Someday, behind-the-meter batteries and other distributed energy assets may all run on a few standard software platforms. Geli is one of a handful of startups trying to capture that role in the energy storage market, and now it has its first large-scale venture investment to ramp up to meet those ambitions.
On Monday, Geli announced it has raised a $7 million Series A round from an unnamed clean energy family investment office and Shell Technology Ventures, the venture arm of Royal Dutch Shell. It’s the first large-scale venture capital raise for the San Francisco-based startup since its 2010 founding, and it brings its total funding to date to just under $11 million.
Dan Loflin, Geli’s president and COO, said the funding will allow the company to bring on more hardware vendors as partners, build its energy analytics and aggregation capabilities, and scale to keep pace with market demand. Geli also announced that Loflin will also take over as CEO from co-founder Ryan Wartena, who will become company president.
After years of enabling individual, smaller-scale behind-the-meter battery projects, Geli is seeking to aggregate energy devices at a larger scale -- and to move beyond batteries to incorporate a variety of distributed energy resources.
This scaling-up process began in earnest last May, when U.S. electrical equipment distributor Gexpro launched a new integrated battery product, featuring Geli’s software as its operating system. “Gexpro’s one of our strong and early integrators coming to market,” Loflin said. “We have a deep pipeline with...Gexpro.”
Geli, which stands for Growing Energy Labs Inc., has already supplied its on-site control hardware and cloud-based software to manage microgrid and electric vehicle-solar-battery integration projects in California and New York, and has integrated with a variety of battery and inverter systems.
But the Gexpro offering, featuring LG Chem batteries and Ideal Power inverters, was the first to put its software to use specifically for repeatable, ongoing projects. While it hasn’t publicly disclosed new projects since the May launch, Loflin said the partners are working on a number in California, the country’s main market for behind-the-meter energy storage to mitigate demand charges for commercial and industrial customers.
Those projects with Gexpro include “a number of SGIP applications that are teed up,” he said, citing California’s Self-Generation Incentive Program, which can cover up to half of the cost of qualifying storage systems. Indeed, Gexpro’s name has popped up as an applicant in the latest round of SGIP funding requests, both for larger-scale C&I projects and residential battery systems.
Those projects range in size, from the typical SGIP installation of 30 kilowatts of battery capacity, to up to 500 kilowatts of capacity, according to Andrew Krulewitz, product and marketing director. All of those systems were designed using Geli’s software and are intended to be operated with it, he said.
Loflin pointed out that this linkage between design and operations is “one of the core differentiators for Geli right now. We are creating a software platform and experience that’s incorporating the entire lifecycle of one of these energy storage investments." In other words, the same underlying technology that goes into modeling, designing and implementing storage projects will run the systems when they’re turned on, both to manage their technical performance and to track their financial performance.
If the system isn’t performing as expected, having the data on how it was designed to function is critical to figure out where the problem is occurring, he said -- for example, whether it’s due to problems with the software algorithms that control it, or problems with the batteries, inverters or other hardware components.
This isn’t an insight unique to Geli, but it is one of many factors that will be critical to allow grid-scale energy storage to grow from the one-off projects that have typified the industry to date. Energy storage management software vendors such as Greensmith and 1Energy, which work primarily with grid-integrated and utility-scale battery systems, have also integrated design and operations in this way.
So have large-scale battery systems developers such as AES Energy Storage, Younicos and NEC Energy Solutions, and project integrators such as S&C Electric. But Geli isn’t competing with these types of energy storage players, Loflin said. “We believe this is one of our differentiators in the market -- we are a licenser of software solutions. We’re not in the business to take development fees, and we’re not a hardware provider.”
Like its competitors, Geli has been designing software modules to put its control platform and financial analysis to use for a variety of energy storage business cases. “Clearly, the need in the C&I space is demand-charge management -- that’s a big opportunity for us,” he said. Geli will be competing against players including Stem, Green Charge Networks and the partnership of SolarCity and Tesla on this front.
AddingsolarPV to the equation, “You get into the iterated requirements of doing time-of-use shifting and self-consumption,” he said. It’s important for the software that manages these projects to take different market rules into account, such as Hawaii’s new zero-net export rules, as well as the requirements for battery-solar systems that qualify for the federal Investment Tax Credit, he said.
Shell Technology Ventures could be an important strategic partner for Geli’s plan to grow its business. Shell has “quietly become one of the largest wholesale power marketers, both wholesale gas and electric, with a huge trading portfolio in the U.S.,” he said. And its energy services arm has a “huge customer portfolio that’s very interesting and attractive to Geli.”
Batteries are only one piece of an energy portfolio, which means that Geli and its energy storage software competitors are moving to incorporate a host of energy data inputs and control capabilities into their platforms.
Geli’s first test on this front will come as the software provider for a Texas microgrid project funded by the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E program, which is planned to grow to include batteries, electric vehicles, controllable HVAC systems, and binary-switched devices such as water heaters and LED lighting controls.