LineVision and GE team up to fortify the electrical grid to handle more renewables

One of the biggest hurdles to decarbonizing the grid is getting electricity from point A to point B.

But that’s often easier said than done. Today, nearly a terawatt of zero-carbon generating capacity is waiting to be hooked up to the grid. That’s enough to decarbonize 80% of U.S. electricity by the end of the decade, according to the Lawrence Berkeley Lab.

To get there, though, the grid needs some upgrades, which also couldn’t come at a better time. The U.S. electrical grid is aging — 70% of transmission lines are over 25 years old — and outmoded  — it was originally designed with massive fossil fuel power plants in mind, not distributed renewable sources.

But new transmission lines — the large, high-tension wires that form the backbone of the grid — are expensive. Depending on the voltage and where they’re being built, they start over $1 million per mile and go up from there.

That’s why for the last five years, LineVision has been working on a way to unlock additional capacity on existing transmission lines. The startup recently closed a $33 million Series C led by Climate Innovation Capital and S2G Ventures. With the new funding, the company has been growing its team and moved into new offices down the street from Greentown Labs in Somerville, Massachusetts, where it incubated. It’s also been expanding partnerships with major utilities.

Now, LineVision tells TechCrunch that it’s teaming up with GE’s Grid Solutions division, integrating its dynamic line rating technology with complementary offerings from GE to give utilities a more comprehensive way to monitor their transmission lines and boost the amount of electricity they can safely carry.

The partnership was driven in part by utilities, which are necessarily cautious about integrating new technologies — after all, crashing the grid comes with pretty significant consequences.

LineVision and GE team up to fortify the electrical grid to handle more renewables by Tim De Chant originally published on TechCrunch

Odyssey Energy Solutions continues quest to electrify developing economies with $5.4M seed

There’s been a lot of talk about remaking the electric grid in the U.S. and in Europe, preparing it for a tidal wave of intermittent renewable power and instant-on batteries. It’s happening in fits and starts, with utilities themselves alternately embracing and pushing back against the new, more distributed future. That’s been complicating grid upgrades.

But in places where the grid is unreliable or nonexistent, where incumbent resistance doesn’t exist, potential disruptors are popping up. For years, setting up electric grids on islands or in remote territories was a costly proposition since their relatively small sizes ran counter to fossil fuels’ economies of scale. Now, though, renewables are flipping the script.

Yet even renewables benefit from economies of scale. Scale can be relatively easy to find in places like the U.S., where projects might be large and financing easy to obtain, but in developing countries, it’s all harder to come by. Odyssey Energy Solutions is hoping to change that.

In an exclusive with TechCrunch+, the startup announced today that it has raised $5.43 million in a seed round led by Equal Ventures with Twelve Below, Abstract Ventures, Founder Collective, and MCJ Collective participating. The new funds will go toward expanding its platform that enables the planning, financing, building, and operating of renewable energy projects in developing economies.

Odyssey Energy Solutions continues quest to electrify developing economies with $5.4M seed by Tim De Chant originally published on TechCrunch

Massive iron batteries could be key to displacing natural gas from the grid

With the impending passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, renewables are about to get a fresh jolt in the U.S. They’re already some of the cheapest sources of electricity to build and run, but they haven’t taken over because they’re often dependent on the weather.

The simple solution is to store any excess power produced, but that raises the overall cost of renewable power. That’s set off a race among startups to find the cheapest way to do it, from batteries to compressed air and even giant concrete blocks.

The front runner so far appears to be batteries, many of which use the same lithium-ion chemistries found in EV batteries. The scale of EV battery production has made lithium-ion easy to obtain, allowing it to get a foothold in the sector, but its long-term prospects for grid-scale storage are murkier given its high cost of materials.

Competition for battery materials is intensifying, and there are many uses for batteries beyond EVs, which is why some companies, like Germany’s VoltStorage, are trying to build batteries using the cheapest, most widely available materials possible — chiefly, iron.

Beacon Power Services raises $2.7M to improve electricity access for sub-Saharan African cities

Sub-Saharan Africa’s share of the global population without access to electricity stood at 77% in 2020, according to reports. Also, the average daily electricity supply in some of Africa’s largest cities is less than 12 hours. As a result, individuals and businesses find other options and substitutes, such as generators, to deal with their power issues; however, these solutions can either be costly to use or affect the climate.

While solar grids and panels are another viable option and have compelling use cases for end consumers, there’s still an opportunity to launch products targeted at power distribution companies, and that’s where Beacon Power Services (BPS) plays. The energy tech company, which provides data and grid management solutions to help Africa’s power sector distribute electricity more efficiently, is announcing today that it has closed a seed round of $2.7 million.

Founder and chief executive officer Bimbola Adisa, an aerospace engineer, started the company in 2014 after working several years for a power turbine manufacturer and as an investment banker covering the power sector in the U.S. For the latter, most of his clients included electric utilities, service providers and manufacturers. In an interview with TechCrunch, he said these experiences gave him exposure to the application of technology in the power sector, and he saw an opportunity to apply that in Nigeria and across Africa.

Adisa launched BPS in 2014 to address the inadequate electricity supply from power distribution companies. The U.S.- and Nigeria-based utility company provides energy management software and analytics for utilities. Its AI-enabled grid management platform, Adora, solves one of two fundamental problems power distribution companies face in Africa.

The software offers real-time visibility on network performance for electric utilities and connects to every utility asset and customer node on the grid, allowing energy providers to preempt outages and identify network losses, respond to them quickly and distribute electricity more efficiently. “The result is that utilities can operate more efficiently, recover more revenue, and by reducing outages, customers get increased supply of electricity (more hours supplied daily), so everyone wins,” said BFS in an emailed response to TechCrunch on how Adora works.

The other problem is data-focused, tackled by the company’s proprietary platform called Customer and Asset Information Management system (CAIMs). Utilities in Africa struggle to maintain an accurate database of their customers, assets and grid topology (the relationship between assets and customers). The CAIMs solves this by factoring in the unique conditions within which Africa’s utilities operate, for example, poor address systems, and helps them digitize their data, which serves as a foundation for network improvements.

“Africa is home to the fastest growing cities in the world, but when most people think of energy access in Africa, they think of the rural areas with little or no access to electricity at all. However, it is impossible for Africa to develop without significantly improving electricity access and reliability across its major cities,” said CEO Adisa in a statement. “When we realized that solutions designed for mature markets fail to address the unique infrastructure challenges Africa faces, we developed a tailored solution for power companies on the continent to improve daily grid supply of electricity.”

Bim Adisa (CEO)

Adisa told TechCrunch that BPS has grown from a single utility in Nigeria to four utilities in two countries, including Ghana, covering more than 8 million customers (residential and businesses). BPS’ business model entails working with its clients as partners over the long term, and not just to sell products, said Adisa. As such, the company can defer most of the upfront cost of deploying its technology in exchange for service-based payments commensurate with the value it creates.

The eight-year-old energy utility company says it differs from other platforms because it provides “local solutions that factor in the local operating environment in Africa.” For instance, most off-the-shelf solutions created for mature markets do not factor in the frequency of outages encountered in Africa or the network communications issues experienced, but BPS claims its solutions have solved that.

The company’s seed round was led by Seedstars Africa Ventures with participation from Persistent Energy, Kepple Africa Ventures, Factor[e] and Oridun Capital Management. Speaking on the investment, Maxime Bouan, managing partner at Seedstars Africa Ventures, said, “As a society, we have recognized climate change as one of the biggest threats to our generation, and it is critical we use smart capital to support entrepreneurs across Africa who are creating innovative and localized solutions to tackle this challenge.”

The new funding would enable BPS to improve its current products (product upgrades to add new features and incorporate automation) and expand into new markets beyond Nigeria and Ghana, where it currently operates.

A single question changed how Singularity viewed its market

When Wenbo Shi started Singularity Energy, a carbon intelligence platform that today raised a $4.5 million seed round, he never thought he would focus the company on a greenhouse gas. But one conversation with a customer changed the way he viewed his product and, ultimately, his company and the type of customers it now serves.

“The journey was really customer driven, to be honest. When I started the company three years ago, I wasn’t thinking of carbon at all,” Shi said. “The first idea that I had for Singularity was that we’d do intelligent control for batteries, for EV charging, for those types of things. The objective for battery control is always going to be, ‘How can I save money for the customers?'”

A few years ago, Shi and Singularity had that goal in mind when working with the Harvard Innovation Lab, which houses entrepreneurial resources for Harvard Business School students. The university was looking to pair a battery with solar panels on the building’s roof.

“During one of the conversations, they brought up carbon. ‘Can you actually consider carbon as a signal?’” Shi recalls them asking. The university wanted to install a battery not just to save money, but to lower the campus’s carbon footprint.

“I had never thought of carbon because I was like, ‘Oh, I’m a power system guy,’” Shi recalled. But after the conversation with Harvard, “then I was like, ‘Oh, that’s a very neat idea.’ If I know how clean or how dirty the power grid is, then to me it’s another control signal. It’s an optimization objective, which should be pretty straightforward to integrate with the software.”

It turned out that incorporating carbon as a control signal changed the math for Harvard’s battery project. Shi had discovered that optimizing for cost alone would increase pollution, a revelation that occurred after he started analyzing the grid’s carbon emissions on an hourly basis as opposed to the more commonly used annual averages.

Singularity Energy raises $4.5 million seed round to decarbonize the grid

Singularity Energy, a SaaS platform that reports on carbon emissions for the electricity grid, has closed a $4.5 million seed round led by Spero Ventures and Energy Impact Partners and joined by existing investors, including Third Sphere and J Ventures. 

Singularity, based in Somerville, Massachusetts, provides detailed information about the carbon intensity on the grid at any given moment. It also uses machine learning to predict spikes and troughs in carbon intensity, allowing customers to time their energy use to trim their carbon footprints.

The company initially focused on helping utility customers reduce their electricity costs by shaving demand or turning to battery storage. “Three years ago, four years ago, the battery wasn’t really cheap enough to cover all the costs, right?” founder and CEO Wenbo Shi said. “So that we spend a lot of time modeling and coming up with new optimization algorithms to really help the customer make the economics work for battery storage.” 

Along the way, Harvard University, an early customer, posed a question. “Harvard is very sustainability driven. During one of the conversations, they brought up carbon. ‘Can you actually consider carbon as a signal?’” he recalled. “We did a bunch of analysis that demonstrated that, if you only optimize for cost, you will actually increase your emissions instead of reducing emissions for battery storage specifically.”

That conversation set Singularity on a new path, one that also put the company in contact with a new set of customers — utilities.

“There aren’t any models that accurately calculate location-based carbon impact,” said Vandan Divatia, vice president of transmission policy, interconnections, and compliance at Eversource Energy. His company, which serves 4.4 million customers in New England, has an aggressive target of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2030. As the old adage goes, you can’t manage what you don’t measure.

“Today’s methodology includes very gross approximations of the entire region’s emission factors based on whatever is being generated and consumed throughout the region,” Divatia said. “Singularity allows us to use the much better location-based calculation. So if a particular part of the region has more solar or more nuclear or more wind, then it should have a better carbon footprint.”

Working with utilities gave Singularity new insight into the grid, Shi said, and new avenues for the business. “The vision for Singularity is we want to become like a carbon engine, connecting the supply side with the demand side so that we’re the carbon intelligence provider,” he said. “But in order to get the carbon intelligence — in order to get the best data analytics and intelligence — there is no way for you to achieve that objective without working with the supply side.”

“Unlocking accurate and transparent data has been a critical catalyst for all sorts of innovation historically,” said Marc Tarpenning, a venture partner at Spero, who is joining Singularity’s board. “Singularity is bringing the best quality carbon data and actionable intelligence to the market, and we are excited to see all the different ways their products get put to use by their broad set of customers.”

Revel turns to software to keep its e-moped fleet powered without straining NYC’s grid

Revel is turning to an app that gamifies energy use to keep its fleet of more than 3,000 electric mopeds charged without putting a strain on New York City’s power grid.

Electricity is the key ingredient for the Brooklyn-based startup, which has more recently expanded beyond shared electric mopeds and into e-bike subscriptions, fast-charging infrastructure and even an all EV ride-hailing service. It’s not just about accessing power; managing when that power is tapped will be essential for Revel to keep its operational costs as low as possible.

That’s where Logical Buildings comes in. The software company has developed GridRewards, an app that helps customers lower their monthly energy consumption and earn cash rewards in the process. The app’s “virtual power plant” software will help Revel dynamically adjust the charging schedule of its fleet to support NYC’s electrical grid resilience, according to a statement from the companies.

“As we continue to expand our electric mobility products, we plan to be an asset to the grid rather than a liability,” said Paul Suhey, Revel COO & co-founder, in a statement. “Our EV infrastructure and charging operations can play a major role in helping NYC transition to a cleaner electric grid.”

EV adoption and shared micromobility services are on the rise, so many industry players are finding ways to transfer energy between batteries and the grid. EV battery swapping company Ample says its swapping stations can be used to generate backup power in case of an emergency, and even Ford’s new pickup truck, the F-150 Lighting, can power your home in the event of an outage.

In Revel’s case, the company hopes to provide services to the grid like “demand response” operations, where charging stations shed a load when needed in order to provide immediate relief to the grid, something the company just did in NYC. During the heat wave of the week of June 28, the mobility company adjusted its fleet charging schedule to avoid peak demand times.

Revel says avoiding peak demand times also helps to create a cleaner grid because when energy is in high demand, the sources of power generation emit twice as much carbon dioxide per unit of electricity and 20 times as much nitrogen oxides.

Revel also owns a fleet of Teslas for an all-EV ridehailing service that has had to halt its services due to a cap placed on new for-hire vehicles in the city. But at present, the company will only be implementing this technology with its e-mopeds.

“As transportation electrifies, it is imperative that electric mobility companies schedule their charging operations to promote grid resiliency,” said David Klatt, Logical Buildings’ VP of operations, in a statement. “Revel is taking necessary steps to ensure it is a leader in intelligent charging operations, paving the way for the smooth electrification and decarbonization of NYC.”

Swell Energy’s new deal in New York shows how the company plans to spend the $450 million it’s raising

Back in December, Swell Energy said it would be raising $450 million to support the development of distributed power projects in three states. Now, with the announcement of a deal between the venture-backed startup and New York City’s utility, ConEd, industry watchers can get a glimpse of what those projects may look like.

The Los Angeles-based company has a new residential solar plus energy storage program for homeowners in Queens that’s going to be rolled out in partnership with ConEd.

It’s a project that will create solar-powered home batteries for eligible ConEd customers.

New York is actually targeting the rollout of 3 gigawatts of installed energy storage capacity by 2030 with a goal of moving the entire state’s electricity grid to zero emissions by 2040.

With the ConEd project, the city is hoping to create backup power for customers in Queens that they can tap independently of the energy grid’s own resources, which should free up power for customers that don’t have the energy storage tech.

Homeowners that participate in the project may qualify for incentives that lower the cost of the systems, which are initially being offered to residents of Forest Park, Glendale, Hunters Point, Long Island City, Maspeth, Middle Village, Ridgewood, Sunnyside, and parts of adjacent neighborhoods in Queens.

The New York virtual power plant differs from other initiatives from Swell in that it provides available capacity to specific distribution circuits on the grid to reduce customer demand on circuits during network overload periods, according to a Swell spokesperson.

With the virtual power plant, ConEd won’t need to build out new transmission and distribution infrastructure, but can still ensure network reliability. It’s what’s called a “non-wires solution” to the demand problem, Swell’s spokesperson said.

By contrast, the company’s Hawaii projects provide system-level capacity and frequency regulation and the California program with Southern California Edison, provide demand-response capacity for baseload energy management and overall load growth in the area where they’re operating.

Three energy-innovation takeaways from Texas’ deep freeze

Individual solutions to the collective crisis of climate change abound: backup diesel generators, Tesla powerwalls, “prepper” shelters. However, the infrastructure that our modern civilization relies on is interconnected and interdependent — energy, transportation, food, water and waste systems are all vulnerable in climate-driven emergencies. No one solution alone and in isolation will be the salvation to our energy infrastructure crisis.

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Superstorm Sandy in 2012, the California wildfires last year, and the recent deep freeze in Texas, the majority of the American public has not only realized how vulnerable infrastructure is, but also how critical it is to properly regulate it and invest in its resilience.

What is needed now is a mindset shift in how we think about infrastructure. Specifically, how we price risk, how we value maintenance, and how we make policy that is aligned with our climate reality. The extreme cold weather in Texas wreaked havoc on electric and gas infrastructure that was not prepared for unusually cold weather events. If we continue to operate without an urgent (bipartisan?) investment in infrastructure, especially as extreme weather becomes the norm, this tragic trend will only continue (with frontline communities bearing a disproportionately high burden).

A month after Texas’ record-breaking storm, attention is rightly focused on helping the millions of residents putting their lives back together. But as we look toward the near-term future and get a better picture of the electric mobility tipping point on the horizon, past-due action to reform our nation’s energy infrastructure and utilities must take precedence.

Emphasize energy storage

Seventy-five percent of Texas’ electricity is generated from fossil fuels and uranium, and about 80% of the power outages in Texas were caused by these systems. The state and the U.S. are overly dependent on outdated energy generation, transmission and distribution technologies. As the price of energy storage is expected to drop to $75/kWh by 2030, more emphasis needs to be placed on “demand-side management” and distributed energy resources that support the grid, rather than trying to supplant it. By pooling and aggregating small-scale clean energy generation sources and customer-sited storage, 2021 can be the year that “virtual power plants” realize their full potential.

Policymakers would do well to mandate new incentives and rebates to support new and emerging distributed energy resources installed on the customers’ side of the utility meter, such as California’s Self-Generation Incentive Program.

Invest in workforce development

For the energy transition to succeed, workforce development will need to be a central component. As we shift from coal, oil and gas to clean energy sources, businesses and governments — from the federal to the city level — should invest in retraining workers into well-paying jobs across emerging verticals, like solar, electric vehicles and battery storage. In energy efficiency (the lowest-hanging fruit of the energy transition), cities should seize the opportunity to tie equity-based workforce development programs to real estate energy benchmarking requirements.

These policies will not only boost the efficiency of our energy systems and the viability of our aging building stock, creating a more productive economy but will also lead to job growth and expertise in a growth industry of the 21st century. According to analysis from Rewiring America, an aggressive national commitment to decarbonization could yield 25 million good-paying jobs over the next 15 years.

Build microgrids for reliability

Microgrids can connect and disconnect from the grid. By operating on normal “blue-sky” operating days as well as during emergencies, microgrids provide uninterrupted power when the grid goes down — and reduce grid constraints and energy costs when grid-connected. Previously the sole domain of military bases and universities, microgrids are growing 15% annually, reaching an $18 billion market in the U.S. by 2022.

For grid resiliency and reliable power supply, there is no better solution than community-scale microgrids that connect critical infrastructure facilities with nearby residential and commercial loads. Funding feasibility studies and audit-grade designs — so that communities have zero-cost but high-quality pathways to constructable projects, as New York State did with the NY Prize initiative — is a proven way to involve communities in their energy planning and engage the private sector in building low-carbon resilient energy systems.

Unpredictability and complexity are quickening, and technology has its place, but not simply as an individual safeguard or false security blanket. Instead, technology should be used to better calculate risk, increase system resilience, improve infrastructure durability, and strengthen the bonds between people in a community both during and in between emergencies.

Mainspring Energy launches its flexible fuel generator with a $150 million NextEra Energy contract

Mainspring Energy, the developer of a new generator technology that use fuels like biogas and hydrogen, has unveiled its Mainspring Linear Generator, with a $150 million contract with NextEra Energy Resources.

The company’s technology represents a significant step in the transition to a zero-carbon power grid given its ability to shift between traditional natural gas sources and alternative fuel sources like biogas and hydrogen.

So far, the company’s generators are under contract with a national supermarket chain that’s using the company’s tech at 30 of its grocery stores. The company began shipping pilot units in June and will begin commerical statements in mid-2021 according to a statement.

The company’s tech was initially developed at a thermodynamics lab in Stanford University where co-founders Shannon Miller, Matt Svrcek and Adam Simpson were working. Its design enables the rollout of generators that can replace traditional diesel and be used to improve the resilience of industrial sites against natural disasters.

Their linear generator, which the company said differs from engines, microturbines, and fuel cells, is a device that converts motion along a straight line into electricity using heat or chemical energy. In Mainspring’s case, a low temperature reaction of air and fuel drives magnets through copper coils to produce electricity.

It’s the combination of the design and control software developed by the company that allows its equipment to produce high-efficiency, dispatchable power, without the nitrogen oxide emissions associated with other generators, the company said.

The technology caught the eye of investors like Bill Gates and Vinod Khosla’s eponymous investment firm Khosla Ventures, along with some oil and gas companies like Equinor and utilities like American Electric Power. To date, Mainspring, which used to go by the name Etagen, has raised well over $80 million in financing.

In its approach to energy generation without the need for more complex mechanical systems or catalysts, Mainspring is akin to other startups like the Robert Downey Jr. and Bill Gates-backed Turntide Technologies that are trying to provide more elegant, software enabled solutions to motors and generator technologies.

Mainspring’s generators achieve their low capital and maintenance costs through use of standard materials, only two moving parts, and an innovative air bearing system that eliminates the need for oil, the company said. It operates without the use of complex mechanical systems or expensive catalysts.

The company also touted its ability to spin up and spin down in response to conditions on the energy grid, which means that it can pair well with solar power or battery storage.

“One of our customers’ key drivers, in addition to carbon savings, is to save cost from their current grid prices,” said Miller, in a statement. “Our products can provide substantial savings to commercial customers on their electricity costs with a typical Energy Services Agreement. In this energy-as-a-service scenario, customers pay nothing up front and realize annual savings starting in the first year.”

Mainspring’s first commercial product is designed for a rated output of 250 kW and packaged in a standard 8′ x 20′ container, according to a statement. Those packages integrate two of the company’s125 kW linear generator cores, working in tandem, and combines UL-listed grid-tie inverters and auxiliaries into a turn-key package, the company said. Future configurations will provide higher power output to serve industrial businesses, data centers, hospitals, smart cities, and utility grid-level applications.

“Many commercial and industrial customers as well as utilities want clean, reliable power generation, with the capability to switch to 100% renewable fuels like biogas and hydrogen as they become available,” said NextEra Energy Resources President and CEO John Ketchum, in a statement. “Mainspring is able to integrate clean onsite generation with both renewables and the grid and we’re pleased to support bringing this innovative product to market.”