Startup GELI, which I called the Android for grid batteries earlier this year, has finished developing its battery operating system and has shipped its first systems to customer the National Institute of Standards and Technology for testing in NIST’s Net Zero Home Project. It’s a major milestone for a young company with an ambitious idea.
GELI, or Growing Energy Labs Inc, has developed an operating system and set of software that can connect batteries for use on the power grid. Companies, building owners and utilities can buy the software and GELI-enabled batteries and use the batteries for services like providing energy storage for solar systems, or for things like storing and discharging energy when the demand for energy becomes out of balance with supply.
It’s still early days for smart grid battery services like this. Right now the grid has very little energy storage and power plants are basically producing the exact amount of energy that buildings and systems are consuming in real time. That makes the grid inefficient and costly. In the future when more clean power like solar and wind, as well as more electric vehicles, are added to the grid, more energy storage will be needed.
NIST has bought six “EOS Nodes,” which are computers with GELI’s operating system. NIST is going to connect the nodes to power converters and various battery systems and evaluate them for use in their Net Zero Home Project. For about a year now, NIST has been researching technologies that can make a home “net zero” or be able to produce and store as much energy as it consumes.
In GELI’s small lab and office space in the South of Market area of San Francisco, founder and CEO Ryan Wartena, and his team, have spent the last two years building large smart batteries that they call Energy Computers. While GELI is now focused on selling software, the company has ambitions to use its technology to usher in a vision of a smart “Internet of Energy” style power grid that has distributed, smart batteries running on their algorithms.
Home and building batteries are not as crazy as they might sound. Solar City recently unveiled in its IPO filing that it has 100 energy storage pilot projects, using batteries, under contract. In Japan, the market is just starting to emerge for batteries paired with home solar systems. At the smart grid conference Distributech early this year Panasonic was showing off a battery box that strings together hundreds of small format lithium-ion laptop batteries.
GELI recently went through the Greenstart program — a green digital accelerator in San Francisco — and raised a seed round through that program. Wartena told me earlier this year that GELI was looking to raise more money to kick off the business and start selling. GELI is an example of a so-called Clean Web company that uses information technology for cleantech aims. The Wall Street Journal reported this morning that a quarter of the investments that went into cleantech in 2011 went into Clean Web companies, compared to 15 percent in 2009.
In the same way that computers and the Internet have been shaped by storage, a connected energy system will need to rely on storage, too. The energy grid is currently a centralized system, where energy is created and distributed from a centralized location by utilities. But eventually energy could form into a decentralized network with solar rooftops and microgrids, not unlike the architecture of the Internet. GELI wants to provide the OS for that energy Internet.