John Bryson, former CEO of Edison International and co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council, has a yen for startups that can take solar PV, smart meter communications, and battery technologies farther. At least those were some of the startups he plugged in his opening speech at the U.C. Berkeley Energy Symposium on Thursday — electric vehicle maker Coda Automotive, smart grid wireless provider On-Ramp Wireless, and solid-state lighting display maker Ostendo.
Bryson, who has been advising the United Nations on energy and climate policy since leaving his leadership post at the parent company of Southern California Edison in July 2008, has reason to praise Coda, since he’s on the company’s board of directors. The Santa Monica, Calif.-based company is making cars in China, and backed with some $74 million in venture investment, as well as a $500 million capital commitment from a Chinese backer, CEO Kevin Czinger told Hybrid Cars last month.
Bryson clarified that $500 million commitment somewhat on Thursday. “The Chinese government — I’ll oversimplify — has put up $500 million to move manufacturing forward,” he said, though he didn’t add more details. There’s reason for China to want Coda to succeed. Not only is it planning to build its car in China — though its first market is to be the U.S.— it’s also developing its batteries in partnership with China’s Lishen Power Battery. China wants to grow its battery manufacturing base, not only for export but for domestic purposes — about half the EV charging stations to be installed worldwide over the next 5 years will be in China, Pike Research predicts.
But Coda’s battery technology could be adapted to grid storage as well, Bryson said, repeating comments that Coda CFO made to the Cleantech Group. Bryson clarified those comments by noting that Coda is looking at frequency regulation — keeping grid power frequency within reasonable bounds to avoid power outages — as a key market for grid storage, though he didn’t expand much on how or when Coda might be doing that.
Bryson isn’t on the board of the other two startups he mentioned, though he is impressed with their work. The first, San Diego-based On-Ramp Wireless, has come up with a proprietary, low-power wireless technology that it says can offer hundred-mile ranges, and is one of the partners in San Diego Gas & Electric’s GridComm project. Bryson added that On-Ramp also offers the ability to penetrate barriers like manhole covers — something that the 900-megahertz smart meter communications from Itron and Silver Spring Networks, two companies providing tech to California smart meter rollouts, can’t do as well, he said.
Ostendo, a Carlsbad, Calif.-based maker of solid state lighting-based curved displays, is working on research to capture more light spectrum to increase the efficiencies of today’s solar photovoltaic cells from about 20 percent to a potential 80 percent, Bryson said. But Bryson also pointed out that the company is still only at “the lab level of development” on the research.