of money due to supply chain issues in the automotive sector. How many more smart energy tech startups will go to the wall by 2030? We cannot rely on bailouts from interested businesses to support the customers of those that fail. We need a strategy to maintain and support smart energy companies long after they have ceased to exist.

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