Return of ECOS Earth Day

Return of ECOS Earth Day

ECOS (Environmental Council of Sacramento) Earth Day returned to Southside Park in Sacramento this year after a 2 year hiatus due to the pandemic. Sustainability minded community members and over 100 organizations flocked to the park to connect with each other and celebrate. Exhibitors included EV owners showing off their vehicles, vendors displaying sustainable products, and a painting cafe put on by Shira Lane of the Atrium. Also, we brought the CleanTech Connect Trailer out. Situated right next to the EV exhibit with a solar powered exhibit, I talked with anyone who would listen about the energy transition and the opportunities available. I wasn’t alone though, my trusty companion, Toast, was there to help.

We shared how companies right here in Sacramento are leading the energy transition with innovative solutions. Everyone I spoke to was surprised to hear about the over 100 companies and 9,900 employed in the region, A few of these companies were at the event, including Bing Gu of California-Sunlight  who was showing off his portable solar and battery products. Recent PG&E safety shutdowns have put his business in high demand. Glide Cruisers’ exhibit was just across from us. Founder Chris Wiggins makes electric scooters for people wanting serious fun. Glide Cruisers have the power and sturdiness to take you everywhere.  

We had toy solar cars that we used to demonstrate what the photovoltaic solar panels on the trailer were doing. Based on the attention the solar cars received, I know we inspired the youth about the energy transition. Plus, we were able to connect with their chaperones about the work benefiting their communities being done by SMUD, CRP, and Grid Alternatives in Sacramento.


The ECOS Earth Day was truly a success. Not just because I told over 100 people how CleanStart is working to build the region as a CleanTech hub, but also because we need a vibrant community supporting sustainability andfighting climate change for our goal to be realized. ECOS brought together a coalition of community members working to fight climate change, including the Sunrise Movement, Coral Reef Alliance, Citizens Climate lobby, Sac EV, Sacramento Climate Coalition, Sierra Club, Valley Vision and more. Coming together on Earth Day isn’t about the one day; it is about creating the activity needed to make action happen and keep this planet inhabitable for future generations and Toast.


Thomas Hall


Thomas is the Executive Director of CleanStart. Thomas has a strong background in supporting small businesses, leadership, financial management and is proficient in working with nonprofits. He has a BS in Finance and a BA in Economics from California State University, Chico. Thomas has a passion for sustainability and a commitment to supporting non-profits in the region.

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Ten Companies Present New Products at April 12 Showcase

Ten Companies Present New Products at April 12 Showcase

We had ten regional cleantech companies step up to the plate and offer new products to fill the “innovation challenge” in SMUD’s plan to reach a carbon-free power supply by 2030 at our virtual Showcase.  Over 160 people were watching online.  Here are the highlights.

Paul Lau, SMUD CEO and General Manager, opened with a presentation of the bold Zero Carbon Plan and what it will mean and what it will require.  That vision is driving SMUD to move faster than ever to replace and repurpose its existing assets to become a clean power city.  He sees the need for 3000 MWs of renewables and storage.  Paul showed how they are starting from a really good position, with rates far below the adjacent utilities and pledging to keep rate increases below the rate of inflation and to assure community well-being at the same time.  Of most interest was his acknowledgement that beyond accelerating all the steps they can see now, there is still a role for innovations to fill in a 10% “gap” in the plan—and SMUD is inviting everyone with a good idea to show them how they can meet this challenge and more.  He said SMUD is willing to devote $2 billion to new technologies to be sure to meet the goal by 2030.  

CleanStart Executive Director Thomas Hall then presented the results of our latest survey of our local cleantech hub with some surprising conclusions.  Our hub of core, scalable cleantech companies has now reached a level of 9,900 jobs and $4.1 billion in revenue contributed by 107 companies, up from 85 companies in our 2018 survey.  More importantly we now have companies that have grown from an idea to “unicorn” status with a market value over $1 billion and have raised $1.95 billion in funding in the past three years.  We have gotten on the radar of cleantech investors worldwide.  That is no exaggeration, as huge international companies and investment funds have put money here.  And this is a great time for cleantech investment, as record amounts of investment are being made, valuations are at all-time highs, and VCs are pumping money in faster than ever.  The time is ripe for more innovations to make it to market.  

Among those pursuing innovations, the ten companies at the Showcase impressed the crowd with novel new products that could more than fill the 10% challenge gap.  Here are their “a-ha” moments from innovators that can cut the electricity consumption or add to the supply:

Rick Wylie of Villara Building Systems and Villara Energy, showed two new products they have developed themselves and will be marketing widely—(1) a dual-use air-source heat pump that provides not only space heating and cooling, but also is a water heater, and (2) a home energy storage device based on remarkable new lithium titanate batteries that have longer life and better performance than anything else on the market.  

Sergey Vasylyev of Lucent Optics showed off his lightweight, simple drop-in LED replacement for fluorescent lights in buildings, cutting total energy use by 10% or more.  Just pop-out the old fluorescent tubes, plug the  thin replacement panel into the existing plug in the fixture and slip it into the same slot as the old diffuser.  It is fast and easy.

Bob Guimarin of Off the Wall Energy (gotta love that name) showed how renters and people that can’t afford the expense of big solar panels and Tesla power walls can still take advantage of the rate incentives to contribute to zero carbon and save themselves money at the same time.  Bob showed a simple battery storage device that looked like a big Roomba robot in the shape of a hexagon. It can go anywhere—on the floor, on a countertop, or on a table. It plugs in between an outlet and a big energy using device like a refrigerator or a home entertainment center.  It recharges when power is cheap, and shuts off the power from the outlet when power is costly, keeping the connected device running, all without the owner even knowing it is happening.  It can provide basic back up power in case of an outage and it can easily be moved around to provide power where it is needed in an outage.  It is perfect for renters because they can take it with them.  

Diana Eastman, inventor of ThermēShade, showed how her device can dramatically cut energy losses through windows while preserving the view.  Most people think you need dense-weave, heavy curtains to do this.  Not so.  You can hardly tell ThermēShade is even there.  Diana showed several pictures of actual installation that demonstrated this.

Jerremy Spillman talked about his company provides AI software to take over the job of making existing building energy management systems work optimally, just like having an onsite energy engineer.  They even named the company and the product “Hank”, to make that point clear.  Building owners that have spent tens of thousands of dollars to install fancy new systems to save energy often find out that over time tenants defeat the systems or no one remembers how to adjust it to make the building comfortable.  Hank steps in to learn how the system works, then tweak it to achieve the best results.  Savings could be over 20% in energy use.

On the supply side, Kevin Wolf, CEO of WindHarvest International, showed his vertical axis wind turbine that harvests more of the wind available on a site that what the big blade horizontal axis turbines can do.  He showed that SMUD could add 5,000 MW on sites it has around the county and in Suisun, all with equipment which is quick and easy to install at ground level, not way up in the air.

Ezra Beeman showed how his Electrabank home energy storage device combines several separate devices on homes with solar and communicates with the utility grid to give homeowners the most bang for their bucks.  He has contracts for thousands of new units to be installed, with early customers raving about the unit.

Drew Smith with Smarter Grid Solutions showed how economical microgrids even as small as having 500 kW of connected load can be important “virtual power plants” for the utility.  His parent company already has a substantial battery energy storage system in SMUD’s system, and it could be used as the anchor for a microgrid in the adjacent neighborhood to amplify its usefulness to the utility.

Doug Alfaro of Wallbox Chargers talked about how they are ready to go with bidirectional EV chargers that allow a vehicle to become part of the storage network for the grid and backup for the home.  Most importantly Wallbox has most of the major EV manufacturers on-board with using their vehicles in this way, a step that has been a big hurdle before.  

Jon Fortune of Swell Energy showed how their software can get the most benefit out of solar, storage, and EV charging for the homeowner and for the network.  They have a partnership with Enphase Energy that bought local EV charging company Clipper Creek in Chico.  They are all about providing load flexibility that is invisible to customers but is vital to matching variable renewable supplies to managed loads to avoid any blackouts.  

It was 2.5 hours packed with new ideas.  As one attendee noted, she was taking notes on all this great stuff as fast as possible.  There was so much covered in this Showcase that we will be having a follow-up session on this Showcase to explore more of what our local innovators can do. 

Thomas Hall


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.

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Legend Power Systems:  Getting the Most from the kWhs You Buy

Legend Power Systems: Getting the Most from the kWhs You Buy

Recently we were introduced to an important new clean tech company by Bob Soczak, a long-time local resident who was formerly with SmartGrid Billing.  Bob’s new company, Legend Power Systems is based in Vancouver, BC, and is working on solving a problem of introducing more renewables onto the power grid.  Legend sees California as a prime market for its products and has put Bob in charge of its sales effort here.

The problem is this:  Not all kilowatt-hours are alike.  Some are better quality than others.  The poor-quality ones cost you more because they put a strain on power-using appliances that reduces their lifetime and they contain less usable energy.   Power quality is of increasing concern to larger end-use customers as more variable renewable resources are added to the grid.  Legend Power Systems saw this problem coming 15 years ago and has been working on a product they call the SmartGate™ to give customers a way to optimize the quality of the power they take from the grid.  That saves them money, reduces maintenance on motors and compressors among other devices, and can give them more performance out of any on-site storage or generation assets.  Legend has now deployed over 300 of these systems in North America and are gaining sales momentum.  They are targeting sales in California where the quality problems may be more noticeable with the aggressive shift to renewables.

Why does this problem exist?  AC power systems operate at a nominal voltage and frequency, such as 220 volts and 60 cycles per second.  However, in reality the power on the grid strays from that ideal.  Utilities have standards they must maintain, but they are allowed some variation around these targets.  Frequencies are allowed to stray a little bit, but the more noticeable effects are the variation in voltage and an imbalance between the phases on three-phase circuits.  Many are familiar with utilities going into a “brown-out” at times of an extreme peak.  That’s the result of a voltage reduction and it is a way of stretching available resources to meet demand and avoid a “black-out”.  However, there are many more less serious deviations on the grid that mostly go unnoticed, but they still have an impact on customers—which Legend estimates is $80 billion per year.  With the addition of more resources with unpredictable intermittent output, like solar and wind, it is tougher for grid operators to keep power quality perfect.  Variations can go both above and below the ideal.  Injections and withdrawals using big battery systems help, but they are expensive and utilities can’t afford to do more than keep the power within the allowed range of variation.  The result is that the power from the grid will remain “imperfect” and that will cost customers money.  Projections have been made that grid power will stray from ideal conditions more frequently in the future while staying within the required bounds.  That will increase the problems customers will face.

That is what led Legend to come up with a solution and one that is economical enough to make sense for customers to install.  Their device “reprocesses” the incoming power from the grid to bring it back to near perfect condition.  Many devices can do this but some are expensive and waste energy.  Legend’s device is 99.5% efficient and cleverly uses less-complicated components.  These are not devices appropriate for individual homes, but for large apartment, commercial, institutional, and industrial buildings.  On average, the systems cost over $100,000.  Case studies of actual installations show paybacks of less than 3 years with load reductions and energy use reductions of 5% each.  

The company is pushing hard to get its message out, so you probably will hear more about them.

New Energy Nexus Expands Its Mission

New Energy Nexus Expands Its Mission

On March 7, we heard from Denise Rushing the newly appointed Managing Director for California within New Energy Nexus about the accomplishments and aggressive goals it has for the future.  By way of background, what is now New Energy Nexus began with $30 million of seed money in 2014 coming out of the settlement of the PG&E bankruptcy to create the California Clean Energy Fund (CalCEF).  With the help of more established clean tech funds, CalCEF began investing in individual startups, hoping that the success of those companies would lead to gains that could be recycled into new investments.

In 2016, the CEC created a new program called CalSEED to inject about $25 million per year into new startups through non-dilutive grants rather than equity investments, accelerating the commercialization of innovations from startups far more than the original $30 million revolving investment fund had.  That same year, CalCEF reconstituted itself as New Energy Nexus with a greatly expanded vision to promote acceleration of clean energy ventures worldwide.  Since that time New Energy Nexus has funded, grown, and built innovation ecosystems around 15+ new accelerators in 9 countries, mostly in Asia.  Denise said now that their efforts have assisted in landing over $1.5 billion in new investments for participating startups.  With the global expansion, they have now assisted over 400 startups.  The network they have created and the resources they offer could be very valuable to any startup.  

Their approach has been to create extensive networks and ecosystems, and to support startups over six key activities as shown in this diagram.  They have many useful tools on their website and provide easy access to those provided by others.

“Our Therory of Change” – New Energy Nexus


They also manage the CalTestBed voucher program to subsidize testing and validation of prototypes startups create, generating critical data that investors need to demonstrate the technology does what is claimed.  

Of particular note, Denise mentioned that applications for Cohort 6 of the CalSEED program will open in January.  As you may recall, that Cohort was postponed from this spring, so it is good to know things will be getting back on track.  

Denise herself has quite an impressive background.  She is a registered mechanical engineer and served 8 years on the Lake County Board of Supervisors.  After spending several years with PG&E in marketing and then with 4 tech startups, she founded Tactical Partners in 2000.   There she offered strategic and marketing advice to climate tech companies.  After 20 years, she advanced to New Energy Nexus and then was elevated to her current position.

To get the full benefit of this conversation, a recording of this session is available below.