Energy Excelerator Provides Boosts for Clean Energy
An agency called the Energy Excelerator is giving 15 clean-energy startups a boost this year with cash, good advice, synergy and the most important fuel for success: connections
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Here are the startups that will be supported by the Energy Excelerator in 2014:
Transportation and Bioenergy
AutoWatts helps consumers pair the purchase of an electric vehicle with a photovoltaic system. Many potential EV and PV customers are intimidated by the process and paperwork, so AutoWatts simplifies them for consumers and gives auto dealers an extra revenue stream when they sell EVs. Car dealers may prefer selling regular cars because they earn less revenue over time on electric vehicles – EVs require less maintenance and no oil changes, and have much simpler architecture than cars with internal combustion engines. By helping replace these lost revenue streams, AutoWatts gives car dealers a greater incentive to sell EVs.
TerViva has proprietary varieties of the Pongamia tree that thrive on marginal agricultural land and can supplement farmers’ incomes. The non-GMO tree produces a nut high in oil and protein; the oil can become a biofuel and the leftover seedcake can feed cattle.
Naveen Sikka, founder and CEO of TerViva, says the yield and harvesting methods of the Pongamia make it a great fit for Hawaii. Its fruit can be harvested using nut-shaking equipment similar to what macadamia farms use, “and, in the early years, you can get mixed use of the land with cattle grazing and even intercropping,” he says.
In early trials, the biofuel yield has been about 400 gallons per acre per year, or roughly eight times that of sunflower or camelina, Sikka says. The company is testing the technology in fields in Kunia and outside Haleiwa, as well as some fields outside Hilo. Targeted acreage in the next 12 months is about 350 total on the two islands.
Sikka says the Excelerator is a great facilitator for getting clean technologies to market. “Not all companies are ready on Day One for commercial financing, so the Energy Excelerator is in place to bridge that gap,” he says. “We see the EE grant getting us to the point where future Pongamia orchards can be established in Hawaii with more traditional capital.”
BrightWind is a spinoff from Navatek Ltd., and aims to increase the profitability of wind farms by increasing efficiency with on-blade actuators. The actuators are added to traditional wind turbine blades to help turbines respond to changing wind and climate conditions to achieve maximum efficiency.
“Effortless Energy aims to make home-energy efficiency the no-brainer it ought to be,” says founder and CEO Claire Tramm, a former McKinsey consultant.
The company is currently developing an “Effortless Upgrade” that costs customers nothing. It starts by sending an “energy genius” to a customer’s home.
The genius assesses appliances, insulation, air sealing and air conditioning; if, for example, there is an opportunity to swap an old energy-hog refrigerator for a more efficient model, the company would pay the full cost. It files the needed paperwork for rebates with the local municipality or the state, then coordinates the installation with a qualified local contractor. The company plans to make money by sharing in the savings generated over time from the customer’s utility bills.
The Effortless Upgrade is guaranteed to save customers money from day one while costing nothing up-front. And because the model is a service agreement and not a loan, it doesn’t crowd out customers’ ability to borrow or require them to take any of the energy-savings risk. The company is currently working with the state Public Utility Commission to collect payment for its efficiency service off customers’ utility bills. The company hopes to expand its model to small businesses in the near future.
Ibis Networks: Covered earlier.
Open Power Quality aims to be a catalyst for crowdsourcing power-quality data. Developed by UH professor Philip Johnson, the company aims to use devices in homes to monitor power fluxes and real-time events so grid operators have better data and can improve grid efficiency.
Oroeco is developing a social platform so users can align their personal values with their everyday spending, investments and lifestyle. By linking to data from mint.com, Oroeco can track customers’ spending on airfare, lodging, food and retail and estimate their personal carbon footprints. The company then gives specific recommendations to help them reduce their footprint and offers them the chance to buy carbon offsets.
PeoplePower taps into the power of smartphones so homeowners can monitor and control their electric devices. The company sells smart-grid hardware and couples it with its mobile app. As a side benefit, residents can monitor their homes with live video streaming.
Pyro-E’s proprietary technology harvests vehicular and industrial waste heat to improve energy efficiency. More than 60 percent of all energy used in the U.S. is lost as heat, says Dr. Kevin Lu, Pyro-E’s founder and CEO. Recovering and reusing lost heat will save money and reduce carbon emissions. Pyro-E is working on developing a pilot project with a large industrial partner in Honolulu.
Smart Grid and Energy Storage
Amber Kinetics is developing a kinetic-energy storage system. The hardware is a grid-connected flywheel system that gets charged when excess power is available, and then mechanically discharged when needed – effectively serving as a low-cost battery. The company says three innovations make its rotor system more efficient than its predecessors: magnetic bearings, low-cost rotors and a high-efficiency motor generator.
Ambri is deploying liquid-metal battery technology that was invented in the laboratory of Donald Sadoway at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Sadoway has studied “extreme electrochemical processes” for 40 years, according to the company, and, together with David Bradwell and Luis Ortiz, founded Ambri to bring the liquid-metal battery technology to market. The company has a manufacturing center in Massachusetts and is working on expanding the technology to Hawaii.
Ballast Energy CEO Bryan Ho was raised in Honolulu and understands the need for high-performance energy storage. He and co-founder Bryan Ng met in the graduate program of MIT’s materials science department and developed a low-cost lithium-ion battery. For them, the Excelerator is more about connections than financing.
“The Energy Excelerator provides us with the opportunity to establish a relationship early, with the prime market for grid-tied energy storage, through mentorship activities and energy-specific development activities,” Ho says.
“Hawaii is the perfect market because it’s a relatively isolated grid, which makes the intermittency problem particularly painful. Grid storage is one of a few options available to deal with that problem, but definitely an important part of the mix of technical solutions.”
Shifted Energy, a Kanu Hawaii project, deploys smart-grid, interactive demand-response solutions to capitalize on wasted off-peak energy production. Olin Lagon, executive director of Kanu Hawaii and founder of Shifted Energy, says a lot of wind energy is produced at night, when demand is low and winds are often higher. That energy is wasted, but Shifted Energy’s technology stores the energy in grid-tied water heaters. Shifted Energy has signed two contracts to field test the technology across several thousand homes.
Stem is trying to improve energy storage, which has long been called the holy grail of clean energy because it smooths out the intermittency of solar and wind. The cost of storage remains high, but the payoff to big users is huge. “Cost savings for end customers are the direct benefit,” says Leesa Lee, senior director of marketing at Stem, “but, in the process of flattening energy spikes at customer locations, we also alleviate the burden on the grid.”
Stem’s battery technology allows customers to harvest excess energy when that energy is cheap and store it for later use and, in some cases, sell it to neighboring businesses during peak demand hours. Stem has contracts for energy storage at about 150 sites and recently announced Stem Zero, a no-money-down option that allows customers to pay the company back with a share of the energy savings. Lee says Stem recently closed a deal with General Electric to help scale its technology.
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