Good Visual on the Coming Changes in the Grid

Good Visual on the Coming Changes in the Grid

Michael Pesin, deputy assistant secretary for the Advanced Grid Research and Development division in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity, recently gave a talk on the transformation of the grid to make it more DER-friendly and he included a really useful graphic.  His talk relates also to a symposium held by DOE on the future of the grid, where you can dig deeper on the topic.   

Basically, he sees the grid going from a rigid, capital-intensive architecture to a more flexible and “capital diffuse” one where more than just utilities invest in the grid.   He sees five elements in the “Next-Generation” grid, shown in the blue box in his graphic.  I would add a sixth—a very robust cybersecurity system.  In the transformation he describes, there would be much more communication infrastructure to support monitoring and control and the integration of lots of equipment owned by parties other than the utilities.  This new structure is ripe with opportunity for cyber-attack, compared to the conventional system that is more analog and closely held.  Another change implied by his list (flexible generation and load, multi-directional power flow) is the strong possibility that the broad AC network will be broken up into more clusters of load behind an AC-DC-AC link.  That would add a lot of ability to control DER and eliminate some of the burdens it places on the larger distribution grid.  Those links at a small scale are expensive.  Anyone want to innovate a much lower cost back-to-back small converter?  See any other innovation opportunities associated with his view?  Lots of software innovation needed.  Lots of communication systems needed.  Take heed.

Source: DOE

Source: DOE

Thomas Hall

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gary Simon is the Chair of CleanStart's Board. A seasoned energy executive and entrepreneur with 45 years of experience in business, government, and non-profits.

CleanStart Sponsors

Weintraub | TobinBlueTech Valley, Revrnt, River City Bank

Moss AdamsPowerSoft.biz, Greenberg Traurig, California Mobility Center

Four Companies Pitch to Investor Panel

Four Companies Pitch to Investor Panel

We turned the spotlight on four very interesting new startups that are seeking investment in our third pitch night on November 18.  They presented their plans to a panel of five pros who listened and then provided advice on how to improve.  One piece of advice was to come up with a quick phrase that can quickly encapsulate what the company is about.  Maybe something like this:

  • EVLife—Tools like “Turbotax” for simplifying the paperwork of buying an EV and claiming all the credits.  (There are a dozen credits and incentives and many people fail to claim all of them)
  • Ascent Analytics—Tools for slashing two-thirds of the cost of solar installations, the “soft costs”.  (They are taking a captive tool developed by one solar installer and converting it to a SaaS sell to medium-size installers.)
  • Lemna—Saving billions of dollars by growing common duckweed to filter and cleanse waste water from cattle and hog raising.  (The duckweed that grows on the waste water is pelletized for animal feed, closing the loop.)
  • Hexas Biomass—Substituting superior fiber from an exotic plant for wood for making building material and chemicals.  (The plant looks like corn and bamboo had a baby.)

Two of the most common suggestions were:

  • Start with evidence of “traction”, tangible evidence that you have customer interest; don’t start with a description of the technology; investors want to know there is a real business at hand
  • Spend more time developing financial projections so investors see what their returns would look like and how much money it will take to make a company reach breakeven

One of the panelists suggested using a template for presentations that was created by well-known tech VC firm Sequoia Capital and provided this link

The panel members also recommended a tighter focus on fewer products and on a very clear customer segment.  They were concerned the presenters were trying to do too many things and it made the pitch harder to follow.  

The presenters all felt they got a lot of good feedback that will help them as they fundraise.  That’s exactly why we hold these sessions.  Many thanks to our panel members for taking the time to offer their help.

No summary can do justice to the many insights that came out of this session.  If you missed it, we have made it available on our website and on YouTube directly.  

Our next Spotlight Investor Pitch Night will be held in the first quarter of 2022, so watch for our announcement of it.  Tell your colleagues to join us next time and if you have a company you would like to present, please let us know.

A special thanks to those who donated when they registered.  That’s what keeps us going.  If you would like to contribute, see our donations page.

Thomas Hall

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gary Simon is the Chair of CleanStart's Board. A seasoned energy executive and entrepreneur with 45 years of experience in business, government, and non-profits.

CleanStart Sponsors

Weintraub | TobinBlueTech Valley, Revrnt, River City Bank

Moss AdamsPowerSoft.biz, Greenberg Traurig, California Mobility Center

WindHarvest International Wins Sustainability Award

WindHarvest International Wins Sustainability Award

On November 18, the Sacramento Business Journal and Stoel Rives handed WindHarvest the Award for Sustainability Innovation of the Year.  They were one of 8 Regional Innovation winners announced in various categories at the ceremony, one of the few in-person such meetings held since the pandemic started.  It was nice to see so many colleagues again.

We have written about WindHarvest before as they have been advancing their vertical axis wind technology.  Their idea is to double the output from existing wind farms with the big towers and big blades using the same real estate and same infrastructure.  These vertical axis turbines sit at ground level so are easier to service, can fit between the towers and make use of the wind not captured by the big stuff.  Many others have attempted the same thing, only to get marginal results—and in some cases to see their equipment fail.  

Kevin Wolf and his team took the approach of extensive computer modeling to come up with a design that would avoid the extreme stresses that doomed the earlier efforts.  He also innovated a creative crowdfunding approach to underwrite the building of a first demo plant in Texas, providing his initial $1.5 million.  In accepting the award, 

Kevin told a brief story of all the bumps in the road they encountered getting this prototype finished.  Equipment was delivered late and damaged, Covid interfered with construction progress, and it just seemed it was one darn thing after another.  He deserved a Persistence Award as well. He has been getting a lot of customer interest and has started a new $2.5 million funding campaign to begin building the equipment to install on several future projects.

SMUD was the runner-up in this category with its StorageShares program which gives customers the benefit of storage but with an off-site, consolidated installation sited where it is easiest for the grid to handle.  The program would have broad applications throughout the utility industry.  

While it was the winner in the Food and Agriculture category, the Better Meat Company is worth a mention because it also contributes significantly to sustainability.  They produce a fibrous protein product that can be shaped into servings that look pretty close to meat.  The product is based on growing fungal mycelia in a fermentation tank that can be cleaned, processed and shaped into meat-like servings, with a texture and taste that is pretty close to actual meat.  By cutting out the raising of cattle or chicken, and eliminating the use of so much water and animal feed, Better Meat cuts out a lot of environmental impacts.  They have gotten a good reception from some big name food processors and have a 14,000 square foot production facility in West Sacramento.

If you have an innovation that would fit one of the categories for an Innovation Award, please fill out a nomination form and submit your details when the window opens next year.  These awards attract a lot of positive attention beyond the region and attract investors.  The Sacramento Business Journal issue of November 19-25 has a special section on these awards, so pick up a copy.  

Thomas Hall

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gary Simon is the Chair of CleanStart's Board. A seasoned energy executive and entrepreneur with 45 years of experience in business, government, and non-profits.

CleanStart Sponsors

Weintraub | TobinBlueTech Valley, Revrnt, River City Bank

Moss AdamsPowerSoft.biz, Greenberg Traurig, California Mobility Center

Ascent Analytics Launches

Ascent Analytics Launches

On November 1 a new clean tech company came on the scene in our region.  Ascent Analytics emerged as a spin-out from established solar installation and energy management company Infinity Energy in Rocklin.  Infinity built a very useful software tool to shave costs and time from the solar installation process and believes the tool could be very valuable to the whole industry.  Months ago, a chance discussion between Jack Crawford of Impact Venture Capital and Mark Stacey, one of the owners of Infinity, started a business exploration that has now borne fruit.  

Start-up veterans John Meissner and Dan Becker will be at the helm of the new company.  John will be the new CEO.  He has been involved in launching new wind energy and other climate-saving technology companies for over a decade.  He has a BS and MA in Aerospace Engineering from UC San Diego, and has spent most of his career launching companies or helping others to commercialize their innovations.  Most recently he built MXV in combination with local company Momentum to help companies get their ideas out into the world.

Dan took his Kellogg School MBA and has been in the corporate venture world and working on strategy, financial

Dan Becker, Venture Partner

Dan Becker, Venture Partner

management, and corporate management with others.  He was also one of the founding venture partners at Impact Venture Capital.  He’s been around the block.

Ascent closed on its initial funding and now has money in the bank.  It begins with a head start because the product is in use already, has a good track record, and Infinity will continue as a client.  They see $1 million in first year revenue as they are assembling their team, getting their marketing outreach in place.  They hope to scale quickly and have as many as 50 employees in the next couple of years.  

They expect their software to be very popular, because the “soft costs” involved in installations—designs, permitting, work crews, financing—are already a burden much greater than the cost of the equipment itself.  They see that a similar SaaS approach could be a big help to installing storage (stand-alone or in conjunction with solar), fast chargers at commercial and neighborhood sites, and possibly microgrid equipment.  

Ascent will be presenting at our next Spotlight Investor Pitch night on November 18 from 5:30 to 7:30 pm.  It is a virtual event.  Three other companies will be presenting as well.  To learn more and to sign up to attend, go here.

 

 

 


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