Energy Impact Partners, a coalition of utility investors, is continuing its bet on the grid of the future, this time backing an electric vehicle (EV) charging company, Greenlots.
The strategic investment group, whose partners include Southern Company, National Grid, Xcel Energy and other utilities, announced today that it has made a “significant investment” of an undisclosed amount into Greenlots.
Based in Los Angeles, Greenlots offers the kind of products that are driving the eventual convergence of the electric and transportation sectors. Their EV charging systems remotely control grid loads through smart charging, demand response and behind-the-meter energy storage initiatives.
The deal follows a $34 million investment made earlier this month by Energy Impact Partners into California energy storage company Advanced Microgrid Solutions. The investment firm also infused $10 million into Texas microgrid developer Enchanted Rock in February.
Why are utilities — known for their risk aversion — backing technologies that could undermine their traditional business models?
According to Hans Kobler, CEO and managing partner for Energy Impact Partners, utilities understand that change is upon them.
“I can tell you that there is a lot of good thinking going on in the utility world,” he said in a recent interview with Microgrid Knowledge. “Most of them, certainly the smart ones, are very focused on innovation. Many of our partners have built dedicated innovative teams with the mission to find new technologies and business models, but also to change the culture internally to adopt to the new environment.”
Energy Impact Partners acts as the eyes and ears for them in the technology marketplace, he said, and also puts the utility partners in a room together to share ideas.
In addition to Southern Company, National Grid and Xcel Energy, its investors include Ameren, Great Plains Energy, Fortis, AGL, Avista, Madison Gas and Electric, TEPCO, PTT Public Company, OGE Energy and Transcanada.
“The industry is really changing fundamentally with the emergence of very low-priced distributed renewables,” Kobler said. “You have microgrids, wind, solar, storage coming up. So, the revenue equation is changing. Volatility is putting strain on the system. The business model has to change.”
“You have microgrids, wind, solar, storage coming up…The business model has to change.”
Energy Impact Partners chose Greenlots after its research showed EV charging technology becoming increasingly important to utilities.
In reviewing 1,000 energy deals and surveying 16 utilities worldwide, the investment firm found strong interest among utilities in distributed energy, energy storage, customer engagement, analytics and cybersecurity. “And to the top, top came electric vehicle charging infrastructure,” Kobler said.
There are several obvious reasons why electric utilities like EVs. Electrification of transportation promises to transfer capital and revenue from the oil sector over to the power industry. EVs are expected to increase electricity sales. And utilities may be able to incorporate EV charging equipment into rate base.
Utilities also see their involvement in EV charging as a necessity. If large EV charging stations are built in an “uncoordinated fashion,” Kobler said, “they may cause strain on utility systems.
Energy Impact Partners chose Greenlots because it offers an “open and truly interoperable platform, sector expertise and proven experience” that can help bring together utilities, car companies and other key stakeholders in “a smart, efficient and secure roll-out of electric vehicles,” Kobler said.
Greenlots helps utilities manage energy demand with its cloud-based SKY technology platform, which it describes as “truly hardware-agnostic software.” The company also operates what it describes as the largest, open, fast-charging network in North America. Worldwide its network spans 13 countries.
Utility partners working with Greenlots include Avista Utilities, Southern Company, Southern California Edison, and BC Hydro. Its vehicle partners are BMW, Ford, Nissan, and Kia Motors.
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