US Utility Invests in Kilowatt Labs to Boost Service with Microgrids

Nov. 19, 2018
With a new utility investor, Kilowatt Labs gains footing in the US, where its energy storage technology offers promise as an alternative to infrastructure upgrades in the wide open lands of the west.

Until December 2017, Kilowatt Labs was still a startup company, developing supercapacitor-based energy storage and an energy server that’s designed to manage distributed energy.

But after the company delivered its first product in January, Kilowatt Labs attracted more business than expected. Most recently, it garnered a $2.5 million investment from utility NorthWestern Energy, which serves 718,300 customers in Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska.

That investment is expected to boost Kilowatt Lab’s credibility and allow the company to showcase its products on NorthWestern’s grid, said Omer Ghani, co-founder and managing director, Kilowatt Labs.

“You go to market and work hard and at the end of the day the market determines what happens,” he said of the company’s success to date. “Your expectation is low. We didn’t know this would be the reaction. We’re happy. After just a few months, people no longer see us as a startup.”

The company’s Centauri energy server can provide 24-hour power from 100 percent renewable energy sources. Its supercapactior-based Sirius storage is an alternative to chemical batteries. Together, with renewable or non-renewable energy, the technologies can serve as microgrids. And that may be just what NorthWestern Energy may need in parts of its upper Midwest and Northwest territory, which includes some sparsely populated areas that are expensive to serve with traditional poles and wires, said Ghani.

The investment from NorthWestern will benefit both companies, he said.

How microgrids can serve the utility

“This is good for both of us. They get access to our systems and we get access to the grid, and we get to address problems they face,” he said.

Those problems could include some of the many challenges utilities face today, such as managing peak loads, integrating solar energy and providing voltage support.

What’s more, in remote or less populated areas, the company’s microgrids can help support the utility. In these areas, infrastructure is expensive and the returns are small.

“The utility could use microgrids in such situations. That’s how Nebraska and Montana are: They have big land areas with smaller communities. Working with our energy server, storage and renewables could be a better way,” said Ghani in an interview with Microgrid Knowledge.

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Under the deal, Brian Bird, NorthWestern’s vice president and chief financial officer, joined the board of directors of Kilowatt Labs.

Bob Rowe, NorthWestern’s president and CEO, described Kilowatt’s technology as compelling. “It aligns closely with our thinking about the evolution of the infrastructure that serves our customers, from rural to industrial, and at multiple layers of the network.”

Kilowatt Labs beyond the United States

Beyond North America, Kilowatt Labs is seeing its network of resellers expand.

The resellers — located in Africa, Canada, New Zealand and other countries — are generally experts in engineering, design, logistics, installation and support. Each reseller covers a territory, and is Kilowatt Labs’ only customer in that territory, Ghani explained.

“We support each reseller with technical and commercial training and on-going technical support. Resellers manage the distribution in the territory themselves, either through direct sales, or through their own distribution network, or through a combination of both methods.” They don’t do installations, but have their own networks of installers.

“All of our resellers have existing customer bases with very real problems for which Kilowatt’s products have presented an optimal solution,” he said.

Humanitarian work

The company also is working with an un-named humanitarian aid agency to deploy its products in North Africa, eliminating existing diesel fuel systems, Ghani said.

Kilowatt Labs will provide nine systems in North Africa. They vary in size from 20 kW loads/49 kWh storage to 160 kW loads and 250 kWh of storage. The systems include the company’s energy server and storage. The products are built inside a container, which is then shipped to the sites.

“A lot of the sites already have solar and diesel, and with our system the diesel production goes to zero,” said Ghani.

The company also has solar-plus-storage systems in place in South Africa, Australia, Pakistan and Italy, among other regions. Up and running are about 5 MWh of storage, said Ghani.

“These customers have reached end-of-cycle life with their chemical batteries and have opted to install Sirius storage as an alternative,” he explained. “In addition, there are customers who are installing new solar-plus-storage sites, and have opted to install Sirius storage instead of chemical batteries.”

As the company’s projects grow in numbers, interest increases, said Ghani.

“The moment the solution hits, there is a lot of interest and it builds as it is deployed,” he said.

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About the Author

Lisa Cohn | Contributing Editor

I focus on the West Coast and Midwest. Email me at [email protected]

I’ve been writing about energy for more than 20 years, and my stories have appeared in EnergyBiz, SNL Financial, Mother Earth News, Natural Home Magazine, Horizon Air Magazine, Oregon Business, Open Spaces, the Portland Tribune, The Oregonian, Renewable Energy World, Windpower Monthly and other publications. I’m also a former stringer for the Platts/McGraw-Hill energy publications. I began my career covering energy and environment for The Cape Cod Times, where Elisa Wood also was a reporter. I’ve received numerous writing awards from national, regional and local organizations, including Pacific Northwest Writers Association, Willamette Writers, Associated Oregon Industries, and the Voice of Youth Advocates. I first became interested in energy as a student at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, where I helped design and build a solar house.

Twitter: @LisaECohn

Linkedin: LisaEllenCohn

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