Energy start-ups team up with utilities in global pilot phase

Free Electrons has chosen 15 companies to demonstrate their projects at a pilot phase starting in Ohio later this month.
Published: Wed 08 May 2019

A group of 15 energy start-ups will work with a ten-utility consortium called Free Electrons in pilot testing starting on 21st May hosted by AEP in Columbus, Ohio.  

AEP is focused on three areas of technology as part of the Free Electrons programme – software optimization platforms, e-mobility, and storage and other resilience technologies. “The Free Electrons programme provides us with a way to efficiently identify new energy technologies that will benefit our customers,” a spokesperson for AEP says. 

Picked from 481 applicants from 62 countries, the start-ups are vying for a prize of $200,000 and the title of “Free Electrons World’s Best Energy Startup”. The idea is that start-ups pilot their solutions to pave the way to deals with the utilities, effectively bringing innovations to the energy market, says Manuel Tânger head of innovation and co-founder of Beta-i, which runs the programme.  

Utilities involved in the accelerator programme are looking for the next wave of innovation which in large measure is digital, Tânger tells Engerati. Even those that are hardware based have a strong software component, he says. Utilities are becoming increasingly aware and their business models are growing exponentially into other areas, they are mutating into a radically different activity. 

There is still a big dissonance between how nimble start-ups are versus the process-based utilities, although they are making an effort to be more agile. The 15 start-ups that were whittled down from 30 hopefuls at a bootcamp in Dublin last month hosted by ESB were chosen because they are at a ‘goldilocks’ stage of development, Tânger says. To be selected a project must be market-ready with a functioning team, but still innovative and edgy enough to change their product to meet the need of particular utility. 

The 15 start-ups joining the piloting phase of Free Electrons 2019 are: 

Akselos SA 

Ambi Labs Limited 

CARTO 

DEXMA 

Energyworx 

Enging - Make Solutions 

envelio 

ev.energy 

GridBeyond 

Heila Technologies Inc. 

Hygge Power 

Save To Compete 

Sensewaves 

Solandeo 

WePower 

 

Start-up representatives were able to get advice from previous participants in the programme at the Dublin bootcamp, including ME SOLshare, BeOn Energy, Jungle.ai and Sterblue.  

The best advice was “stick with it,” says Tânger. “Be start-uppy and push limits but not too much. And use intermediaries such as Beta-i to facilitate the relationship, and make sure both sides understand each other’s complexity.” 

One of the most interesting things that emerged from the programme, now in its third year, is the collaboration between the utilities themselves. “They come from very different realities, but all of them have gone through things at different times, and it has sped up a lot of development efforts,” says Tânger. 

The next pilot phase will be held in June in Hong Kong and the final demonstration day and winner announcement will be in Lisbon in September.  

The 10 energy companies in the consortium are: AEP (USA), Ausnet Services (Australia), CLP (Hong Kong), DEWA (Dubai), EDP (Portugal), ESB (Ireland), Innogy (Germany), Origin Energy (Australia), SP Group (Singapore) and Tokyo Electric Power Company (Japan).  

Free Electrons boot camp, Dublin