CIGRE’ eNewsletter: Introducing the SmartValve™

USNC CIGRÉ News Issue 16 | FY16 Q2

Sponsor’s Corner: Introducing the SmartValve™
The utility industry is facing tremendous uncertainty – unpredictable future load, the rapid growth of renewables, difficulty building new lines, and major changes and costs associated with power generation.

Some forward-thinking, customer-focused, environmentally aware leaders are considering new types of investments to address their most critical issues. Smart Wires has partnered with four of these utility leaders (one of which is based in Europe) to begin pilot programs in Q2 2016 with a revolutionary new power flow device – the Smart Wires SmartValve™.

The SmartValve is one of two key technologies offered by Smart Wires, a leading grid solutions company that works collaboratively with electric utilities to strategically implement power flow control technology. Smart Wires’ first product, the PowerLine Guardian™ pushes power away from heavily loaded lines onto other lines with available capacity.

The SmartValve leverages and builds upon the proven PowerLine Guardian technology. Using revolutionary power electronics, the SmartValve increases or decreases line impedance as needed, enabling the operator to push and pull power in real-time.

Smart Wires is working with progressive utilities to transform their grids into flexible, dynamic, and highly resilient assets. Smart Wires works with their customers to optimize the flow of power through their grid, enabling them to prioritize network upgrade projects, improve the integration of renewable energy, address near-term transmission constraints, and reduce network congestion.

Smart Wires’ modular approach to grid infrastructure is unique and has several advantages over incumbent power flow control solutions that typically require long-lead times, are highly complex, demand significant capital investment, and ultimately represent single points of failure. Scalability, optionality, reduced lead time, and re-deployability are unique benefits of the Smart Wires approach.

Smart Wires in AEE Article on FACTS Devices

THIS IS ADVANCED ENERGY: Flexible Alternating Current Transmission Systems


This post is one in a series featuring the complete slate of advanced energy technologies outlined in the report This Is Advanced Energy


Image courtesy of Smart Wires

Flexible Alternating Current Transmissions Systems (FACTS) include technologies that increase transmission system efficiency, maintain power quality, and respond quickly to disruptions to maintain reliability of the bulk power system. FACTS can be used to manipulate the conditions on transmission lines to keep AC power in balance by maintaining voltage stability, keeping current and voltage “in sync,” and dampening distortions. Transmission operators have always had to perform these functions, but in the past they used devices that relied on mechanical switches that performed more slowly, less efficiently, and less reliably. By dynamically managing AC power and line conditions, FACTS can raise the carrying capacity of existing lines, route power more efficiently, and direct power flow along contractual paths. Additionally, in regions with high renewable power penetration, FACTS can provide frequency response that traditionally required inefficient spinning generators.

The first FACTS technologies were deployed in the 1970s, starting with Static VAR Compensators (SVCs). Since then FACTS technologies have continued to grow in variety and sophistication; Navigant Research estimates that $42 billion will be invested in FACTS globally between 2014 and 2023. The U.S. grid already relies to some extent on FACTS to provide reliability, power quality, and control. In Texas, leading FACTS provider ABB installed four SVCs to allow existing transmission lines to carry more wind power and compensate for changes in voltage and power flow that can occur with variable output of wind generation. ABB also installed an SVC and two mechanically switched capacitors (MSCs) in Alaska to provide dynamic voltage control to a remote area of the grid subject to reliability challenges. FACTS technology can also be deployed incrementally as required to monitor line current and augment line impedance. The Tennessee Valley Authority and Southern Company are both using devices from Smart Wires to manage power flow, maintain reliability, and integrate higher levels of renewable generation.

By improving the performance of the existing grid, FACTS avoid the need to invest in costly new infrastructure subject to siting and permitting challenges. FACTS are also able to integrate variable renewable generation while delivering the reliability and power quality that are increasingly important in our IT-driven economy. Finally, by extending the operating range and capacity of transmission lines and enabling power to flow along contractual paths, FACTS can help increase competition and allow power markets to function more effectively.

Original article here.

GreenTech Media: Private Investment Tally for ARPA-E Companies: $1.25B and Counting

Energy research grants lead to venture and corporate investments in cutting-edge technologies—as well as a few burnouts.

by Jeff St. John

ARPA-E, the Department of Energy’s blue-sky research program, has handed out nearly $1.3 billion in grants in the past five years — and it’s garnered nearly as much money from private-sector sources looking to move cutting-edge technologies from R&D to commercialization.

As of this week, companies backed by ARPA-E have secured more than $1.25 billion in private-sector follow-on funding, according to the latest tally coming out of this week’s ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit outside Washington, D.C. That’s up from last year’s count of about $850 million in private-sector funding on grants of $1.1 billion, and about $625 million on grants of $900 million as of 2014.

Monday’s announcement listed 45 companies, universities and research organizations that have won ARPA-E grants and received private investment. This doesn’t include companies that have held IPOs — which includes Ceres in 2012, Ideal Power in 2013 and Arcadia Biosciences last year.

We’ve been tracking a number of ARPA-E awardees over the years, with a focus on energy storage, renewable energy integration and grid-edge power electronics and software technologies. Here’s a quick tally of the significant funding events of the past year.

Transphorm, a startup developing gallium-arsenide (GaN) semiconductor technologies for more efficient power conversion, raised $70 million in Junefrom KKR.

Smart Wires, a startup with power electronics technology that’s helping to direct power flows on transmission lines, raised $30.8 million in June from 3×5 Special Opportunity Fund.

Flow battery startup Primus Power raised $25 million in September from I2BF Global Ventures and subsidiary the Russia-Kazakhstan Nanotechnology Fund.

Varentec, a startup developing power electronics devices to manage voltage and power quality on low-voltage distribution grids, raised $13 million in December.

Fluidic Energy, a zinc-air battery company, revealed in November that it has raised more than $150 million from strategic, venture and government sources, and plans to deploy its systems in partnership with Caterpillar and Indonesia’s state-owned utility.

24M Technologies, the A123 Systems spinout, unveiled details on its semi-solid lithium-ion battery technology in June, and noted that it had raised $50 million from Charles River Ventures, North Bridge Venture Partners, and strategic investors in Japan and Thailand.

1366 Technologies closed its $22.5 million C round in the spring of 2015 and announced it was building a 250-megawatt production line for its molten-silicon-to-multi-crystalline wafer technology in October.

Not all of the companies on ARPA-E’s money-raising list have made it, however. Infinia, a developer of Stirling engine systems for solar power, went bankrupt in 2013. Others are struggling to bring their technologies to commercial scale, such as compressed-air energy startup General Compression. And others have been bought up for uncertain returns on investment, as with Sun Catalytix’s acquisition by Lockheed Martin in 2014.

Original article.

CIGRÉ News Issue 15: Modular Infrastructure

Smart Wires sponsors Issue 15 (FY16 Q1) of USNC CIGRÉ News

Fundamental changes are affecting the electric utility business, creating new challenges for utilities around the world as they seek to reliably serve their existing customers and to nurture growth in their service territories.

Given the dramatic changes in how electricity is generated and consumed, transmission utilities have a unique opportunity to redefine their approach to modernizing grid infrastructure while positioning their organizations for success in this new reality.

At Smart Wires, we believe the key to pioneering the future electric transmission business involves taking a modular and flexible approach to infrastructure development. Recent work by researchers at Columbia University examines the advantages of “Small Modular Infrastructure,” a strategy that challenges conventional thinking on economies of scale.

The researchers propose a novel design philosophy, “one that replaces economies-of-unit scale with economies of numbers, that phases out custom-built, large-scale installations and replaces these with large numbers of mass-produced, modular, small-unit scale technology.”

Moreover, modular units can be immediately or gradually deployed, or-redeployed as needs evolve, reducing risk and providing significant option value. In addition to highlighting the advantages of a modular design and technology approach, the research also reveals the need for revised project costing methods.

These new models should account for the economic benefits of the modular approach, including scalability, optionality, reduced lead time, and re-deployability, among others, when calculating total project investments.

We encourage you to read through the paper and look forward to exploring with you how a modular approach leveraging Smart Wires technology could deliver benefits to your business.

You can read the white paper here.

How ARPA-E Helped Launch Smart Wires

by Atlantic Re:think

Government Innovation? Yes, You’re Reading Right

The Department of Energy’s startup incubator, ARPA-E, pairs way-out-of-the-box ideas with hard deadlines and VC funding

Story Highlights

  • The U.S. Department of Energy launched the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), aimed at improving U.S. prosperity and national security and protecting the environment.
  • To date, ARPA-E has invested approximately $1.1 billion across more than 400 futuristic projects.

In October 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the world’s first man-made satellite, which hurried the U.S. into the space race. Within six months, the U.S. Department of Defense launched an experimental research agency that has become legendary, enabling the country’s top scientists and engineers to invent the impossible and vault the American military ahead of its enemies.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) gave rise to the Internet, GPS, 3D mapping, unmanned vehicles and more. The dream factory has been so successful that it spawned a sequel six years ago when the U.S. Department of Energy launched the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). Modeled after DARPA, ARPA-E’s futuristic projects are aimed at improving U.S. prosperity and national security, and protecting the environment.

To date, ARPA-E has invested approximately $1.1 billion across more than 400 projects, some of which seem straight out of science fiction: oscillating underwater wings that capture energy from rivers and tidal basins, roving robots to improve crop yield and machines powered by dust devils. The agency has been designed to encourage out-of-the-box innovation that can inspire private-sector investment.

In its founding documents, ARPA-E was envisioned as a “lean, effective and agile—but largely independent—organization that can start and stop targeted programs based on performance and ultimate relevance.” It would have a small staff, perform no R&D itself and turn over that staff every three to four years to promote innovation.

ARPA-E’s initial request for proposals generated more than 3,000 concept papers, which were narrowed down to 37 awards. “This one percent success rate is suggestive of not only an innovative program design, but also an enormous capacity at American universities and other research organizations [for filling up] the innovation pipeline,” Ernest J. Moniz wrote in Daedalus, the Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, in 2012. An engineering professor at MIT, Moniz is now secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy.


Joshua Yuan, an associate professor of bioenergy at Texas A&M, appreciates ARPA-E’s active project managers who require frequent presentations and updates that keep research productive and on track.

“For scientists, our human weakness is our curiosity. We say, ‘This looks interesting, let’s make a story out of that.’ But ARPA-E asks, ‘Where is my milestone?’ You need to meet that milestone, the next milestone, the next milestone and then we reach the final project goal, commercialization.”

Yuan received a four-year, $4.8 million ARPA-E grant to reengineer tobacco plants to produce terpenes—energy-dense molecules that can be converted into petroleum products such as jet or diesel fuel. So far, Yuan has reached terpene levels of seven percent in tobacco grown in greenhouses and is now performing field trials. He hopes to extend the grant another year and achieve terpene levels of 20 percent.

A paper published by the Journal of Technology Transfer lauded the agency’s streamlined approval process, which is free of peer review, bureaucratic hierarchy and other sources of resistance. This style of “fleet-footed decision-making” relies on project managers with deep experience in academic research and industry, who are empowered to evaluate and encourage research directions.

Byron Reeves, a media psychologist at Stanford University, applauds the agency’s “useful administrative oversight,” adding, “They have an entrepreneurial focus.”

Reeves knows this from experience, having led a team of researchers across 10 university departments in whom ARPA-E invested $8.1 million to change energy-use behavior. Experiments included financial incentives, a calculator to understand the potential savings of efficient appliances, and a video game in which players chase a family around the house turning off lights and appliances and learning how much electricity is used. “It’s a hundred lessons wrapped up in five minutes of game play,” Reeves says.

Researchers are now recruiting energy customers with smart meters—devices that record consumption of electric energy in intervals of an hour or less and communicate that information to the utility company on a daily basis. For further testing of the game, which is available online (to PG&E customers only), visit

Playing the game changes energy usage by two to four percent, Reeves says, and that is consistent with similar interventions to change financial or health behavior. “It’s a small effect statistically,” says Reeves, “but in terms of social significance, it’s a rather large effect if you could cut down one percent of energy usage with a program as cheap as this.”

“The next big thing can’t progress within the system,” says Usha Haley, professor of management at West Virginia University, who works on technology development through government investments in the energy sector. “Some initiatives may never come to fruition, but we need someone in the game willing to take a moonshot. Otherwise, finance people dominate in companies, and their time horizons are very short.”

According to the Journal of Technology Transfer, the agency’s imprimatur has a halo effect, attracting the interest of venture capitalists and commercial firms. “[T]he private sector views the ARPA-E…selection process as rigorous and sound enough that it is prepared to fund projects emerging from that process. ARPA-E’s selection helps in identifying and, in effect, validating a candidate pool,” writes William B. Bonvillian, director of MIT’s Washington Office, and Richard Van Atta, a senior research analyst at the Institute for Defense Analyses.

The agency also hosts an annual innovation summit, which convenes leaders in academia, business and government to showcase several hundred transformational technologies, many of which are being revealed in public for the first time.


Even if scientists don’t achieve all their project goals—and most won’t given the risky, early-stage nature of the research—their discoveries can lead them to new breakthroughs. In 2010, Berkeley’s Lawrence National Laboratory received a $3.4 million grant to genetically modify bacteria that can convert hydrogen and carbon dioxide to produce biofuels. The hydrogen was generated by electrocatalysts tethered to engineered proteins located on the surface of the bacteria.

“There were a few different moving parts, each of which was difficult to achieve. We published on each of the parts separately but were not able to integrate everything in the time span of the grant,” says Harry Beller, the project’s co-principal investigator and a senior scientist at the Berkeley lab.

“There is a tendency in all funding agencies to want every project to win and to win quickly,” he adds. “When you’re a researcher in that environment and you know you have to have a lot of success in the first year, it constrains the possibilities of the kind of research that you could propose. ARPA-E gives a lot of opportunity to take big risks, some of which fail and some of which result in a huge win.”

Industry watchers say the agency has done a good job of sourcing nationally for a wide variety of projects and preparing awardees for the rigors of commercialization. “The key with ARPA-E is they’re not just technologists and scientists, but business folks giving the ground truth, saying, ‘If you have any shot of getting to market, this is how it’s going to work,’” says Troy Ault, director of Cleantech Group’s i3 Connect, a San Francisco market research and networking platform.

In 2012, Smart Wires received a $3.9 million ARPA-E award to develop a device that clamps onto transmission lines and routes power within the electric grid more efficiently and economically. The funding supported a pilot demonstration on the Tennessee Valley Authority’s transmission system. Jim Davis, Smart Wires’ chief executive, credits the award with helping the company commercialize its first product.

“Government plays an important role funding research in our national interest that otherwise wouldn’t get funded in the private sector,” says Steve Westly, managing partner and founder of a clean technology venture capital firm in Menlo Park, CA.

He lauds ARPA-E projects that focus on combining renewable energy and energy storage. “Getting that right will unlock large-scale deployment of solar. ARPA-E’s work is vital…and is exactly the kind of cutting-edge work the government should do more of. Some of these ideas won’t bear fruit, but others may revolutionize our way of life and keep America at the forefront of innovation.”

“The $4 million award that Smart Wires received from ARPA-E effectively enabled our company to commercialize our first product, the PowerLine Guardian, and to establish ourselves as the leader in distributed power flow control solutions for the electric transmission grid,” said Jim Davis, chief executive of Smart Wires. The award helped fund a 2013 pilot demonstration of the startup’s technology on the Tennessee Valley Authority’s power transmission system. Installed on a 161-kilovolt transmission line near Knoxville, the Smart Wire system provided congestion relief by redistributing power flow onto underused lines, thereby optimizing transmission system operations. The technology consists of an array of distributed series “reactance” units that attach to a transmission line. The units, which weigh about 150 pounds each and resemble a rectangular box, limit the electrical current flow on the line and can be operated autonomously or with full operator control to provide line sensing and monitoring. Smart Wires monitored the 99 units for a year to verify performance. “Today we’re working with utilities all over the world to develop strategies that enable them to respond to changing dynamics in the industry and to reposition their businesses through technology innovation,” Davis said. “The ARPA-E award was critical in getting us started down this path.”

Greentech Media: How Smart Grid and Demand Response Could Fit Into the Clean Power Plan

Pathway to credits for CO2-cutting grid and demand-side tech—and a boost to solar-wind integration enablers

by Jeff St. John

Less dirty energy, more clean energy. These are the fundamental drivers of the Clean Power Plan’s push to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and while that’s a potential boon to wind and solar power, it could also provide a boost to technologies that can help integrate that renewable energy into the grid as a means to its end.

But tucked inside the Obama administration’s groundbreaking greenhouse gas reduction scheme are some even more significant opportunities for smart grid technologies, not just to indirectly boost the grid’s green power capacity, but to actively serve as a compliance tool for states’ carbon-cutting and carbon-trading plans.

Unlike previous draft versions of the plan, the final plan released by the Environmental Protection Agency last week specifically calls out technologies like energy storage and demand response, which can help “facilitate” the big boost in intermittent wind and solar power that’s likely to be a part of many states’ compliance plans.

But the current version of the CPP also designates a specific role for grid technologies that can help reduce the net amount of power being generated from carbon-emitting, fossil-fuel-fired power plants. And under certain compliance options available to states, those reductions could translate into “emission rate credits,” or ERCs, that power plant operators could implement themselves or buy to offset their GHG reduction burdens.

“There are these technologies and services that can specifically be part of a plan as a compliance measure,” Matt Stanberry, vice president of market development at business advocacy group Advanced Energy Economy, said in an interview this week. “The basic rule of thumb is, they’ve got to reduce net megawatt-hours of generation at affected units,” that is, coal- and natural-gas-fired power plants.

ERCs come up in multiple places throughout the final rule and proposed federal plan, he said. (For readers interested in delving into the subject in detail, a good place to start is on page 1,260 of the CPP [PDF], which explains how ERCs are used for compliance, and on page 1,268, which begins the discussion of ERCs for renewable energy, energy efficiency, and other advanced energy technologies, he said.)

Broadly speaking, these technologies fall into two main classes, he said. The first are those that directly affect the transmission and distribution portion of the grid. “EPA explicitly recognizes as compliance measures any T&D options that reduce line losses, like volt/VAR optimization (VVO), or that reduce end-use demand, like conservation voltage reduction (CVR),” he said.

VVO and CVR are technologies that fine-tune voltages to save energy and reduce peak-driven strains on the grid. They’ve been around for decades, but in recent years have been boosted by technology advances, whether it’s the proliferation of smart meters that can deliver pinpoint voltage information at the edges of the grid, or power electronics that can directly control voltages on individual circuits.

CVR providers have made note of this new opportunity under the CPP. Scott DePasquale, CEO of Utilidata, a company that’s providing CVR technology for utilities such as AEP and National Grid, noted in a recent blog post that a study found that VVO could save Michigan about $110 million in CPP compliance costs, for example. At the transmission grid scale, startup Smart Wires is deploying devices that can help utilities constrict or redirect power flows in grid congestion conditions, to increase the amount of power that can be delivered from far-off wind and solar farms to where it’s needed.

On the demand side of the equation, the CPP does “talk about demand response as a reliability tool,” Stanberry said. “They don’t talk about demand response explicitly as a compliance mechanism, but under the demand-side management discussion, to the extent that demand response produces that reduction in net megawatt-hours, it can qualify.”

That’s a significant change from draft versions of the CPP, which considered demand response as merely shifting energy consumption, rather than directly reducing it as energy efficiency does, he noted. Even so, just how today’s panoply of demand-response activities might end up translating into verifiable reductions in carbon emissions is still very much an open question.

Of course, all of this is dependent on how individual states decide to create their CPP compliance programs — whether they choose mass-based or rate-based options, whether they decide to join multi-state compliance regimes or go it on their own, and other choices outlined in the 1,560-page final rule.

As Dan Delurey, CEO of the Association for Demand Response and Smart Grid, noted, “This is not to say that demand response and smart grid get any kind of preferential treatment in the CPP. All options will have to compete against each other to get into a state compliance plan.”

“But it does clearly put those options on the menu for states, and that is good for those in the DR and smart grid community.  And, through the new value that is created via credits for CO2 reductions, it also puts one more benefit on the pile when DR and smart grid projects are being evaluated for cost-effectiveness,” he added.

It could also open up a wide array of opportunities for investing in demand-side management programs and smart-grid technologies, Stanberry noted. That could come from utilities trying to reduce the compliance burden for their fossil-fuel-fired power plants. Or it could come from third parties investing in technologies that can provide emission reduction credits to those power plants.

“A utility might decide, ‘I want to do T&D work on my system,’” he said. “Or they might decide, ‘I want to take advantage of all the emission-reduction opportunities out there; I’m going to buy from the ERC market.’”

Original article.

Qualcomm Blog: Enabling Smart Wires to build a dynamic grid

by Kiva Allgood

This key component of the grid is not currently capable of easily throttling up or down throughput to match the intermittency of power generated from big solar or wind farms.

Today, grid operators either have to build out expensive new lines or curtail the generation of power from these new renewable sources. Recognizing an opportunity to optimize the existing grid, San Francisco-based solutions company Smart Wires has developed the PowerLine Guardian, a distributed technology that enables utilities to better monitor and dynamically control the flow of power across transmission lines.

Featuring an embedded 3G modem from Qualcomm Technologies Inc., the PowerLine Guardian is a great example of how intelligent connectivity can enable power companies to optimize existing infrastructure by making transmission lines “smart.”

Each module clamps directly on transmissions lines and enables operators to wirelessly control impedance to push power away from heavily loaded lines to those with more capacity.

The Qualcomm Smart Cities team has long envisioned that cellular technology would be a key driver in connecting smart energy applications. Smart Wires is taking advantage of this ubiquitous network coverage to send data captured from the PowerLine Guardian modules to their PowerLine Commander control and data aggregation software. This software directly integrates into a utility company’s existing Energy Management System (EMS) and features a graphical user interface, data aggregator and logger, and alert generator that grid operators use to manage their PowerLine Guardian fleet.

Currently deployed with the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Georgia Power Company, as well as Irish utility EirGrid, Smart Wires is helping power companies maximize existing grid infrastructure to improve grid resiliency, lower energy costs, better integrate renewable energy sources and ultimately build a truly dynamic grid.Learn more about SmartWires here. Learn how the Qualcomm Smart Cities team is reimagining the role of technology and connectivity in today’s cities here.

Original article.

Business Journal: Former Ameren CEO becomes chairman of tech startup; raises $31 million

Joe Dwyer
St. Louis Business Journal

Tom VossThomas Voss, former chairman, president and CEO of Ameren Corp., has joined Smart Wires as company chairman. Smart Wires is an Oakland, California-based startup with technology that could turn transmission lines into flexible power conduits for a growing solar- and wind-powered grid.

The company raised another $30.8 million from a single investor in its latest round of funding, according to a June 3 filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The investor is 3×5 Special Opportunity Fund, an investment vehicle formed by St. Louis-based RiverVest Venture Partners, along with Arnerich Massena & Associates. RiverVest is led by co-founder and managing partner Jay Schmelter.

Smart Wires will use the money to bring its first product, the PowerLine Guardian device, to commercial-scale production this year, and to finish development of its second product, the PowerLine Router device, so it can be field tested early next year.

Smart Wires has raised a total of about $62.8 million, including a nearly $4 million grant from ARPA-E, the Department of Energy energy research program. David Ratcliffe, former CEO of Southern Co., recently joined the startup’s advisory board. Jim Davis is CEO of Smart Wires.

Original article.