The Silicon Review
“We provide modular power flow control technology to build the Dynamic Grid of the Future.”
For many decades, the U.S. electric power industry has maintained a record of reliability that is the envy of other world economies. Now our industry faces new challenges that may affect our ability to maintain this standard of reliability, including the increasing difficulty in forecasting future generation and load. To deal with this challenge, transmission infrastructure must become more flexible. Traditional planning tools are not well-suited to an emerging world characterized by increasing unpredictability. By developing solutions that offer agility and speed in addressing transmission constraints, leading utilities have recognized the value in rethinking their asset strategy using tools like Smart Wires’ technology.
The first milestone for the company was in 2012, when Smart Wires received a $3.9 million ARPA-E award. The funding supported a pilot demonstration on the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) transmission system. In 2015, Smart Wires was awarded in conjunction with Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) funding to implement a project in the utility’s territory. With this funding, Smart Wires manufactured and installed distributed power flow control technology on the utility’s transmission network, and brought PG&E one step closer to supporting the utility’s efforts to deliver clean, reliable, and affordable electricity to ratepayers.
Grid Optimization at its Best
Electric power companies and power grid operators need to manage the uncertainties of their new reality by assessing, identifying, and building additional capabilities onto the power grid. In the past, electric power companies have primarily built new lines to address their network challenges. However, new lines can take many years and billions of dollars to plan and implement. So how do we deal with the growing number of variables on the power grid? By building a smarter energy infrastructure that can be operated dynamically in real time to respond to emergent problems on the network. The customers use Smart Wires technology to increase or decrease the flow of current through the conductor, enabling real-time, dynamic control of each power line. This provides better control to direct electricity toward paths they find most optimal in their network. By adding this technology strategically to power lines, operators can lower the investment required to accommodate higher penetrations of renewable energy. The differentiating factor for Smart Wires is their modular approach to network infrastructure upgrade projects, which represents a significant departure from the large-scale investments of the aforementioned competitive solutions. By leveraging modular building blocks, Smart Wires solutions are entirely scalable and adaptable as network needs evolve. Additionally, these devices can be deployed rapidly to support emergent transmission issues. Due to their near-universal applicability, this modular technology can be redeployed on a different portion of the network and also used to support temporary needs without the significant upfront capital expenditure usually required.
Meeting our Customers’ Demands
Smart Wires is in rapid growth stage. The company recently moved to a significantly larger R&D location to accommodate the demand for its innovative products. Plus, it has doubled the size of its team both on the product engineering team and commercial corporate team. Its priority is the commercialization of its newest game-changing technology, The Power Router™. Early indicators from its client base who have previewed and piloted this technology are very promising.
Like the PowerLine Guardian®, Smart Wires’ first product, the Power Router is designed for modular deployment and shares the benefits of this approach to infrastructure investments. But with its ability to synthesize a highly tunable capacitance or inductance, the Power Router can address an even greater set of network challenges and offers electric utilities another degree of freedom.
Smart Wires is successfully piloting its technology with several utilities including PG&E, TVA, Southern Company, Minnesota Power, EirGrid (Ireland), and Western Power (Australia). Case studies that have been conducted for its utility clients indicate Smart Wires can save their clients hundreds of millions in capital and delivered energy costs by using the technology. Recently, Smart Wires studied a $500M transmission portfolio for a utility client and identified $200M in savings by eliminating the need to re-conductor existing lines and build new transmission lines. Its utility clients have already begun to provide positive feedback and validation on its technology:
“The innovative use of distributed power flow control is an important element for making the transmission grid more dynamic and resilient,” said Tony Earley, chairman, CEO, and president of PG&E Corporation, which is conducting a pilot project with Smart Wires. “We are constantly seeking technologies that will lower energy costs for our customers, and welcome the opportunity to put a potential solution to the test.”
Meet the Executive Duo
Jim Davis, CEO: Jim presides over all aspects of designing and manufacturing the product and is responsible for ensuring that nearly every major utility in the world leverages the capabilities of Smart Wires. Before joining Smart Wires, Jim Davis built Chevron Energy Solutions (CES) into a leading energy efficiency, power system reliability and renewable energy service company. He successfully sold CES, which precipitated his move to Smart Wires in March of 2014.
Gregg Rotenberg, President: Gregg leads the development of the company’s products and solutions and is responsible for commercializing the technology both domestically and internationally. Prior to Smart Wires, Gregg Rotenberg was the General Manager of the Renewable Power Group at CES and managed their Strategic Alliances Group. The Strategic Alliances Group reviewed over 1000 companies in a five year period to identify truly game changing energy technologies.