cleantech insights

This Deal Matters: European Utility, E.ON, makes strides towards a smarter grid with investment in AutoGrid

Natalie Volpe



German utility giant, E.ON, announced on Wednesday it would lead a $12.75 million investment round in Silicon Valley based start-up, AutoGrid. AutoGrid provides smart grid analytics to the utility industry through a software-enabled energy management system. The company has already solidified strategic partnerships with Silver Spring Networks and U.S. utilities in California, Oklahoma and Texas to deploy its Demand Response Optimization and Management System (DROMS).

E.ON’s recent investment in the smart grid start-up will help the utility reposition themselves in the increasingly competitive landscape of European utilities. AutoGrid will leverage its big data analytics to manage intermittent power flows brought on by renewable energy. With more and more renewable energy entering the grid, E.ON is challenged with ensuring the stability of the grid while providing a smooth transition to cleaner fuels. Earlier this summer, E.ON invested $120 million in fuel cell manufacturer, Bloom Energy. These most recent investments, along with other strategic bets on start-ups including FirstFuel, will help E.ON thrive in a deregulated and distributed energy market, and are examples of the progressive thinking utilities have evolved in adapting to a changing energy landscape.



Gnest: $3.2 Billion!

Sheeraz Haji

Woa!!! Monday’s announcement of Google’s acquisition of Nest represents not only a key inflection point for cleantech, but also speaks volumes on the increasing importance of customers. The $3.2 billion deal marks a significant milestone for the home automation company; one that many believed the cleantech market couldn’t produce.

Here at Cleantech Group, we believe that the cleantech market is essential, massive, vibrant, and desired. Based on data tracked in i3 (such as investment round amounts and participating investors), insider-sourced information reported publicly about various investor returns, and standard venture-round ownership stakes, it looks like Google’s acquisition of Nest represents a 24x multiple on paid-in capital. Our i3 business is about collecting the best data possible and helping corporate teams and venture investors connect with innovation: the fact that a member of the highest level of management at Nest owns and contributes content to Nest’s i3 profile has been truly motivating to my team working day and night on the i3 platform.


So what can we learn from Nest? Our upcoming Cleantech Forum San Francisco 2014 will discuss just that. Last year, Nest keynoted at the Forum (and went on to win North American Company of the Year at …

The Week in Cleantech: July 15 – 21


We start our recap of the week in cleantech with some intriguing partnerships formed by cleantech startups.

Bloom Energy, which in May closed on $150 million in growth capital from German utility E.ON and Credit Suisse and is expected to go public soon, has formed a joint venture with Japanese telecommunications and internet corporation SoftBank. The partnership, in which each company is investing $20 million, will bring fuel cells to the commercial-scale distributed generation market in Japan.

Eos Energy Storage, which is commercializing Zinc-air battery technology for the grid and is backed by NRG Energy, welcomed several utilities to its ‘Genesis’ partner program. Enel, GDF Suez, National Grid, NRG, and Public Service Company of New Mexico will undertake business case evaluation, product development and optimization, and pilot demonstration of Eos’s innovative battery technology.

In venture investment, Smart Grid company On-Ramp Wireless raised $15 million in Series C equity from new strategic investor Enbridge, as well as existing investors Energy Technology Ventures and Third Wave Ventures. The company indicated that the funds will be used to further commercialize the company’s Smart Grid and Digital Oil Field solutions.

To dynamically track cleantech deals …

Musings on Microgrids

Yakov Berenshteyn

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, we’ve seen a renewed focus in the media on climate change. As it so often does, the conversation points to technology as a lever for both mitigation and adaptation.

Microgrids in particular are suddenly top of mind again, covered in MIT Technology Review, Fast Company, Christian Science Monitor, and Huffington Post in a span of just five days. These pieces praise microgrids for enabling distributed renewables (mitigation) and taking critical customers like hospitals off the main power grid in emergencies (adaptation).

While we applaud any effort to raise awareness of clean technology, it’s important not to have a knee-jerk response to climate events like Sandy. In the case of microgrids, it’s not what these authors wrote – but rather what they didn’t write – that has us giving a word of caution: the latest reports lay out microgrids’ great technological benefits, but give little advice as to how an institutional or commercial electricity customer should navigate the overwhelmingly complex regulatory structure behind utility operations in order to actually develop and deploy a microgrid.

In many regions of the US, the reality is that it will be up to the utilities and …

Tropos Networks: A Mirror On Ourselves

Greg Neichin

Don’t make the story about yourself.

This is an old adage that journalism professors telling aspiring reporters.  Luckily, I’m not a reporter, so I can ignore that advice.

The story of Tropos Networks, which was successfully acquired recently by ABB, is a story about me.  In fact, it’s a story about many of us and that, to me, is what makes it so compelling.

It is a story of how technologies & executives originally groomed in the hype to reality cycle of the datacom and software world found their way into the cleantech sector only to find themselves on a similar roller coaster journey.  In the case of Tropos, as I hope for many of us, I think this story has a happy and productive ending.

Tropos Networks was born during the first boom in early 2001.  This is when I, a fresh Silicon Valley transplant, first became aware of the company.  I was working in the datacom equipment business for Redback Networks on Strategy & Business Development when I had the chance to meet early Tropos investor Curtis Feeny at Voyager Capital.  At the time, a calm before-the-storm moment in history, Tropos had a vision for building …

The Internet of (Big) Things

Greg Neichin

Those of us fond of exploring the world of emerging opportunities at the intersection of cleantech and computing power often talk about the Internet of Things.  When he first coined the term in 1999, Kevin Ashton prophetically wrote:

If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things—using data they gathered without any help from us—we would be able to track and count everything, and greatly reduce waste, loss and cost. We would know when things needed replacing, repairing or recalling, and whether they were fresh or past their best. The Internet of Things has the potential to change the world, just as the Internet did. Maybe even more so.

I share Kevin’s sentiment that the Internet of Things has the potential to be world changing, but I find it is increasingly important to define what “things” we are talking about.  The world is obviously full of inanimate machines from huge to microscopic and tracking all of these disparate devices would require varying levels of investment, networks, and data crunching capabilities.

The topic was on my mind this week as I reflected on two new deals we tracked in i3 that represented opposite ends of the …

Cleanweb NYC Hackathon: Top 3 Unsung Winners

Greg Neichin

On the same weekend that the Giants broke the 49ers hearts, Sunil Paul playfully added some insult to injury in the bicoastal rivalry by declaring, “New York has stepped up with an event [cleanweb hackathon] that is, dare I say, bigger than San Francisco.”  And while, as a true bicoastal executive, I have no interest in stoking the cliché Silicon Valley v. Silicon Alley fire, we can safely say that New York represented this past weekend.

The New York cleanweb hackathon organizers, which included Sunil, Blake Burris of Dynamo Labs, Micah Kotch from NYC ACRE, Nicholas Eisenberger of Pure Energy Partners, Matt Solt of Civvic, and a number of others, put on a great show and took a big step forward in evangelizing the cleanweb movement.  Judging by the turnout, the “cleanweb”, the increasingly popular term for applying IT solutions to global resource constraint problems, is a hit amongst the East Coast digerati (even meriting an appearance by NYC’s trendminting venture capitalist Fred Wilson, who had previously cast off cleantech as an entirely separate form of VC).

There were a number of awards presented at the end of the event to standout teams (check out …

AlertMe, Lowe’s, and the role of retail channels in the smart grid

Tatum Nolan

AlertMe’s recent announcement of its partnership with Lowe’s marks an important milestone in the industry’s efforts to extend smart grid functionality to end users. The partnership could represent a new strategy for companies with good channel access to customers.

For the last few years, home energy management system (HEMS) vendors have debated whether customer-facing smart grid technology should reach homes by way of top down utility deployments, or by way of retail channels. Each strategy has presented opportunities and obstacles: The top down approach would guarantee mass deployment, but utilities have generally moved slowly in rolling out hardware-based solutions to customers.  By contrast, if consumers could select their own HEMS through retailers, early adoption would drive innovation and lead to market-based (rather than utility-selected) winners and losers, but utility integration would not be assured. The announcement of this partnership, combined with Best Buy’s own commitment to selling HEMS products, indicate that retailers are staking a claim to this market.

But Lowe’s consumer smart grid strategy differs from Best Buy’s. Rather than providing a market place for various HEMS products from vendors such as Tendril, EnergyHub, or Control4, Lowe’s has announced that it will sell its own solution, …

Finding (EV) Religion in Israel: 4 Reasons to Believe in Better Place

Greg Neichin

Like many American Jews visiting Israel, I found religion today.   It was not religion of the spiritual kind however, it was religion of the electric variety.  Today, I stand amongst the converted.   Converted to Better Place’s view of the world and the potential for the company to be a transformative force in the electric vehicle market.

I am a most unlikely convert.  I don’t own a car, let alone an electric one, and I’m quite content to not own one.  From a policy perspective, I would prefer to see governments focus on subsidizing better forms of public transportation before promoting more personal vehicle ownership.  More pointedly, I’ve been known to utter skeptical thoughts out loud in front of journalists about the electric vehicle market.  Apparently, last month I told a group of reporters that “electric vehicles are a bet that could turn out to be wrong”.  The point that I was attempting to make was that I believe some of the adoption forecasts in the market were too aggressive.  That nuance doesn’t make for a good headline.

Assuming that electric vehicles are indeed a bet though, there is no one with more chips on the table than …

Beacon Power’s Flywheels Boost NY Grid


The end of June saw Beacon Power’s flywheel energy storage plant in Stephentown, NY reach its full operational capacity of 20 MW, and the company held an inauguration ceremony at the site just last week.  The Stephentown plant is the largest operating advanced energy storage facility in North America (traditional storage such as PSH and CAES are not included in the advanced category) and the first large-scale, grid-connected flywheel energy storage operation in the world.

Beacon’s flywheels consist of a substantial carbon-fiber composite rim, supported by a metal hub and shaft attached to an electric motor/generator.  This rotor assembly is stacked vertically with the massive rim at the top and levitated magnetically within a vacuum chamber to minimize friction.

When charging, the flywheel acts as a load, drawing electricity from the grid to rotate the rim at speeds reaching 16,000 rpm.  This spinning mass holds rotational energy that can then be harvested at a moment’s notice using the same electric motor/generator unit to feed power back onto the grid.

Such quick-responding, high capacity storage assets are useful for grid operators in providing frequency regulation services; following a variable load and balancing it more closely and efficiently with generating capacity than …