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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

Solar Power International and the Rise of Women in Solar

Solar Power International and the Rise of Women in Solar

Two inspiring SPI events highlight the growing purchasing power of women in solar.

In October, Yelloblu joined thousands of industry leaders for the Solar Power International conference in Chicago. Amid the excitement of all-star executive panels and solar QuickTalks, we were pleased to see SPI’s focus on an underrepresented (yet growing) demographic: women in solar.

Championed by industry icons including Julia Hamm, CEO of SEPA and Founder of Solar Power International, this year’s event placed greater emphasis on female leadership and sales strategies tailored to powerful female consumers.

Though examples abound, we found two distinct events captured the burgeoning influence of women in the PV market. First, we’ll offer highlights from the sold-out Women in Solar Breakfast and the panelists that energized the room. Then we’ll share discussions at the “Shining a Marketing Light on Women" session, a pre-cursor to the first solar survey on female consumers.

A Seat at the Breakfast Table

The room filled quickly with women of all ages and industry roles, all there to network and be inspired by the impressive female panelists. While PV remains male-dominated, the room provided new promise by hosting the likes of:

Carol Neslund – VP of North American Sales, Enphase Energy
Zeina El Azzi – VP of North American Business Development, SunEdison
Caroline Venza – CEO, MissionCtrlCommunciations

Kicking off the panel discussion was Dr. Isabelle Christensen, president of Professional Women in Solar. A champion in the space, she highlighted recent successes with companies like SunEdison, but also noted that "women still only hold about 19 percent of top leadership positions in U.S. corporations.”

Dr. Christensen shared the movement toward more collaborative leadership and introduced the all-female panel as a pivotal launching pad for a larger movement.

Of all the panelists, Carol Neslund of Enphase stole the show. Witty and self-effacing, Carol shared her experience of being a sole female lead at IBM and her current role at Enphase. She ended by calling for more peer-to-peer mentorship and directed female executives not to “pull the ladder up behind them” as they pave the path for future leaders.

Leaving for the remainder of the show, the room buzzed with energy as women in attendance spoke about how they would apply the hard-fought lessons shared by the panelists.

Women in Solar Survey

Hosted by #SolarChat founder Raina Russo and Identity3’s Glenna Wiseman, the discussion aimed to promote insights from a first-ever women in solar survey.

After getting settled in the exhibit hall, Raina shared data from Marti Barletta of TrendSight Group, who wrote the book (literally) on marketing to women. Amidst the wealth of data, Barletta found that women initiate 80 percent of all home improvements, but a whopping 70 percent feel misunderstood by marketers.

For Glenna and Raina, this represents a serious disconnect between key purchase decision makers and providers, and was the impetus for the female-oriented survey.

One of the most interesting elements shared during the event were from solar installers, like Kristin Underwood, Co-Owner of Planet Earth Solar, who said: “Women do tend to have the pocketbook for the family and be an equal decision maker on many or all of the sales I have sat in on…but more often than not the salesperson directs the conversation to the man of the house.”

This and host of other anecdotes helped whet our appetites for the final survey results, due to be released mid-November 2013 during another #SolarChat tweet series.

The first of its kind, the survey promises to offer unique insights into female purchasing decisions and new marketing methods; elements PV providers would be wise to internalize as the role of women in the industry expands.

Posted by Gretchen Fitzgibbons

Battlefield Roof

Rooftop Solar

How the fight between residential solar and utilities is shaping the future of household energy.

On rooftops across the U.S., a battle for the future of household energy is raging. On one side stands residential solar. On the other: American utility companies.

According to industry data, the pace of residential photovoltaic installations is booming, with one new solar unit installed every four minutes by the end of 2013.

But as more households take advantage of the falling cost of rooftop solar, utilities struggle to make up for lost revenue and stem customer attrition. Many utilities fear that as solar transitions from a niche to mainstream energy source, they’ll lose the revenue they need to maintain the far and distant reach of the power grid.

A Stormy Situation

Despite its inherent eco-friendly advantages, solar alone can’t sustain the future of residential energy. Even if every American household installed solar panels, the intermittent energy source still leaves considerable gaps in electricity demand. Though recent innovations have dramatically improved solar cell efficiency, advanced storage technologies lag behind. When the sun goes down, most customers still rely on utilities for a steady stream of power.

Utility companies are left trying to figure out how to make up for the revenue shortfall, and they’re coming to different conclusions.

When only a portion of energy customers utilize solar, a utility company’s costs are absorbed by the rest of the population — which carries the risk of disproportionately hitting lower-income households that cannot afford solar startup costs.

Some utilities are responding defensively, charging premium prices to those who install solar panels on their homes. Others are going straight for the solar companies themselves, fighting for regulations that would curb solar subsidies. Both of these approaches heighten customer resentment toward utilities, exacerbating tense relationships between residential customers and energy providers.

Better Collaboration Is Needed

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the future of household is energy is going to depend on solar and utility companies overcoming the current struggle and working together. And many utilities are already realizing this.

Some utilities are choosing to invest in residential solar companies, offering customers more control over the energy that powers their homes. Edison International, for example, recently acquired SoCore Energy, allowing the major utility to install solar panels for the customers who request them. Other utilities are buying excess solar energy from residential PV and selling it back to other consumers at a discounted rate.

However solar and utilities choose to work together, one thing is clear: energy collaboration will reign supreme. And pioneering solar and utility companies that choose to work together, instead of in opposition, will be able to take advantage of the shift toward alterative energy.

Produced by: Patrick French

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

A shot in the arm for solar

A shot in the arm for solar

Described as “the Apollo Mission of our time,” recent figures suggest the Department of Energy’s ambitious drive to achieve grid parity for solar has been embraced by the private sector.

Launched in 2011, the SunShot Initiative’s Incubator program invested $17 million in seven companies with the aim of cutting the cost of solar electricity by 75%.

Stimulated by the show of political will, private investors have rushed to support the same companies, to the tune of $1.6 billion in 12 months. Such a flood of private capital shows that, under the right circumstances, business has a good appetite for clean energy.

SunShot aims to lower barriers to solar adoption by bringing the cost-to-consumer down to $0.06 per kilowatt-hour. Their strategies for reaching these goals include:

1) Reducing the cost of PV solar cells while increasing efficiency and new market
2) Shortening the pathway to commercialization for promising technologies and strengthening local solar manufacturing
3) Reducing the cost of concentrating solar power (CSP) and developing utility-scale solutions
4) Investments in education, policy analysis and technical assistances
5) Promoting training within the US workforce to increase solar job creation

Having already brought renewed investment to the sector, it is also hoped that SunShot will reduce some of the “red tape” associated with solar permits and inspections. That could have an equally important affect on solar’s commercial attractiveness.

Watch this space for a profile of some of the innovative technologies flowing out of the program.

Posted by: Julia Sparkman

Follow us on twitter @yelloblu.

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