Meet Alex Schoch, Head of Flexibility. His team leads the development and implementation of our cutting edge flexibility products - using our Kraken and Kraken Flex platform to develop tariffs like Intelligent Octopus, Go, and Tesla Energy Plan and also creating cutting edge trials like the National Grid partnership Big Dirty Turn Down.
He's worked to bring smart energy tech to customers all over the world, and as a Senior Director at Tesla was responsible for getting the first Tesla cars across the markets of Asia and Europe. From establishing Tesla Energy to overseeing the development of the latest green energy products and technologies at Octopus, Alex has been a pioneer at the forefront of tech and innovation.
I had a chance to sit down and chat about his fascinating career and hear first-hand why flexibility is the key to a green energy future.
Samsam: What do you do at Octopus?
Alex: My team and I are focused on helping customers get the maximum benefit out of being part of the energy transition. Our role is figuring out how to build innovative products and services to help customers become part of this new green energy world. We want to engage customers in the process by offering them ways to make it work best for them by personalising their usage with smart products and flexible tariffs.
Traditionally, customers were just getting a bill for the electricity and the gas that they use. But as we look at the energy transition, we're going from a country of a few 100 power stations dispatching power to a country with 1000s and then soon 100,000s of renewable generators.
We need to fundamentally change how our energy system works, to be able to match our energy generation to customer’s usage. That’s where we come in.
The Smart Homes of the Future
Samsam: What drew you to Energy and Tech?
Alex: I studied modern Middle Eastern history and South Asian economic development but I spent my summers doing various tech, vehicle and sustainability focused internships in Silicon Valley.
Then, in 2009, I started work at Tesla. I went on to help lead Tesla's expansion into Europe as we went from the Tesla Roadster to launching the Model S. In a few years, we went from three stores and less than 100 people to over 20 stores and locations across nine countries.
My project was to figure out how to get their very first car; The Tesla Roadster, to customers all around the world who'd bought them.
I took a sabbatical in 2014 to work for a car manufacturer in Shanghai but was asked to come back to Tesla by the co-founder as their battery storage business, Tesla Energy, was going to be launched. I re-joined to establish that business in Europe, the Middle East and Tesla's first business in Africa. I then transitioned to leading global business operations for Tesla Energy and helping scale the business around the world.
Samsam: What’s the Tesla project you’re proudest to have worked on?
Alex: Working at Tesla was incredibly invigorating, there's a real mission and sense of purpose. And so, it attracts incredibly high calibre, smart and dedicated people that just want to work together to solve really hard and interesting problems.
Being able to create teams and empower really fantastic, high performing people tackling the creation of these unique businesses and breaking down barriers is, by far, my proudest achievement.
Samsam: What led you to Octopus?
I was really impressed by the Octopus brand; an energy company that people trust.
Alex: Greg and I had known each other for years and we were catching up in 2020 about what was next for Octopus. Alongside EVs, Octopus is in the business of wind farms, batteries, heat pumps and much more, so I really wanted to be a part of an innovative company that ensures customers are at the heart of the renewable transition.
In the UK, roughly three out of every 10 cars sold are electric and there is a huge increase in wind, solar and batteries. With our services and this modern tech platform, Octopus is perfectly positioned for an increasingly electrified and sustainable world.
We knew that a key missing bit of the puzzle was next-generation smart tariffs like Intelligent Octopus, which are a way for electric vehicles, heat pumps and home batteries to help balance the grid and pass these benefits back to the customer.
The other appeal of joining the team was that Greg, Stuart and James have been able to assemble a really strong group of very talented people across the business and have a clear long-term vision that I feel aligned with.
Samsam: So, back to the basics: what is flexibility?
Alex: Every energy system needs to constantly balance supply and demand, flexibility is the term used to define the tools used to do this. In the old world it was what happens at every coal power station, or gas power plant when the power is turned on or off. When it comes to renewables, solar and wind cannot simply be switched on whenever we need them, but there are still times when there is too much or too little power generated by the sun or wind.
In these cases, flexibility is where we can change how much power we need to match the sun and wind power generated: like using batteries to store the excess energy and discharge when needed. .
We can also encourage people to change when they use energy by offering them cheaper energy or account credit during certain hours in the day. That allows us to collectively use less energy at times when we don't have as many green electrons in the system - instead of firing up a coal plant.
Samsam: How does Octopus Energy look at flexibility differently?
Alex: What sets Octopus apart is our holistic whole system approach to flexibility and ability to manage the entire process from generating electrons to consuming them. We invest in our own wind and solar farms, we develop and sell our own green products and services, all of which are enabled by our technology platform Kraken allowing customers to benefit from this the most.
I think Octopus is perfectly positioned to harness all the power that is generated from the grid, from heat pumps (which are both cheaper and more efficient than gas pumps) to EV’s. Each of these can help us manage the surplus of energy generated.
For example, an electric car can store a huge amount of energy and on average actually only needs to charge 2-3 hours per night. Which means that we can ensure that every single charging session can help balance the grid, such as soaking up excess wind power, while also having the car fully charged and ready to go at the time the customer needs it by
We want to show the rest of the world not just that it can be done, but that it is being done.
Samsam: What's so important about your work? Particularly, when it comes to reaching NetZero?
Alex: Harnessing and scaling all these new forms of flexibility, and enabling customers to engage with their green energy usage is a critical pillar for us to create a healthy, sustainable future.
To make sure that we have a climate that isn't completely destroyed and a planet that isn't completely ravaged, we need flexibility to become a seamlessly integrated part of everyone’s life.
Alex in the desert, making the most of mother nature.
Samsam: Can you briefly describe how some of our other popular smart tariffs and flexible products work?
Alex: Sure; it all started with Agile, which is a dynamic tariff with prices that are tied to the wholesale market. This allows customers to benefit from a different unit rate every half hour and it’s fascinating to see customers brilliantly navigate their own usage out of peak hours to save money. There are even times that the Agile prices plunge into the negative when there is an oversupply of green electrons, allowing customers to get paid for using energy.
Then came Octopus Go, followed by Go Faster – tariffs with one price in the day time, and a super cheap overnight slot designed for EV drivers to charge without adding strain to the grid.
Analysing customer energy use on these tariffs, we've seen people move 28% of their typical 'peak' energy use into the cheap overnight slot, when energy is greener – so it's clear these kinds of price signals have a massive impact and really do change behaviour.
Where we're at now is Intelligent Octopus: the next generation of EV charging which allows us to integrate directly with your car and charger - guaranteeing you the cheapest charge and greenest available electrons at a time that's best for balancing the grid. I consider electric vehicles the gateway drug because customers often go on to get a heat pump, solar or a battery. Of course, it can get complicated making sure you are making the best and cheapest use of it, so that is where Intelligent Octopus comes in, where you simply sign up and save up to 50% as we manage everything in the background.
We can offer our services really seamlessly by utilising our tech platform Kraken, Kraken Flex and our mobile app. This clear vision and end to end service is unique to Octopus, because we are involved at every stage.
Samsam: Do you have to have smart tech to benefit from these flexible tariffs?
Alex: No, not necessarily; there are more traditional ways for customers to engage with the grid. In fact, we have done it so successfully that we have been helping National Grid and other power networks adopt our methods. For example, we ran the Big Dirty Turn Down with National Grid, to show them that by something as simple as emailing customers to limit their energy use at certain times for a small reward could massively reduce demand on the system overall.
Until now, when there was too much energy demand the only option would be to turn more generators on last minute, which was dirty and incredibly expensive. So, this was the first time they realised how effectively they could work alongside consumers to balance the power system. Later today we are actually hosting an industry wide briefing on how this service can be adopted more widely.
Samsam: What does your department do vs. Kraken-Flex + product design, and how do you work together for the customer’s benefit ?
Our flexibility team sits right in the centre of how all these departments are tied together to launch and scale cutting edge solutions.
Alex: Kraken-Flex is the software that enables us to manage and optimise all sorts of devices, such as EVs and heat pumps, while also connecting to various grid balancing markets.
For example, with Intelligent Octopus it’s Kraken-Flex that connects to the cars and optimises them based on the inputs from our trading team, while the mobile app captures customer preferences where it's tracked and billed by Kraken. Very soon, we will be adding the Home Mini to mix, which will give customers even more detailed insights whilst also unlocking even more flexibility services (check out my blog on product engineer Derya to read more about these futuristic products).
It’s the Flexibility team that coordinates and manages all these various teams to provide the best possible experience for our customers.
Samsam: The NIC said The UK could save up to £8bn a year by 2030 if it embraces the “smart power revolution”. What steps do we have to take to make that a reality?
I believe we need a cultural shift to upend the old way of doing things, and accept market innovators like Octopus to really push the boundaries of what is possible.
Alex: To do this, a lot of regulation needs to fundamentally change. We have already made a couple key investments with our R&D centre, heat pump installations and other innovative products which are an example of how Octopus can lead that cultural shift. With our heat pump investment we have been able to bring government, industry as well as the media and public perception along with us on the journey.
Samsam: Can you tell us a little about your day-to-day?
Alex: My daily life is varied and each day has a different set of challenges to solve. Some days it's focused on policy and regulatory engagement which Rachel leads, and on others it’s working with our Trading team to optimise our market positions. We also work alongside our Product teams building out new control and optimisation tools. We’re a small but mighty team of 10 and every day is really cool and fun because I'm interfacing with so many great and talented teams and individuals across the business. Ultimately, my day always comes down to three major things: 'Are we moving fast enough? How are we focusing on improving our solution and tech? And what cool, new ways can we encourage customers to engage with their energy?'
Samsam: What's the coolest thing coming soon to the flexibility industry in the near future?
Alex: One of the really big things that some incredibly talented people are working on and investing in around the world is long duration energy storage. So, batteries or other technologies that can store energy for days. This will be a reality in the next 2 or 3 years and it will be a game changer for deep energy system decarbonisation.
Samsam: Can we get a little sneak peek into the future of Octopus flexibility?
Alex: Well, the Home Mini is only the beginning of really cool customer insights and real time cost tracking.
Keep an eye out for some really cool things in this arena, coming soon…
The Octopus Home Mini
Samsam: What is one message that you really want people to take away?
I want people to know that all the ways to run a fully renewable energy system today are already possible.
Alex: The public is far more important than the government or industry because if the public demands something, those institutions will find a way to catch up. So, people should know the cost of generating a green electron from solar and from wind is already drastically cheaper than from fossil fuel assets. And the technology to manage supply and demand in real time and the ability to store energy in big or small batteries all exist today. EV’s are hitting the road and bigger, more cost-effective wind turbines are being built everyday.
There is no major technological revolution we are waiting for; the future is already here. We just have to engage with it.
Quick Fire Round
Quick Fire Round
Best Octopus memory?
Building the flexibility team from the ground up with this group of brilliant, innovative people.
Any unusual skills or hobbies?
An incredible road trip through Central Asia.
This year I really want to…
Paddleboard from my house to the mouth of the Thames.