Atom Power has raised $17.8 million to boost production of its all-digital circuit breakers and panels for high-stress industrial and commercial settings, from factories and data centers to large-scale electric vehicle charging systems. 

Friday's Series B round included strategic investors ABB Technology Ventures and Rockwell Automation, along with Atreides Management and Valor Equity Partners. It brings the Charlotte, North Carolina-based company's total funding to $23 million. 

Circuit breakers are everywhere that electricity flows, preventing power overloads from shorting circuits and starting fires. CEO Ryan Kennedy says Atom Power's all-digital circuit breakers — the first devices of their kind to earn UL certification — are a faster-acting and safer replacement for their electromechanical ancestors.

By replacing mechanical circuit breakers with semiconductors and software controls, Atom Power's devices are able to interrupt the flow of current about 3,000 times faster than traditional devices. They can also replace hundreds of other devices, from transfer switches and isolation transformers to power routing and metering devices. “That’s why we don’t sell it as a breaker — it is a breaker, but it’s a fully integrated solution for many applications," Kennedy told GTM.

Atom Power hopes that those advantages, along with the data collection and control that comes from replacing fuses and switches with semiconductors and software, will help overcome the significantly higher costs of its devices compared to traditional circuit breakers, which largely compete on reliability and low price, rather than on technological innovation. 

“It’s really expensive compared to the breaker," Kennedy said. But the CEO claims that when the cost of all the equipment it can replace and all the design and engineering work it can simplify are added up, the Atom Power device "is a major, major reduction in cost."

ABB, Siemens, Rockwell invest in all-digital technology

The backing of ABB and Rockwell, along with previous investor Siemens, suggests the possibility of some interesting strategic partnerships for Atom Power. Rockwell is a leading industrial automation provider, and ABB and Siemens are among the world’s biggest suppliers of electrical equipment, including circuit breakers. Kennedy declined to comment on how Atom Power might work with its investors.

Atom Power's digital circuit breakers and panels can replace older equipment in commercial and industrial settings. (Photo: Atom Power)

“The applications we’re seeing are heavily in industrial controls,” he said. Atom Power’s programmable breakers and panels can replace the need for multiple devices serving different types of industrial loads, such as separate breakers for electrical motors of different amperage, or the soft starters that control motor startup in ways that prevent wear and tear or malfunction. 

“Data centers are another key application with numerous uses,” he said. For one, Atom Power’s devices can do the work of transfer switches that shift loads from one power source to another in a much smoother and faster way than traditional equipment — within 80 microseconds, Kennedy said. 

They can also halt faults and surges that can damage or destroy downstream equipment at similar speeds with circuit interruption capabilities of up to 150,000 amps, which can eliminate the expensive isolation transformers or inductors used for that purpose today. 

An emerging opportunity in large-scale EV charging

Beyond boosting efforts in these markets, Atom Power’s new round of funding is being directed toward solving “some significant problems with how we do high-density charging” of electric vehicles, he said. 

Managing electricity demand is a major challenge for multicharger parking lots, as is designing the power conversion systems to serve Level 1, Level 2 or high-speed DC chargers. Atom Power’s systems could allow “demand management [to be] built instantly into your electric infrastructure,” he said. 

They’re also programmable to run between 15 to 100 amps, which could obviate the need to replace EV chargers to accommodate the steadily increasing amperages of onboard chargers of new EVs coming onto the market. 

Atom Power plans to release a new product aimed at solving these problems, Kennedy said, though he wouldn’t provide any details. ABB is a significant player in EV charging systems and has invested in several startups in the field. 

Digital circuit breakers aren’t going to find cost-effective uses in all settings. But the increasingly diverse electrical systems in buildings, from rooftop solar and batteries to increasingly sensitive digital loads, are driving the industry to adopt digital technologies to replace traditional electromechanical systems. 

One example is San Francisco-based startup Span.IO, which has built a residential electrical panel that combines electromechanical circuits with digital controls and metering to provide more control over behind-the-meter batteries, solar panels and household loads.