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Before launching the Energy Excelerator, the same team ran a DOE-funded program called Hawaii Renewable Energy Development Venture. The lessons learned from this project-funding model eventually led us to redesign the program and create the Energy Excelerator. Here is a summary of the ten projects funded under the previous model, and some of what we learned from each.

Projects Funded in 2010

Gen-X Energy Development: Gen-X is a solar and wind developer that also created a system called Skygrid: a renewable energy microgrid that enables commercial, industrial, and agricultural facilities to use distributed generation while off grid. In this project, Gen-X put together a system that pumps and distributes more than 30 million gallons of water per year using no fossil fuel, and at a cheaper price than the diesel alternative. The project was co-funded by a Big Island landowner who will be developing crops and grazing cattle on the land. You can read their case study and more on their website.

Pacific Biodiesel: Current biodiesel refining technology is restricted in the types of feedstock it can process, which limits the use of locally-available waste products. In this project, which is one component of Pacific Biodiesel’s new 5 million gallon per year state-of-the-art plant on the Big Island, the company designed and built a High Vacuum Distillation (HVD) unit. This unit can process a wide range of agricultural feedstocks and low-grade waste oils into high quality biodiesel that meets or exceeds EN 14214 and ASTM D6751 quality standards, while reducing water consumption in the plant by over 75%. We look forward to seeing the technology deployed across the U.S. and around the world. One lesson learned is that building flexibility into biofuel processing technologies creates an important platform for new innovation, like the oil crops we’re supporting through a 2014 Energy Excelerator growth company, Terviva.

Referentia: The amount of data coming off of our electric utility systems continues to increase as sensors, SCADA, meteorological data, and forecasting become more widespread to help integrate renewables. Referentia System’s “T-REX” helps utilities store and make sense of that high-resolution data, at 1/20 the size of their original database. Hawaiian Electric and Maui Electric Companies both use T-REX as their central data exchange point and analysis tool for planning (generation, transmission, distribution, renewables), operations, and sharing data with the public – as described in their T-REX case study [link to case study]. In fact, this project made possible one of our favorite clean energy tools in Hawaii, the utility’s Renewable Watch.

HNU Energy: As Hawaii adds more distributed solar power, new turn-key technologies are needed to ensure grid reliability and efficiency. HNU Energy, a solar installer and technology company based on Maui, proposed to solve this challenge with a 1-MWh lithium-ion battery to smooth the short-term variability of solar and to supply energy in the evening during peak demand, enabling more renewable energy to be utilized when its value is greatest. We’ve learned that the energy storage market is volatile and has undergone a lot of change the past few years. We will remain vigilant to see how that impacts grid integration technologies, and how other companies adapt as energy storage becomes increasingly important for our grids.

Hawaii Gas: Hawaii’s only gas utility set out to find a way to incorporate renewable oils into its feedstock, which now is almost entirely derived from naptha, a product from one of the state’s oil refineries. We co-funded this Hawaii Gas pilot plant to help the company find a way to add renewable natural gas into the gas pipeline, diversifying its feedstock base while recycling otherwise discarded wastes.

Projects Funded in 2011

Kuehnle AgroSystems: Kuehnle AgroSystems is a biology company that originally spun out of the University of Hawaii with the mission to develop high-performing, tailored microalgae strains for customers. In order to sell microalgae as seedstock, Kuehnle wanted to demonstrate the value of their system with a key partner, in this case the Chevron Refinery on Oahu. We learned that using microalgae-derived bio-oils as a replacement for jet fuel and other fossil fuels is of great interest to microalgae companies, the near term business case for cleaning up water and CO2 using microalgae can be much more compelling.

Concentris Systems: Concentris Systems develops flexible, instant mesh networks – in this project the application was used to securely monitor and control energy consumption devices across multiple buildings. Some of the core technology, which was tested at Marine Corps Base Hawaii housing in conjunction with Forest City, has spun out to become Ibis Networks, a current Energy Excelerator portfolio company. We learned that socket control is most effective when it is automated, and can be more impactful at the enterprise level than at the home level.

Better Place: Under this project we co-funded the very first electric vehicle charging stations in Hawaii, and some of the first in the country. Electric vehicle charging infrastructure is critically important to the adoption of new vehicle technologies, but we also learned how tough the business model is for a network charging company – especially before EVs reach real critical mass. Oregon-based OpConnect acquired the Better Place charging stations in Hawaii and they are still available for use.

Sopogy: Concentrating solar thermal power has been around for a long time, and Sopogy set out to make it smaller, cheaper, and more easily deployable. Our project with them sought to demonstrate the value of this system for the oil and gas sector by demonstrating the technical requirements needed to use solar to displace higher cost petroleum-derived fuels used for process heat such as refining and manufacturing. Co-funded with Chevron Technology Ventures, our project set up a pilot-scale system at Sopogy’s R&D facility in Kona (at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority) to validate that the system could meet Chevron’s stringent technical specifications for making heat.

Satcon: We funded a bidirectional charger for electric vehicles, which would effectively turn each EV into a vehicle-to-grid capable asset for managing solar. The technology was still in development stage when Satcon’s intellectual property and assets were taken over by a Chinese technology company.

In addition, previous seed stage Energy Excelerator companies include:

Renewable Water Technologies (RWT) – RWT originated at University of Hawaii to produce off-grid desalinized water for agriculture, disaster response, and remote locations. They are currently planning to deploy their second plant on Oahu’s north shore.

Spectrum 137 – An early stage company from Palo Alto, Spectrum 137’s technology collects and analyzes data from the sun for the benefit of solar companies, farmers, and others.
Acclimate – An early stage company from Kona, Acclimate plans to double solar output by capturing visible and thermal energy via microelectronic mechanical systems (MEMS).

Conscious Commuter – The entrepreneurs behind this electric bikeshare company highlighted the need for innovative, clean solutions for transportation; they are currently pivoting.