Australia is poised to become one of the fastest-growing markets for pairing rooftop solar with behind-the-meter batteries -- and Geli wants its energy storage software to be a part of that market.
On Tuesday, the San Francisco-based startup announced it has raised $3 million in capital from the Southern Cross Renewable Energy Venture Capital Fund (REVC). It’s the second significant venture investment in Geli so far this year, following on a $7 million April round from Shell Technology Ventures and an unnamed family investment office, and it brings the startup’s total funding to about $14 million.
Geli will use the money to open an Australian headquarters and “expand its operations in the Asia-Pacific region,” according to Tuesday’s announcement. And, while the startup has largely focused on projects in the United States to date, it’s already working on several pilot projects in Australia, Andrew Krulewitz, director of marketing and products, said in an interview.
“We have done a few pilots in Australia,” including one commercial site integrating batteries from partner LG Chem, he said. “But what we’re looking at in Australia is mostly residential.”
Nearly one in seven homes in Australia are now equipped with solar PV, he said, driven by high energy prices, ample sunshine, and what had until recently been a generous feed-in tariff scheme. But the country’s decision to end feed-in tariffs has put pressure on new and existing installations to find alternative avenues to maximizing their value, which include behind-the-meter storage.
That’s helped make Australia a target for companies offering standalone or solar-integrated battery systems, including Tesla, Sonnen, Sunverge, Redflow, and others. Geli doesn’t make its own storage systems, however. Instead, it makes software that monitors and controls batteries and inverters, both individually and as aggregated fleets, as well as analyzing how to design, implement and manage deployments from concept to end-of-life.
In fact, “Geli is being embedded in a lot of deployments behind the scenes,” largely in partnership with retail energy providers and solar developers in Australia’s competitive energy market, Krulewitz said. Though he wouldn’t name specific battery vendors the startup has integrated with, “We’ve been brought into some of the most popular energy storage units.”
Southern Cross REVC is a co-investment of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and Softbank China Venture Capital, and it is aimed at developing renewable energy in Australia, including some notable solar-storage projects. Geli isn't Southern Cross REVC's first storage investment -- it has also invested in Sunverge, as well as lithium-ion battery startup Octillion Power Systems Australia.
But in terms of Geli's software approach, “what they really like is our lifecycle take on the industry,” Krulewitz said. “They like the fact that we’re not just analytics, automation and management -- we do all three, with continuity within the process.”
The behind-the-meter battery industry is still quite small, and has so far been dominated by companies that are using their own software to manage hardware they've put together from battery, inverter and power electronics partners. That’s how Tesla and SolarCity, Sunverge, Stem and Green Charge Networks have done deployments in emerging storage markets such as California and Hawaii, for example.
But as energy storage scales up, the software-specific approach of companies like Geli could offer more flexibility to utilities, energy service providers and other companies looking to combine different vendors’ hardware.
“It has long been our position that the industry would want to mix and match components from different suppliers,” Geli co-founder Ryan Wartena said in Tuesday's announcement. “In markets such as Australia, where both customers and energy service providers are forward-leaning, the demand for Geli to integrate across many heterogeneous assets and deliver market-specific energy services has created the need for local support.”
Geli isn’t the only company taking on the battery market from this software-and-integration perspective. But it is the most prominent one focused on behind-the-meter systems, rather than utility-scale or grid-connected systems. Those have been the specialty of competitors such as Greensmith and Younicos, which both also work on turnkey as well as software-only projects, or 1Energy Systems, which was recently acquired by South Korea’s Doosan.
Geli, which stands for Growing Energy Labs Inc., hasn’t raised as much money as these companies, but it does have a significant set of deployments to prove out its capabilities. It’s also working on broader applications of its software to manage electric-vehicle chargers and other flexible energy loads, which is useful in managing a building’s generation and consumption to optimize the interplay of energy prices, grid backfeed restrictions, and other factors that determine the cost-effectiveness of solar-battery systems over the long haul.