The Princeton Tech Meetup has become a hot spot for participants in central New Jersey’s high-tech business community (U.S. 1, September 13). This week the group will host two speakers who are neck-deep in the world of technology startups.
The next tech meetup will take place Thursday, September 21, at 6:30 p.m. at the Rutgers EcoComplex at 1200 Florence Columbus Road, Bordentown. The cost is $5. For more information, visit www.meetup.com/princeton-tech.
Shihab Kuran is a startup founder, venture capitalist, and former executive at NRG. His latest project, a company called PowerEdison, seeks to be what he calls “the Uber of battery storage and delivery.”
The startup aims to solve a major problem for power grids, which is that power companies generate electricity when it is needed and have no ability to store excess power. This means that they must have enough production capacity for times of high demand, but that most of the time that capacity goes unused. This problem is amplified with wind and solar power, since they are both intermittent by their nature.
The variation in demand over the course of a day and a year can vary wildly. In New England, for example, the average power consumption of a household on a July evening is more than twice as much as it is in the early morning in the winter. An Australian study found that power grids reach peak demand for about 40 hours a year, or less than 1 percent of the time.
Maintaining expensive power plants that are underused 99 percent of the time is a cost that power companies would like to avoid. If they had a good way of storing energy, they could produce extra power during times of low demand and use the excess during high demand hours. PowerEdison seeks to do just that by leasing lithium-ion batteries to power companies.
Until 2016 Kuran was an executive at NRG, where he led the energy storage business. He was previously president of SunEdison, a grid storage and solar power technology company, and is the founder and chairman of Sanabelle, a water desalination company.
With all this experience in the energy storage sector, the man behind Green Brook-based PowerEdison is mindful of the downsides of existing grid storage technology, and his new company is seeking to mitigate them. The batteries are heavy, expensive, and can burst into flames. PowerEdison will use specially designed trailers to transport and deploy the batteries safely, allowing them to be dispatched where they are needed on short notice (thus the comparison to Uber, the on-demand car service).
Kuran says leasing these trailers will allow companies to delay expensive power grid upgrades and move storage to places where it is needed, like Brazil in the summer and Canada in the winter, he told Bloomberg. “We are the Uber of battery storage. We’re going to offer a solution for the duration that it’s needed, and after that, we’ll take our solution and re-purpose that for other applications,” he told the magazine.
Roger Debo is director of the Collaborative for Technology Entrepreneurship and Commercialization (CTEC) at Rutgers, a project at the university that aims to translate scientific discoveries into business opportunities.
Before joining Rutgers he was director of a similar program, the Entrepreneurship Collaborative at North Carolina State University, from 2000 to 2015. He also was an advisor or consultant for 10 companies, the interim CEO or board member for five startups, and is currently the board chair for Xanofi, an NC State spinoff company.
One of Debo’s more ambitious ventures over the last decade took place in 2002 in Portugal, where he was part of a team that launched the COHiTEC program, a commercialization initiative that created more than 24 companies and established a $12 million venture fund. He also created a commercialization program at Ohio State University’s business college and co-founded TECnet, an international network of entrepreneurship educators.
The CTEC plans to launch a technology commercialization initiative in which students and alumni will work together as interns on projects to assist inventors, technology transfer offices, and research facilities on the path to commercializing technology. The Rutgers experts will do everything from evaluating intellectual property ideas to developing business models.
The initiative is based on a program that Debo led at NC State that has been used for a decade.
In addition to the initiative, the CTEC offers special business courses MBAs and science, technology, engineering, and math students. The two-course sequence, taught by Debo, Ted Baker, and Stephen Tse, teaches the process of taking a technology from idea to business model to venture.