The cleantech story sometimes feels like an emotional rollercoaster. Vocal haters, volatile investment and opposition from politicians and utilities often dominate headlines. But at the same time, we see countless reasons for optimism: a stronger economic argument backing clean technologies; increased public consciousness surrounding environmental and social issues; sexy case studies proving success; and more innovators bringing to market smarter technologies that push the boundaries of what’s possible.
At Antenna Group, we’re driven by this optimism and innovation, and we’re eager to continue supporting the most promising, mission-driven and high-impact companies across energy, sustainability, mobility, agriculture, water, waste, connectivity, life sciences and beyond. As we hit the home-stretch of the year, we polled our staff to get a sense of what trends they’re most excited about as we charge into 2018. Happy reading!
Jake Rozmaryn, Vice President
Clean Energy Taps Into Blockchain
The goal of sustainable energy is to improve the efficiency of our power grid and energy sources. Next year, blockchain will have a major impact on the energy sector, and it will only be the beginning. We’re excited about blockchain applications, from enabling peer-to-peer energy trading, to unlocking the power of Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) for ancillary grid services, to EV charging and the replacement of the volatile Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) markets.
Leveraging blockchain’s inherent security benefits will provide critical grid cyber security, transparency, smart contracts and more. Startups, established players, legacy utilities and technology behemoths are launching new blockchain-based products and services catered towards the energy sector. While we’ll continue to see a steady stream of startup companies emerge, expect existing clean energy companies and utilities to make blockchain announcements of their own.
Sean Lenehan, Account Supervisor
Disaggregated Energy Data Delivers
The rise of smart meters, intelligent connected endpoints and behind-the-meter machine learning is helping to disaggregate energy load profiles and optimize device-level performance on the edge of the grid network. This trend will bring real value-creating opportunities in the year ahead for utilities, businesses, consumers and innovators.
There is a range of companies with different approaches to monetizing behind-the-meter energy assets. For homeowners and business owners, technologies like the Nest thermostat create customized profiles of energy consumption that unlock savings from energy-intensive systems like HVAC and lighting. Others, like Curb and Smappee, connect to home circuit-boards and devices in the home or office to bring the analytics, visibility and control on an even more granular scale.
More utilities will roll out consumer engagement programs like Con Edison’s Marketplace, which offers discounts for these technologies and as market adoption increases, utilities will be able to leverage the data to better forecast supply and demand on the grid and create more robust incentive structures for energy consumers.
To take one example, technology company Tantalus develops smart meters for the distribution grid, offering utilities insight into the who, what and when of energy consumption. Equipped with more predictability, utilities can aggregate readings and make smarter decisions to optimize and monetize all available grid resources and pinpoint issues both in front of and behind the meter.
Utilities like Hawaiian Electric Company and Austin Energy are participating in the Department of Energy’s SEAMS for SHINES program. SEAMS pilot projects aim to extract value from customer-sited generation assets to leverage them for grid needs – effectively transforming any connected device into a useable Virtual Power Plant (VPP) participant. As utilities understand and tap into behind-the-meter energy resources, it will become easier for them to create load profiles for customers, more accurately value Distributed Energy Resources (DERs), better predict supply and demand, price energy accurately and reduce reliance on expensive peak power plants that typically use dirty inputs like gas or coal.
Lisa Nash, Account Executive
Self-Driving Cars are Near Here
Major car manufacturers and dozens of start-ups made headlines this year for driving the development and adoption of driverless cars. The media roar will become increasingly deafening in 2018, and for good reason: the consensus among the self-driving car community is that the future of transportation is here.
As AVs are tested on domestic and international roadways, media will continue to track every industry development. This is especially true of the “big four” that plan to commercially deploy self-driving cars in 2018 — General Motors’ Cruise, Google’s Waymo, Uber and Lyft. Start-ups providing enabling technologies, such as Cepton (solid-state LiDAR) and Civil Maps (car cognition and 3D mapping), will continue to feel the media love as rapacious AV stakeholders invest, partner, or acquire these innovative start-ups.
AV enthusiasts believe that self-driving cars can eliminate 99% of traffic accidents but the general public’s skepticism and anxiety about safety and security is real and an existential threat to the future of the industry. There is no margin for error for emerging market players. The need for public education and crisis communication planning is enormous.
As industry and media excitement reach new heights, opposition groups will become more vocal in their dissent. Extensive testing will accelerate across several states next year and the need for robust legislation — both at the federal and state-level — to ensure the safety of passengers, pedestrians, roads, data and commerce is key. Some companies are beginning to collaborate with stakeholders to address the biggest safety concerns. Intel’s AV unit Mobileye recently released an innovative framework for autonomous vehicle safety that creates a formal methodology and standard for autonomous vehicle safety and fault validation.
The transition to AVs is a transformative shock to the transportation system that has not been felt since combustion engine cars replaced horse-drawn carriages. Disruption and change breed anxiety in every industry and autonomous transportation is no different. At the end of the day, the promise of increasing vehicle safety, utilization, accessibility and efficiency is an enticing value proposition. Our team is on board!
Liz Crumpacker, Senior Account Executive
EVs Support Smarter Grids
The market for electric vehicles (EVs) continues to grow and is expected to reach 3.8 million by 2020. The economic argument for EVs is compelling. According to a GM OnStar study, cars are our most underutilized asset, sitting idly in driveways or parking spots 95% of the time. During those idle periods, EVs are ideally suited to send unused energy back to the grid. In other words, charge your car at low power rates overnight and either drive it the next day or sell that power right back to the grid at a higher price.
In 2016, we saw the first commercial vehicle-to-grid (V2G) pilot in Copenhagen. Since then, Nissan and Mitsubishi have released cars with V2G capabilities, and Tesla, Honda and other auto leaders are not far behind. The system is far from flawless — the process lacks efficiency, and increased wear-and-tear on batteries can be an issue. But as battery life and capacity grow and the need for distributed generation and storage increases, V2G can be a winning technology for alleviating the strain that EVs will place on the grid.
Ari Marder, Business Development Associate
Marijuana will lead the way in agriculture technology (ag tech) innovation in 2018. The current trend of full legalization is increasing demand for product and the technology that facilitates growth. This technology includes IoT for indoor farming and machine learning to optimize crop yield. Grownetics, a Boulder, Colorado based company, offers an IoT-based platform that leverages the power of artificial intelligence to analyze crops down to the nutrient level, thereby improving productivity from seed to harvest. Illumitex, a Digital Horticulture LED company, uses LED lights specifically designed for every step of a cannabis plant’s growth cycle to ensure optimal crop yield and quality.
Both companies deliver services and products beyond cannabis. Ag tech has seen a recent investment boost driven both by the challenge of satisfying food needs for an ever-growing population and the reality that a lack of natural resources and more frequent extreme weather events are driving down yields from traditional agriculture. In 2018, keep an eye out for trends in cannabis-growing technology. The indoor and urban farming industry will be following closely behind and the floodgates will open as new business models emerge to make these technologies bankable.
Sophia Huda, Senior Account Executive