Energy Incubators Sizzle

With upwards of $50 billion of investments needed to bring the electric grid into a digital, secure 21st century – innovators are flocking to energy incubators in nations across the country.

Supporting Energy Sustainability in Nation’s Capital

Networking Magic Boosts Technology Startups

By Dave McCarthy

The proliferation of accelerators, incubators, actuators, combinators, and now even investuators, has made it difficult to figure what exactly is working and what isn’t working in the world of supporting startups.

All of these ‘-ators’ claim to provide some level of office space, mentorship, funding, and connections with the promise of a frictionless path market and big VC money.

The problem is that most of the ‘-ators’ end up as flashes in the pan and flame out as soon as the regional economic development funding runs out.
Potential Energy DC has prioritized focus over breadth and substance over flash for a winning combination. Potential Energy DC has a very tight thesis: energy and sustainability solutions in the DC region are under-served.

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They are all hard at work on hardware and software that will integrate renewables and energy storage, speak to electric vehicles, run microgrids, ward off cyberhackers – and much, more.

The ferment of innovation around energy change is heating up.

The US Department of Energy, the Electric Power Research Institute – the R&D affiliate of America’s investor-owned utilities – and the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory have jointly established the Incubatenergy Network – to nurture this ferment.

The network has garnered $1 billion in funding and $330 million in revenue to support 500 companies.

The energy incubators are popping up in the most unlikely places – even our nation’s capital, where you would think all the energy gets sucked out of the place by politics.

Not so – says David McCarthy, founder and executive director of Potential Energy DC, an incubator in Washington that is “propelling energy and sustainability startup”, according to its website. 

“Our region attracts talent from major universities, federal labs, and Department of Defense executive ranks, all of whom have tremendous industry knowledge and hands-on know how for developing and deploying solutions,” he said.

Many planned to come together for an annual networking event in Washington this month.

A similar “solar hackathon” in San Francisco attracted close to 200 participants in San Francisco, according to Powerhouse, the incubator that organized it.

At a granular level, who are these startups that are gravitating to a growing network of incubators?

They include outfits like Solstice.us, in Washington.

Here is how Steph Speirs, the company’s chief executive officer, described the business to Icons of Infrastructure: 

Steph Spiers

“Solstice is dedicated to bringing affordable solar power to the 80 percent of Americans who cannot install a rooftop system. Solstice offers customer-facing solutions for the community solar industry, enrolling households and community organizations, creating financing innovations that expand access to underserved Americans, and providing a frictionless subscriber management platform for community solar projects. It has generated demand for over 45 megawatts of solar across 15 projects in New York and Massachusetts and is expanding to additional states across the country. 

Also emerging is Powerfield Energy. 

Drew Bond

 

Its president, D. Drew Bond, described the company objectives thus:

“PowerField Energy makes the world’s simplest solar installation systems. With PowerField’s patented technology, ground-mounted solar systems of all sizes can be installed faster, cheaper and easier than ever before.”

Raj Lakhiani

Raj Lakhiani, CEO Athena Power, defined his company as follows:

“Athena Power is a smart sensing and data analytics company focused on distribution automation for the underground electrical grid. Athena’s solution helps make the electric grid more resilient from extreme weather events and aging infrastructure and modernizes the grid to support the successful adoption of electric vehicles and distributed energy resources.  Athena Power is based in Washington, D.C. and currently provides solutions to North America’s largest electric utilities.”

William Gathright, CEO of Tumalow, offered:

“Tumalow empowers project developers with all the tools they need for battery energy storage.  From gathering customer data to running real-time controls-as-a-service, Tumalow covers the entire project life-cycle.  Behind the scenes, Tumalow operates distributed battery storage and delivering the next generation of virtualized grid infrastructure.” 

William Gathright

Tumalow won the Association of Energy Engineers 2017 Excellence in Energy Innovation award, and was recognized as one of the top 6 energy start-ups by the Virginia Velocity program.  The founder, Dr. Will Gathright, is the Vice Chairman of the Virginia Solar and Storage Development Authority. 

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