Smart Grid Today. April 23, 2012
The puzzle that Greensmith presented to John Jung as he became CEO three years ago was one he had completed at other VC-backed start-ups. But the electric utility industry was struggling to see how the pieces fit together.
The pieces: Hawaii Electric Co’s (HECO) solar array in Honolulu, a level 2 EV charging station next to those panels, and the local grid network tasked with integrating that solar power.
Greensmith’s energy storage system technology was the answer.
“When they discovered that they could optimize not just one, not just two, but three different facets of their grid congestion, it was a real ‘aha’ moment for us and for our customers,” Jung told us recently. “The epiphany sort of occurred not just for us in terms of how we maximize ROI for our customers; you do that when you have a single asset that can do more than one thing.”
Rockville, Md-based Greensmith got operational funding in 2008 with the basic idea of providing an energy storage firmware and software system that could accommodate any type of battery chemistry. The firm hit its stride in 2009 when Jung, whose experience with running start-up firms offering B2B services through digital automation products and distributed computer networks, was brought in to direct the firm already chock full of former smart grid think tank staff members and IT specialists.
Jung’s expertise in other B2B firms helped Greensmith add a feature other energy storage technology lacked: the ability to self-correct when catastrophe strikes.
Greensmith systems can appoint new network “masters” on the fly to run the system if an outage takes several devices offline, he said. That process, which mimics how hosted services – the “cloud,” in marketing speak – operate, lets the network continue functioning as normal, he said.
QUOTABLE: If there’s a Northeastern
seaboard storm outage that takes out [30 of
100 energy storage systems] and one of
those happens to have been the master, the
rest of the network – the 70 systems that are
there – can continue functioning and it can
elect another master system,” Jung said.
“We’re applying that to the smart grid and
distributed energy storage.
Greensmith CEO John Jung
The Greensmith team tried to carve out its own market rather than compete with ever-fluctuating battery chemistry discoveries. Rather than build batteries, the firm opted to design energy storage systems that understand batteries.
Different Greensmith systems put out 20-25 KWH, 100-150 KWH and 0.5-1 MWH. They all operate with a firmware device atop the system, software within the internal CPU and software loaded directly onto control systems.
The firmware and CPU software act as sort of battery physicians: They take temperatures, record discharge rates and analyze voltage current activity. Those then communicate with the control systems software to indicate when it makes the most sense to use power or possibly sell it depending on market conditions for the type of power being stored.
The technology, scalability and portability of Greensmith’s energy storage system have drawn interest from microgrid operators and utilities alike, Jung said. Revenues are in the millions of dollars for the 20-person firm, he said without getting specific about the company’s finances. The firm also licenses its technology to other firms.
Solar generation optimized
Greensmith supplied a 150 KWH energy storage system to California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) in Pomona, Calif, to perform load-shifting duties for the university’s two 60 KW solar PV arrays. The project called on Greensmith to do “something fairly unique” for the firm, Jung said, by using the system software to evaluate solar conditions at minute intervals to “bend” solar generation to reduce intermittency.
That type of real-time monitoring between the field devices, control systems and power markets has put Greensmith in constant discussions with Constellation Energy the past two years about possible partnerships, Jung said.
Constellation’s VirtuWatt energy-management software performs a similar service to Greensmith’s products, though Constellation is more of a “macro” offering compared with Greensmith’s “micro” focus, Jung said. Viewing the two products as a complement, Jung said he and Constellation representatives have considered options for pairing the two.
CES a key market
The variability in system sizes has made Greensmith a player in community energy storage (CES), Jung said. Customers can choose smaller systems and place them at the distribution level or in areas with diverse loads – such as a neighborhood with an unusual amount of EVs or near a wind turbine farm – to better manage and monitor distribution loads further away from the centralized grid, he said. The systems are also portable because of their size, which lets grid operators test different load centers, he added.
That has helped Greensmith land utilities as eight of its 14 customers, he said. Those utilities include HECO, Progress Energy, San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) and Southern Power, he said.
Utilities often have proved capable of handling transmission data, but the increasing complexity of distribution profiles makes predicting load at the end of the system an ever-more futile exercise, he said.
CES networks using the type of technology Greensmith offers presents a solution to that predicament, he said.
Greensmith recently completed an order with SDG&E for a 1.5 MWH energy storage system, Jung said. The flexibility of Greensmith’s technology was a significant factor in securing that deal, he said.
“We think that whether it’s 1.5 MWH or 10 MWH, it’s much more interesting solving that size problem with multiple systems that can be located in a distributed fashion around a network as opposed to having a single batch of energy storage,” Jung said.