Why Utilities are Enhancing their Focus on Storm Resilience

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2019 has already been a crazy year for weather. We’ve witnessed an explosion of extreme weather events across the country and around the globe, including a spike in tornado activity, record flooding, record snowpack, record ice melt, record cold and record heat.

 

Whether a heat wave on the West Coast, an ice storm in New York and Canada or a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico, extreme weather events offer evidence of the vulnerability of North America’s interconnected electric grid. Take PG&E’s decision to implement planned blackouts to avoid sparking wildfires following an apocalyptic 2018. Indeed, the decision by California’s largest utility’s plan to "de-energize" parts of the grid on high wind days will increasingly — including direct and fixed costs, property values and population — support the urgent need for building greater resilience into our electrical grid.

 

PG&E’s Planned Blackouts Across California
With California’s last two fire seasons being the worst on record (and PG&E’s electrical equipment being potentially responsible for much of the damage), the utility plans to power down parts of the grid whenever there's a high risk of wildfire. In fact, just last month, up to 22,000 customers in Butte, Napa, Solano, Yolo and Yuba counties were affected when the power company's Public Safety Power Shutoff program kicked in, cutting electricity over the weekend.

 

PG&E looks at red flag warnings and temperatures, along with humidity and wind factors, which are dynamic and can change instantly. But even this can be challenging: in spite of precautionary measures, a 2,200-acre fire erupted in Yolo County over the weekend of planned blackouts. PG&E spokespeople have confirmed these public safety power shutoffs could take place several times this coming fire season — each with their own opportunity cost. 

 

While the plan may potentially solve one problem for PG&E, it creates another as these blackouts raise concerns about how widespread power shutdowns will affect the most vulnerable, including medically fragile individuals, hospitals, health clinics, schools, seniors who need air conditioning and small businesses.

 

And because the state’s energy system relies on power lines working together to provide electricity across cities, counties and regions, any of PG&E’s more than 5 million electric customers could have their power shut off. California’s grid is already overwhelmed by an ever-increasing demand for energy, and the situation is only made worse by older and temporary grid infrastructure as well as extreme heat conditions and other weather events.

 

Additional Recent Events

Even worse, weather-related blackouts are not specific to California — they are a global issue. Heavy rains are suspected to be the cause of a massive power outage that left tens of millions of people without electricity across all of Argentina and Uruguay and parts of Paraguay, Chile and southern Brazil. A band of heavy rain in the Houston area left more than 60,000 homes and businesses without power in April, and a widespread power outage in the heart of Manhattan left 73,000 customers without power earlier this month.

 

The “New Normal:” Storm Resilience

Resilience is defined as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties”. In our context, the concept refers to attributes of the infrastructure and operations that help utilities minimize or altogether avoid disruptions during and after extreme weather events. Significant storms can spur a nationwide focus on resiliency, but change is largely concentrated in local areas that experience the disaster. However, experts increasingly agree resilience is becoming much more important to year-round utility planning and operations.

 

In light of growing climate data and an increase in extreme events coming forward, the challenge for homeowners, residents, businesses, utilities and communities is building resilience and reliability. Even if we assume the climate issue is not expected to worsen in the coming years (it is), it’s painfully obvious the infrastructure and current solutions in place are not nearly as robust or scalable as we need them to be.

 

Emergency Energy Storage

Many energy storage devices and home battery systems are simply not affordable for the typical consumer. In fact, the average cost of a whole home battery system is about $16,400 with incentives. What’s needed to meet the grid challenges posed by climate change and to bring the cost of state-of-the-art cleantech solutions down is ongoing investment in cleantech innovation and cutting-edge companies urgently focused on developing solutions that address these concerns.

 

Unfortunately, despite all of the money being invested in startup companies in Silicon Valley and around the rest of the world, few venture capitalists have been willing to fund companies trying to address climate change — they’re more focused on the next big photo-sharing app or revolutionary blockchain platform. Firms and government entities tend to favor cleantech research over development, and unlike their software and hardware company counterparts, if you don’t have a real product, it can be tough to raise enough money to develop one.

 

There’s good news here, though, because we’re starting to see a much bigger push from utilities toward clean tech innovation because of the urgency from customers and regulators to address resiliency, reliability and recovery. Today, utilities are trying to figure out how to deploy distributed energy resources and energy storage solutions to provide temporary relief to customers, ensuring customers can power their essential devices during disastrous times. While these technologies might not power the whole home or every device in an office, they have the potential to better protect individual consumers, hospitals and government buildings, large employers and other vulnerable communities from devastation.

 

Additionally, some of these distributed and energy storage solutions are equipped with smart functionality that provides utilities and energy consumers with the knowledge they need to better manage their power or energy usage when the grid is failing or a storm is coming in, providing temporary relief — and peace of mind — through backup power.

 

As these planned blackouts and other unplanned outages become increasingly commonplace, the reality is that this is not just a bad year for weather or a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. These extreme events are happening with greater frequency and greater intensity across the country and around the planet — and we need to be prepared to accommodate the “new normal.”

Culture, Community and Content: Hygge Power’s Experience at Boulder Startup Week

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Boulder certainly has a unique startup ecosystem, and at Hygge Power, we are proud to play our part in helping it become the incredible community it has blossomed into today.

In celebration of this awesome community, Boulder Startup Week (BSW) recently provided all walks of the local startup world with an event-filled five-day week, including late-May hail! The week-long event typically draws a 10,000-person crowd and is spread across multiple venues in Boulder, featuring 1,000 speakers and 350 different events — all free and open to the public. Celebrating its 10th year, BSW’s goal is to bring the community together in an inclusive, educational and engaging way, celebrating entrepreneurship and the process of imagining and breathing life into exciting, valuable and successful companies that truly make a difference in the world.


The Power of the People When Talking Products

Our chief product officer, Max Lewin, participated in a pair of sessions as a speaker on the various panels. The first panel, “From Cardboard and Glue to a Snappy Prototype,” emphasized early user testing and an iterative feedback loop to dial in the product as quickly as possible. Max joined speakers from Sphero and other organizations to share stories about how they used various random items — from LEGOs to cardboard and pipe cleaners — to create a rapid prototype and ultimately get their products off the ground.


During the first panel, Max enjoyed listening to Steven Dourmashkin’s incredible journey on the path to creating Specdrums, which are app-connected rings that turn the world's colors into a personal sound machine, before ultimately being acquired by Sphero.


“He started from a breadboard that someone wanted him to make into a wearable device, then moved into black-and-white detection before finally advancing to the excitement offered by different colors when a user wanted to bang on some, well, colors. It was all very consumer demand driven — friends and sometimes even strangers finding out about this interesting toy and wanting to try it.”


The notion that user feedback is vital to a modern product was cemented throughout Hygge Power’s UX lead Ashton Smith’s BSW experience. But Ashton’s expertise in creating user experiences revealed an insightful takeaway.


“Tech products have always been spoken about in terms of influencing people's emotions, moods, behaviors, etc., but now that we have AI and a plethora of IoT sensors, the devices that we choose to have around can be influenced by us! Products can be optimized to work better for us by behaving differently based on our different emotions.”


And that’s exactly the experience we’re cultivating with our OPO line of products — own your power. We want consumers to be in charge of their power and have peace of mind about the power they are consuming because they’re able to leverage OPO’s smart capabilities and Wi-Fi connectivity to easily do more with their outlet — based on how they feel and what’s most important to them.


Complications Surrounding Connected Hardware

As a company developing connected smart power storage devices, conversations surrounding connected hardware devices caught our attention — and a lot of the chatter centered around how complex the space can be. During the second panel that Max was a part of, “Navigating the IoT Ecosystem with Solderworks,” he highlighted some of the early challenges we face at Hygge Power, discussing the tools available to us throughout our development lifecycle as well as how much further along the product might have been had the team known about certain tools earlier.


“For example, I believe if we had the Solderworks lab space available to us a year ago, we would have been farther along in development,” Max said. “Simply having the space to bring the team together and the different pieces is very important.”


Another complicated challenge specific to Hygge is the industry we operate in. “Providing value to both consumers and utilities while helping solve major challenges in the energy and environmental space is not something many companies are doing,” Ashton said.


He further discussed attending a FitTech meetup in an attempt to keep tabs on health and fitness technology because of its strong focus on haptic sensors, miniaturizing sensors, AI and machine learning. “Monitoring, recording, relaying and predicting the complex patterns of a human body requires a very similar approach to what we use in the complex grid and energy environment.”


Giving Back to the Boulder Startup Community

Attending events like BSW are crucially important for Hygge Power because it provides us the opportunity to contribute our two cents and give back to the community that was so instrumental in the early stages of our goal to bring power to the people — a notion that was cemented throughout both Ashton and Max’s experiences both as speakers and participants.


“Events like this allow us to learn, expand our minds and meet people who can learn from us or meet people who can help us out,” Ashton revealed. “Participating in BSW lets us be a part of something bigger and then bring that conversation back to the team. A company will only grow as much as the people within it, and every time I approach an event like this, I find that the more I try to contribute, the more I end up taking away.”


“My experience on both panels was fantastic. To be considered someone with something to share and to offer others is a testament to how far I've come over the past few years, and I wanted to participate because it honestly feels great to give back to the community that propped Hygge Power and myself up so much throughout the years,” Max said. “We've had countless favors performed for us by innumerable people in this community, so there's no way to pay back all the personal debt that is owed. But by doing panels like these, I hope to pass on the knowledge that I've gained — that we've gained.”


In the end, it’s important to acknowledge that these events are people powered and wouldn’t be possible without awesome sponsors like Techstars, Glider, the City of Boulder, the Downtown Boulder partnership, Solderworks, UpRamp and many others. So, thanks to the sponsors and people that make BSW possible — your commitment is unmatched and helps to make our community as special as it is.


Hygge Power at NREL’s 2019 Industry Growth Forum

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Hygge Power presented at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)’s Industry Growth Forum (IGF)— and we couldn’t be more humbled by the recognition. 

 IGF is the premier event for cleantech entrepreneurs, investors and industry experts to build relationships, showcase innovative technologies and explore disruptive business solutions. For companies like Hygge Power, IGF is a great event, not only because it’s heavy on the energy side, but also because it provides up-and-coming enterprises the unique opportunity to spend one-on-one time with industry heavyweights who can help take our business to the next level.  

 At IGF, attendees get access to some of the world’s biggest cleantech investors and industry experts. With the unmatched opportunity to build relationships and connect capital with the attending innovators, IGF aims to create significant impact on the world of energy. And as you’re making the right connections, the trusted NREL “stamp of approval” is a significant benefit as well. The impact of the relationship-building that has occurred at IGF since 2003 is staggering — companies that have presented at the IGF have gone on to raise a collective $6.3 billion in follow-on funding.

 Designed to connect the cleantech community, IGF brings innovative research, entrepreneurship and investor money together in one place. Beyond organized networking opportunities and one-on-one meetings, this year’s event, which took place this week in Denver, featured compelling panel conversations and presentations from 30 emerging clean energy companies. And, for the first time at IGF, Hygge Power will be onstage as a presenter! 

 Proactive Engagement

But we weren’t simply invited just because. It required proactive engagement, solid relationship-building prowess and applying the expert advice we received from IGF last year to get to the point we are at today — and it will take more of the same to deliver on our goal of Better Energy. Better Lives.  

 Similar to speed-dating, the One-on-One Networking Session provided investors a venue to quickly host numerous 1:1 meetings, forge new connections with cleantech entrepreneurs and hear some pitches before moving on. Because time is limited in these rapid-fire discussions, it’s crucially important to proactively reach out to investors and strategic partners ahead of time.

 Fortunately, NREL provides the tools to do so. There’s a portal set up allowing companies to immediately engage with investors and other important people to ensure the alignment is right ahead of the meeting. This allows companies and the individuals they are meeting with to get on the same page and immediately establish goals so that time isn’t wasted during the brief one-on-one session. NREL provides the tools to effectively engage with the experts, investors, accelerators, incubators and other cleantech industry leaders who matter most to cleantech innovation. 

 Expert Advice

One of the most significant takeaways from attending last year was the amount of expert advice companies receive at IGF. From manufacturing and working capital to the risks and mitigations seen by experts in the energy space, attendees receive unsurpassed expert advice and get a "big picture" overview of the emerging industry and the issues affecting technological innovation, capitalization and commercialization.

 While some advice is just noise that needs to be filtered out, the expert feedback received at IGF can be incredibly accurate and useful, better aligning companies to provide additional value moving forward. Experts, startups, technologists and thought leaders with experience navigating the clean energy industry provide feedback as a pro bono service, and they allow attendees to be better prepared for the next stage of growth after learning about best practices and successful strategies.

 Next-Level Presentation

We’ve heard that every year at IGF, the quality of the presenters goes up. As such, we were honored and excited to present our company and technology to an audience of hundreds of potential investors at this year’s event. Every time a company presents at an industry event, it typically invites questions from industry-related individuals, scientists and investors, and we believe that provided us an opportunity to show the investors we’ve already connected with what our story is from a more general perspective.

 It’s exciting to be talking about products and services that we can execute into the marketplace to provide value to customers. Our presentation answered specific questions about the company, our technology, financials and end-customers, before we opened the floor for a question-and-answer session focused on accelerating how Hygge Power will be able to provide value.  

 At Hygge Power, we have a track record of doing something once and then going back and doing it better the next time. Since last year’s IGF, we’ve in many ways repositioned ourselves to better define how we’re communicating our story to the people who matter most. The Forum was an excellent opportunity to collaborate and explore partnerships with the cleantech community and being selected to present is a significant milestone. It’s wonderful to have the support of NRELand leading partners and their expertise.