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Can These Three Smart-Grid Startups Ease Solar’s Integration?

Can These Three Smart-Grid Startups Ease Solar’s Integration?

Originally posted March 31, 2014 on Solar Power World

When you think of smart-grid developments, your thoughts turn immediately to solar integration or metering debates. But you should be including smart water heaters and 3D imaging in the discussions.

Three promising Midwest startups may do just that. A few exciting companies from Illinois are affecting the boom in smart grid innovations — and the disruptors behind them.

Whether they’re part of the portfolio at Energy Foundry, a private impact venture capital fund or the Smart Grid Cluster accelerator platform, these diverse technologies stand to put the Midwest on the map this year.

You may never think of water heaters the same way again, thanks to Intellihot Green Technologies. Yes, they also have a part to play in developing the smart grid. Intellihot designs intelligent, tankless water heaters that are built to reduce energy and water use across industrial, commercial and residential applications.

Founded in 2005, the idea for Intellihot was born from necessity after the founder’s own water heater malfunctioned and flooded his basement.

Reasons to watch?
For starters, Intellihot has exceptional leadership, like co-founder Sridhar Deivasigamani. They’re also an Energy Foundry portfolio company and part of the Smart Grid Cluster accelerator.

Among these American-made products are the i Series and iQ Series systems for commercial buildings. Self-cleaning and more compact, they operate 40% more efficiently than traditional water heaters. Who knows what will happen when you add solar energy to that mix?

Whether it’s the home-use or industrial options, keep an eye on this smart take on hot water — there’s more in the tank for 2014.

Building operations and energy markets may have been two ships passing in the night, but the team at QCoefficient aims to change that. The secret is QCo’s software-as-a-service (SaaS) system, which automates, optimizes and scales energy systems to take advantage of building’s thermal mass and improve efficiency.

Or, as QCo describes it, they essentially turn buildings into batteries capable of energy storage on a multi-MW scale.

Take a look at how QCo’s HVAC optimization software evaluates temperature-settings and helps shift consumption to take advantage of lower early-morning temperatures and electrical prices.

Utilities and grid operators stand to gain, too. QCo’s software can help drive 15 to 30% electricity savings and megawatt storage capacity, while introducing elasticity to grid markets — one of the main objections of utilities to adding solar to the grid.

Reasons to watch?
Another member of the Smart Grid Cluster accelerator, QCo connects HVAC operations in individual and larger portfolios of buildings.

Installed in less than two weeks and easy to integrate with existing automation systems, this is one SaaS company that you’ll want to hear more from in 2014.

Grid operators and municipalities crave data, and CityScan unites it all with street-level insights and 3D mapping to make cities (and grids) smarter.

CityScan uses Mobile Terrestrial LiDAR (MTL) to collect street-level data (such as a downed power line) and produce precise 3D renderings of locations to help enhance city safety, improve response times and even help roll out smart grid developments.

From street sign compliance and permitting to grid inventory and preventative maintenance on power lines, this urban data mine seems golden. And think of what this could mean to solar. If you could integrate their solution with solar plant monitoring systems, what couldn’t solar do for the grid?

Reasons to Watch?
A member of 1871 and the Smart Grid Cluster, the software startup’s already a leader in its field, with some of the most advanced 3D visual data collection out there. Couple that with its stable of talented data scientists, and you’ll start to connect the dots on this data-driven startup.

By Gretchen Fitzgibbons, guest writer on Solar Power World

Smart Grid Savings Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated

Smart Grid Savings Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated

Highlights from SGCC’s Dead Simple Consumer Education Program.

What’s a major obstacle to wider smart grid adoption? Consumer education. Yes, there’s ample information available online, but few programs break smart grid technology down into plain English.

Enter the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative (SGCC) and their no-nonsense educational site: WhatIsSmartGrid.Org. The site not only serves up Smart Grid 101 and local energy resources, but showcases real-world success stories and benefits illustrated through a series of interactive graphics.

Throughout its arsenal of educational tools, the SGCC always goes back to the basics. Case in point this oft-cited definition of the modern smart grid, saying:

“The smart grid is the evolution of our current electrical grid, using new technology to optimize the conservation and delivery of power.”

The definition (like the site) is purposefully simplified, hoping to reach the over 50% of U.S. consumers who claim they've never heard of the smart grid.

Their mission clear, SGCC is setting out to educate the public, using the new site to make energy efficiency interesting and easy to adopt through options like their e-learning center or drop-down menus for state-wide smart grid programs.

To make the data more real and strike a chord with consumers, SGCC also channels more complicated energy projections into these memorable sound bites:

  • By 2030, the smart grid promises to improve the current system by 9%, saving roughly 400 billion kilowatt-hours each year in the U.S.
  • The potential efficiency improvements could save enough energy to air-condition 378,000,000 homes.
  • This energy savings generated could also power the entire city of Vegas, 207 times over.

The site’s central focus is providing consumers with a single resource to find and share information, as well as staying current on efficiency programs in their regions.

This approach is a good reminder to marketers, startups and smart grid advocates of the power of simplicity in messaging. SGCC’s goal: make the smart grid approachable. Their impact: promoting every-day adoption and spurring consumer demand for more smart grid initiatives in their area.

Find out more on the SGCC’s new site and scroll down their page to find smart grid management programs in your state.

By Gretchen Fitzgibbons

How Nest Labs, Uber & View Cleaned Up in 2013

How Nest Labs, Uber & View Cleaned Up in 2013

And what it means for cleantech investing prospects in 2014.

You could say cleantech startups started 2014 off with a bang – a big one – as Google shelled out $3.2 billion in cash for home automation company, Nest Labs. This deal isn’t just big news for Nest, it’s big news for home efficiency and green app companies who see it as the start of more promising investment in the New Year.

To see what lies ahead in 2014, we looked back at three cleantech companies who won big in 2013.

Nest Labs: Former Apple Innovator, Tony Fadel serves as CEO of the home automation company, known mainly for their eco-smart thermostats and smoke alarms. Nest’s programmable thermostats use auto-scheduling technology to learn users’ daily habits to modulate heating and cooling, while maximizing energy efficiency. The company secured over $80 million in investments in 2013 before striking startup gold with their recent acquisition by the guys at Google.

View: The Silicon Valley startup manufactures “smart windows,” capable of absorbing varying amounts of light to provide energy efficient thermal management. In early January 2014, View raised $100 million from private equity firm, Madrone Capital Partners (associated with the Walton family), in order to boost production of its patented View Dynamic Glass technology. What piqued investors’ interests? The new technology senses incoming light to automatically transition between four different tints, which reduce heat and glare. Over the past year, View has installed its smart windows into roughly 50 locations across North America including colleges, hospitals, and hotels.

Uber: The car-sharing mobile app, which allows users to hail rides from nearby drivers, secured $258 million in investments in 2013. The San Francisco startup has sparked controversy from legislators and taxi-drivers regarding its low-fares. However, last September the California Public Utilities Commission unanimously approved ridesharing services, marking a milestone in Uber’s development.

With the recent influx of green innovations (and new funding), 2014 is shaping up to be a breakthrough year for cleantech.

Produced by Remi Dalton

Recharging the Electric Vehicle Market

Recharging the Electric Vehicle Market

Why the fate of the electric car hinges on consumers’ ability to plug in.

Electrical vehicles have grown in popularity over recent years due to increasing gas prices and a thirst for U.S. energy independence. But with a variety of electric vehicles already on the market, why haven’t innovative cars like the Nissan Leaf or Tesla Model S become ubiquitous sights at every stoplight?

The short answer: consumers have limited options to recharge their vehicles. For decades, our transportation economy has been built around convenient access to gasoline and diesel stations. Making the challenge for EV's not simply about cost differentials, but accessibility to nationwide recharging stations.

President Obama’s goal for 2015 is 1 million electric cars on the road, but if we plan on hitting those lofty goals, it will require far more than a few extra charging stations. Widespread electric vehicle adoption will call for serious adjustments to our transportation infrastructure.

Without a Socket

Electric vehicles have yet to compete with the range of standard gas-fueled cars. The majority of EV charging needs to be done overnight. Even with an upgraded 240-volt outlet, a standard battery takes 4-8 hours to charge. It is recommended that homeowners invest in home charging stations but high price barriers make it increasingly challenging. And even in large buildings, it’s difficult for landlords to make these kinds of investments when only a few tenants drive electric vehicles.

According to a Carnegie Mellon University study, less then half of electric car owners are without consistent access to overnight charging. If electric car owners cannot conveniently charge their cars, manufacturers and politicians have an uphill battle to drive EV adoption.

A Rechargeable Future

Some states acknowledge these issues and have begun passing legislation. California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont collaborated and announced last month that they are requiring installation of chargers at workplaces, multi-family apartments and at other locations.

Walgreens has offered its own private sector solution, installing charging stations at 800 of its locations – with chargers that deliver as much as 30 miles in 10 minutes. Both of these measures are positive strides toward widespread EV adoption, but considerable progress still needs to be made.

Whether the public or private sectors choose to take the lead, the future of electric vehicles hangs in the balance of convenience. Until it’s just as easy to recharge as it is to refuel, electric vehicles will continue to be held down by their limited range and high price tags.

Produced by Dan Spethmann

Blue Hawaii Is Going Green

Hawaiian Energy

How the island’s lush setting became a paradise for green energy startups.

Hawaii’s tropical setting long ago solidified the island as a premiere vacation destination. The year-round sunshine, pristine beaches, and lush landscape beckon visitors from around the world. But Hawaii’s remote locale and unique environment make it a favorite for another, less obvious group: providers of green energy.

Thanks in large part to an influx of money from the Honolulu-based non-profit Energy Excelerator, green energy startups are flocking to Hawaii to test their innovative technologies on a commercial scale. Energy Excelerator, which just received $30 million from the US Department of Defense’s Office of Naval Research, is funded by the US Department of Energy and provides burgeoning clean energy startups with funding, strategic advisors, and powerful networking opportunities.

Hawaii’s compact, isolated location makes it the ideal testing ground for budding green energies. Because it’s forced to import oil, Hawaii’s electricity costs are 3-4 times the national average. Families in Hawaii pay nearly $4,000 per year for electricity, compared with a national average of $1,200 annually. These increased utility costs motivate the state to welcome green energy projects, even if short-term costs are slightly higher.

In addition to funding and financial incentives, Hawaii also has politics on its side. The state’s clean energy initiative hopes to transition 70% of energy consumption to clean sources within one generation. Pair money and political backing with an island chain full of over-burdened utility customers, and you’re left with an optimal environment for emerging clean energy projects.

Energy Excelerator has already supported 17 innovative energy startups, and they’re currently accepting applications for next year. The program matches funds of up to $100,000 for early- stage startups, and as much as $1 million for later-stage companies.

Below are some of Yelloblu’s favorites from the Energy Excelerator portfolio:

Referentia Systems
Referentia enables utilities to manage the inconsistent energy inputs of renewable technology sources with real-time data visualizations, allowing greater control of the grid and lower operational costs.

IBiS Networks
IBiS Networks produces “InteliSockets” that fit snuggly over existing power outlets. These smart socket transmitters track usage data through a user-friendly software system, enabling corporations to precisely measure energy consumption and implement effective corporate efficiency measures.

Bright Light Systems
Utilizing certified efficiency technologies, such as LED and light emitting plasma (LEP) bulbs, Bright Light Systems offers efficient commercial lighting solutions without reducing brightness or durability—each light is constructed from marine-grade stainless steel and aerospace aluminum. And with an average lifespan of 50,000 hours, the longevity of Bright Light’s bulbs allows for additional savings.

Know of any green energy startups looking to take the next step? There’s still time to apply for Energy Excelerator’s 2014 program. The application period closes on September 27.

Produced by: Patrick French

Sustainable data storage? The answer is within.

Sustainable data storage? The answer is within.Primary tabs

In 2011, we hit almost two trillion gigabytes of digital data and some say we’ll double that again next year.

Keeping all that information requires 500,000 data storage centers, chewing through 30 billion watts of electricity a year. It’s little wonder, then, that the information and communications industries produce as much CO2 as aviation. At about $300,000 per month, big storage centers are also expensive to run.

More efficient options would make a lot of environmental sense and business dollars. Enter George Church of Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. Recognizing the masses of detailed information stored in our genes, his team is investigating how to harness that capacity for digital archiving.

They’ve already successfully encoded 70 million copies of Church’s book into a minute strand of DNA. Using similar techniques, they say we could download the entire Internet into just 4 grams of the stuff.

It’s an approach that would have massive energy implications because DNA doesn’t need to be plugged in to store information. Stable and sturdy, it’s able to survive 100s of thousands of years under any earthly conditions. That means no heating or cooling is required. Imagine if we could back up all the world’s data into a vial tomorrow. We may never have to build another storage center.

Admittedly, the process needs to be streamlined before it would be viable. Encoding Church’s book was an intensive process. They first digitized it into binary 1s and 0s then converted it into the genomic language of A, T, C and G. Finally, that had to be rendered into a 3D double helix. Reading the books requires a painstaking reversal of the process.

But if we can design purpose-built DNA writing and reading technologies, this could be a great way to save information and the planet.

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