Race car driver Jutta Kleinschmidt hopes to replicate her success on the track in the world of blockchain and electric vehicles, writes Diarmaid Williams

Jutta Kleinschmidt founded Green Energy Wallet last year in a bid to invent a blockchain-powered energy trading system.

Although it’s not immediately obvious, this is a mission inspired by racing cars. Green Energy Wallet is about connecting electric vehicles and home batteries to large energy storage systems for renewable energies to balance the power grid. So where do race cars come into it?

Kleinschmidt first rose to public prominence when she won the prestigious Paris-Dakar rally in 2001 – becoming the first woman to do so. Her passion for all things fast and on four wheels has now manifested in the electric vehicle infrastructure space.

“My first profession was physics engineer. I later went into the auto industry, working for BMW for seven years, before going into professional race car driving. I’m still an engineer in my heart, and during my career as a driver I helped all my teams to develop the cars I was driving. I even worked with Volkswagen to develop a car from scratch.”

That appetite for all things automotive has always found an outlet. Since retiring from the pro circuit Kleinschmidt had been in demand as a test driver. When electric cars came into her orbit, it spiked her interest and she found them ‘not as bad’ as they had been depicted.

“At the end of the day, motorsport was always about using the latest technology. You can see developments and enthusiasm around Formula E now among manufacturers, and Formula E is getting bigger and bigger. The bigger carmakers such as BMW know that if they help develop cars to race electric, they will learn a lot about the battery, about heat parameters, everything. Motorsport is all about trying it – forcing it – until everything explodes. It’s going to the limits.”

“I’m always interested in the new technology. I do a lot of speeches regarding mobility and when this battery-as-storage idea started to be spoken about, I thought it was a good idea. When I researched to see who was doing it, I found that nobody was, so I started to think about what was necessary to make it happen. That’s why I started the company.”

Winning mentality: Jutta Kleinschmidt

Formed last September, Green Energy Wallet has since built a team and partnerships and has performed extensive market research.

The application being developed is aimed at controlling the charging processes as well as handling the energy trading and billing for all common smart devices. Using blockchain technology, the company says decentralized peer-to-peer energy trading will be possible in the smart grid of the future.

The provision of the batteries will be compensated by Green Energy Wallet with a token reward programme.

The application makes it possible to provide low-cost energy storage, realizes profits from energy trading, includes contingencies for emergency backup, uses blockchain technology for decentralized peer-to-peer energy trading and stabilizes the power grid.

The technology will also serve to facilitate the integration of vital renewable energy, serve the fast-growing electric vehicle market, increase battery life by managed charging and make long-term contributions to the environment.

The development process is still ongoing, and there is the tricky business of getting car manufacturers to commit to trying out a new technology. The company is looking for that additional investor to build a first real proof-of-concept for the bi-directional charging station.

“That is the problem,” says Kleinschmidt. “You cannot buy it at the moment – everything out there is only for testing purposes and the people already testing this have their own testing projects, which don’t necessarily fit our application because we also include home batteries.

“If you have rooftop solar and you have an electric car, you want to connect all these devices and use it as an energy storage system. Our main idea is to take the application for that and build it ourselves. The prototype is still in the development phase and not quite ready.”

While there are variations on what Kleinschmidt’s team is building, such as E.ON’s home storage and EV connection, Green Energy Wallet’s product is different.

While she acknowledges the work being done in EV charging and battery storage, and how the company might one day show what its technology can do for those burgeoning projects, Kleinschmidt insists that any work being carried out in bidirectional charging by the company is strictly temporary.

“At the end of the day, we don’t want to be an EV-charger manufacturer, even if we have to develop one now to test all our functions. In the meantime, there is a lot of activity in this direction that we can use in the future. What is not good for us right now is that there is nothing in existence for us to use for the purposes of testing our application – and that’s why we plan to build one.”

Is it possible that the holy grail of utility scale storage could be bypassed completely in the event of technologies such as Green Energy Wallet succeeding? Kleinschmidt agrees that EV batteries could take up the role of such larger storage systems.

Driving change in the energy system

“The market for EVs is growing rapidly. The scale is there if you really started to use that capacity, and not necessarily to build up that additional storage. It’s important then to build up smart grid and energy transportation.

“In Germany we have the problem of producing too much renewables, so even when we have abundant wind or solar, we often can’t transport the energy over the distribution grid. They have to reduce the power production by shutting down wind turbines, for example. That’s not what we want in the future. We should able to transport energy and produce more decentralized energy, allowing it to balance the grid, with the difference going to the main grid – a much more useful scenario.”

Of course new technologies bring with them new and often unforeseen challenges. What if the user’s car doesn’t start when they are set to go to work, because of some unexpected glitch in this newly envisaged energy system? Kleinschmidt believes the application they are developing is crucial to the home and vehicle dynamic.

“The end user is the most important person and the technology must be comfortable for them, and they should not have to think too much about it. It’s important that it’s as easy as possible, as people will only use the app if it is really practical.”

Some of the technical problems to be overcome show the importance of having a bidirectional system to work on, so as to perfect the offering. For example, while charging is not an issue, discharging presents a problem because homes have to be set up with bidirectional charging meters, as the meter must be able to count in both directions. Despite that, Kleinschmidt isn’t intimidated by the technical side, as befits someone who loves the challenges of improving car performance.

“You also have to develop it to be safe enough to contend with hacking, and that poses problems for regulation and for the government. I think that, overall, the regulatory problems are bigger than the technical challenges.”

Germany, the birthplace of the Energiewende, should surely see the benefit of the technology, given the immense difficulty in managing its huge amount of renewable energy in the most optimal way. There is a growing recognition that these new smart control technologies have to be embraced if the country’s energy policy is to meet ultimate success.

Add in the context of the country’s biggest energy lobby pointing out a looming energy gap, as old plants are closed and new ones are not built quickly enough to replace
them.

“The problem is the politicians are so slow. I was in Berlin last week for a whole week of Energiewende and blockchain and a two-day seminar with the German government on that, and they are beginning to understand, but it’s still slow. They understand there is a need for a change in regulation. Take the government money on kilowatt-hour. The public pay a huge amount of the surplus for kWh for helping renewable energy and we need to now use that money more to build the distribution grid in the right way. The support mechanism needs to be changed in a new direction.”

Which brings us to another impediment – the reluctance of a conservative car manufacturing industry to gamble on promising technology. Despite Kleinschmidt’s positive reputation in motoring and engineering circles, she has had to do a lot of persuasion to get them to appreciate the merits of Green Energy Wallet.

“Even with my background and good connections it’s still not so easy, especially with the German carmakers, who tend towards a wait-and-see position. In one way they are watching it it carefully, but don’t want to act on their own in this direction.

“I had meetings with VW about bidirectional charging and asked them for a car to test it. They are very interested in blockchain tech but on bidirectional they are noncommittal – they focus on what it could mean for their battery and question if it’s really needed. You know it’s difficult to get them on board, but we have others like Nissan or Mitsubishi who are open when we talk to them and immediately provide cars to us along with the car’s data.”

Access to the car data for purposes of charging and discharging and securing the authorization around that is seen as vital for the company. But with the quest of securing a willing vehicle manufacturing partner to take part in the EV charging experiment, Green Energy Wallet will of course try to do it themselves, much in the same manner as the German postal system responded when presented with similar automaker reticence.

“German Post saw that most of the air pollution their fleet was creating was coming from the end vehicles in the chain of delivery to recipients’ homes. They decided to get small electric vans for this leg of the chain, and they went to all of the big manufacturers – who all refused, saying there is no market for it. They ended up building the vehicle themselves, and now have their own car manufacturing factory building their own little trucks – and all these other clients that need similar small trucks are requesting orders from them.

“The big carmakers are big enough to act like that, but I think it’s a mistake, and ultimately what they are doing at the moment is losing markets.”

So why are some carmakers so conservative and some so open? The former driving ace has her own theory.

“For petrol or diesel vehicle engines, there are up to maybe 2000 parts. To replace it with an electric engine with 200 parts is quite a leap and they have their suppliers to think of. Remember electric means no exhaust, no petrol tank, and fewer parts from fewer suppliers. They are trying to put off the inevitable for as long as possible.”

Jutta Kleinschmidt is a speaker at Electrify Europe in Vienna in June.

For more details about the event visit
www.electrify-europe.com