The Edison Electric Institute (EEI), which represents U.S. investor-owned utilities, along with its Institute for Electric Innovation (IEI), has developed a new partnership with startup incubator 1776 to accelerate the pace of innovation in energy.

The partnership, announced on June 9, will bring together leading electric power companies, established technology companies, and promising startups, according to a press release.

“The electric power industry is working to develop and cultivate new innovations and partnerships to help advance the industry’s transformation,” said Brian Wolff, executive vice president, public policy and external affairs at EEI. “Our partnership with 1776 allows us to identify strong startup partners and innovative thinkers who can bring to market cutting-edge technologies that deliver the energy future our customers want and expect.”

The partners will focus on “several key areas where innovation is transforming the electric power industry, including building smarter energy infrastructure, providing clean energy, and creating energy solutions customers want. The partnership among EEI, IEI, and 1776 will make it easier for startups to explore, validate, and scale their solutions by working side-by-side with electric power companies.”

Evan Burfield (left), cofounder of 1776, and Brian Wolff, executive vice president, public policy and external affairs for EEI, announced their partnership at the EEI annual convention in Chicago, June 14. Source: POWER
Evan Burfield (left), cofounder of 1776, and Brian Wolff, executive vice president, public policy and external affairs for EEI, announced their partnership at the EEI annual convention in Chicago, June 14. Source: POWER

The June 9 release said “1776 has built a global pipeline of promising startups in energy through its Challenge Cup and Startup Network programs. Over the past three years, 1776 has supported more than 650 energy-related startups from Tokyo and Singapore to New York and San Francisco.”

The 1776 website gives this example of a startup in the Energy & Sustainability category: “Plugsurfing, a Berlin-based mobile app, allows drivers of electric vehicles to quickly locate charging stations and process payments on their mobile devices—making energy-efficient vehicles more practical while reducing fossil fuel consumption.”

The privately held 1776 is headquartered in Washington, D.C., as is the EEI. It was founded in 2013 by business entrepreneurs Donna Harris and Evan Burfield.

Award Winner Announced

As part of the partnership, EEI and IEI awarded the new “E Prize for Innovation” to Ecoisme, a home energy monitoring technology startup, on June 14 at the EEI annual convention. The winner was selected by a panel of electric power industry and technology company experts who considered the technology’s applicability to the industry generally and to a “strategic area of interest for the industry as a whole,” the company’s proven track record of success, and “whether the company’s founders have a sophisticated insight into the market in which they plan to deploy their product.”

Utilities Take Action Themselves

The EEI/IEI partnership with 1776 isn’t the only activity utilities are taking to explore and deploy newer technologies that enable new ways to generate, consume, and manage electricity. California utilities have long been early experimenters with everything from rooftop solar to microgrids to electric vehicle infrastructure. More recently, one can find examples of utilities in many other regions that are buying, investing in, or partnering with companies that sit at what is sometimes called the grid edge—the shifting interface between traditional power generation and end users.

Recently, Southern Co. acquired PowerSecure International, which provides a variety of energy technologies to utilities as well as end users, including onsite power and energy efficiency solutions.

And on June 8, battery technology enhancement company Qnovo announced that Constellation Technology Ventures (CTV) had invested in the company as part of its latest Series B financing. CTV is the venture investing arm of Exelon Corp., one of the country’s largest competitive power suppliers. Exelon had previously invested in batteries and fuel cells.

Gail Reitenbach, PhD is POWER’s editor (@GailReit, @POWERmagazine)