One startup, one story: what if you could bottle sunlight?

How a combination of solar power, battery technology and predictive usage algorithms cuts energy bills. Let’s meet Elum Energy.

They weren’t the first people to imagine bottling sunshine, but two renewable energy students were lucky enough to ponder the question ‘at the right time’.

Cyril Colin and Karim El Alami were in California, where the sun seemed to taunt them: abundant during daylight hours, and then nothing as soon as night fell. As graduates of France’s prestigious École Polytechnique, they were studying distributed power systems at Berkeley University, inspired by California’s prowess in renewable energy.

The master’s students wanted to figure out how to store solar power locally so it could be used when needed, and not just when there was sun. The first step was to create a buffer to store solar energy. Although technologically this had been possible for some time, the cost of solar panels and batteries had made it prohibitively expensive. “We came on the scene at the right time,” says Karim. “In the past five years the cost of storage has been divided by five and solar panels by four.”

They created an artificial intelligence algorithm to predict the consumption needs of a building and the production capacity of the solar panels on its roof. The price of energy from the grid varies, and their algorithm enables customers to source power when it is cheapest through software that intelligently manages the consumption and storage of solar power.

After graduation, they set up in California accelerator “Cleantech Open” to find an application for their technology. Most of all, they wanted to adapt it for the European and African markets, where they saw great demand.

They returned to France in 2015, and set up in the Impulse Partner incubator, where they applied for funding and grants – including the French Tech Ticket program which they won. In 2016, they created Elum. They chose France because they wanted to source people from the artificial intelligence talent pool (such as the École Normale Supérieure and Pierre & Marie Curie University) and be close to global utility leaders (including Total, EDF and Engie).

They developed their business model at the Agoranov incubator in Paris. Elum sell their Energy OS software platform to independent energy producers, who finance the installation of solar panels and storage solutions for industrial and commercial clients in return for a share of their utility bill savings over 10-20 years (i.e. a “power purchase agreement”). Elum functions as the brain for such systems, enabling maximum returns.

Beyond energy savings, Elum also offers additional services, such as power-cut management – a key part of what they can provide in north and sub-Saharan Africa, where outages can be common. Even micro-cuts can damage profitability, as they can destroy machines and lead to operational losses. In Africa, Elum have secured two ongoing contracts with independent energy producers, and see future deals though electricity suppliers diversifying into solar power, as well as ELUM ENERGY independent project developers.

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