Meet CTO Pepijn Schoen

3rd Jan 2022

In the latest edition of our ‘Meet the re.alto team’ series, we caught up with our CTO Pepijn Schoen to discuss his experiences, and aspirations for re.alto.

Pepijn Schoen re.alto CTO

Tell us a bit about your career to date?

Most software engineers are self-taught and I am no exception. I happened to find myself having access to an FTP server of a virtual pet community I was active in when I was fifteen and built new features for the application, scribbling ideas on paper during school hours and implementing it in software in the evening. That was roughly in the time of the dotcom bubble, but I was blissfully unaware of the business part behind all of that at the time.

At university, I founded a company with my best friend to earn money to buy an espresso machine by creating custom web applications. We went to the chamber of commerce together, me on the back of his bike. I became more active in freelancer communities and maker spaces and stumbled upon Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas and Ries’ Lean Startup methodology, which was a great technical approach for building companies.

My first job was in R&D and left me with a tingling sense of doubt regarding whether the product we were making was just technical prowess or whether it would actually be picked up, be used.

I participated in the startup ecosystem by advising three cohorts in the Startupbootcamp Amsterdam and London accelerators as entrepreneur in residence, and later joined one of the members, a hotel booking engine based in Hamburg, as CTO. I learned the hard way that people are eager for pain killers, but vitamins, you have to really sell it to them, and the small value add we had in the hospitality space proved to be too expensive to market.

At Voya, the venture I joined after, there was the challenge of scaling operations jointly with product and sales, fighting on three fronts. I grew a lot there, with new challenges always popping up. Moving a Java monolith to microservices with CI/CD, hiring a 20-person product team in two countries, closing partnerships, leading the product and the compliance team. It was a wild ride and ended with us selling the company in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic to Volkswagen Financial Services.

As a side project, I worked with a friend on more accurate energy load prediction, training a spiking neural network on public data aggregated through ENTSO-E and enriched with local weather data, aiming to build a product that was resilient against temporary data gaps.

The journey at re.alto to build an energy data platform feels like a wonderful culmination of my experience so far, in terms of tech stack, interest in entrepreneurship and in the energy system.

You joined re.alto relatively recently as CTO, what inspired you to work at an energy data start-up?

Since researching reactor maintenance for ITER, I’ve been watching the fusion space and more generally the energy space with great interest. R&D style projects can be fantastic technological advances in themselves, and the flywheel effect of when their findings are viable to build a business on is even more interesting. Knowing exactly who I’m building solutions for makes impact extremely tangible. This combination of innovative technology and empathy for the end users, combined with the freedom to create what’s right, is the magical triangle and is why start-ups are great engines for progress.

Neither waiting for government action to appropriately address climate change, stopping at offsetting carbon footprints nor hitting the streets to protest in Fridays for Future felt like an appropriate thing to do for me. I want to put my time where I think I can make a difference.

In my previous companies, I’ve been fortunate to push entrepreneurship and co-ownership for those who would otherwise only translate requirements into functioning code – including more people when the rising tide raises all the boats. I was able to boost diversity and mental health at work, creating a safe space for people to express themselves. All of this is vital to how we work and, by working in the energy space and in working at re.alto, I can contribute towards a better planet not only as a side effect, but as the main outcome.

Can you tell us more about re.alto Connect?

Solar panels, EVs, heat pumps, electricity meters – there are so many energy devices and even within one device class is a very heterogenous space. Managing consent for one accessing data and steering one battery looks nothing like the other, in terms of returned data, access paradigms and processes.

re.alto Connect is normalising all of that. One singular experience as a platform as a service layer, so that people can concentrate on their key activities, on steering and managing their energy assets. At the core, we have a database specifically optimised for handling timeseries data. A streaming pipeline manages the normalisation and ingress of a large set of data from all kinds of Internet of Things endpoints and connectors. For steering, we have a similar data flow running through an event dispatching architecture to send denormalised, device and brand specific commands to the devices.

We’re running all our services in the Microsoft Azure cloud, opting for a hybrid between serverless and microservice architectures. The infrastructure and platforms offered tailored towards high data throughput were a good fit for what we were looking for, combined with the ability to start at low scales and ramp up when more volume comes in.

There’s a lot of peripheral services that are very interesting to add on to this value offering. I’m thinking about data verification, proving end-to-end that data hasn’t been tampered with, from measurement at the energy meter to consolidation at the utility company, and green-tracking, verifying that the electrons that are being consumed originated from green sources.

Using the digital twin paradigm, we’re looking to exposing a virtual representation of the physical space, including relationships between entities. This means rolling up sensor values to overarching constructs, from a collection of low-end energy meters on production and consumption devices to a wrap-up of the entire household’s CO2 reduction, and from a household to a neighbourhood, a community and so on. Offering business logic calculation plugins that can be composed by end customers allows for an extremely versatile way of creating products on top of re.alto Connect.

Where do we go from here, what are your hopes for re.alto Connect?

We have a very steep growth slope ahead of us, with scaling our infrastructure and team to support more than a thousandfold more devices than today. Having a team that’s diverse in terms of experience, gender identity, nationality and background will best prepare us for staying ahead of the curve.

After closing key partnerships with Octopus Energy, Microsoft, EON and SMA in 2021, I hope there’s a few more technical disruptors we can add to this list.

A point worth celebrating will be when we are able to measure and visualize our impact on the journey to carbon reduction, it remains an important rally point that is the red thread behind everyone’s motivation, and it’s a reason why I’m positive about the work we’re doing.

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