A Walk Down the Aisles at the 2018 ARPA-E Technology Showcase

March 19, 2018

GridBright CEO Ali Vojdani shares his impressions from the ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit.

At the ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit last week, I got a chance to sneak out of our GridBright exhibit booth and visit some of the 300 other exhibits in the ARPA-E Technology Showcase. I was humbled by the depth and breadth of the promising energy technologies in the making with ARPA-E funding, and was proud to be part of it.

Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E), was created about a decade ago to provide R&D funding for early-stage technologies that are too risky for private sector investments, but could fundamentally transform the way we generate, use, and store energy. The annual ARPA-E Energy Summit showcases some of the funded projects, drawing visitors from more than 15 countries.

As I walked the showcase floor, I was impressed by the unassuming but content-rich and well-organized posters.  The exhibitors were some of the most educated and brilliant minds in our industry.  The absence of flashy marketing glitter and sales people was refreshing.  The emphasis on tech-to-market success was notable and in contrast to purely scientific conferences.  I ran into multiple venture capital representatives on the hunt for investment opportunities.

This was my third year attending the ARPA-E summit, and my second year exhibiting at it as an ARPA-E Awardee.  I noticed the remarkable progress on Grid-related projects, including those in the NODES and GRID DATA programs, which have produced several promising and impactful technologies. I could see some of these technologies, such as the micro phasor measurement units developed by the U.C. Berkeley project team, coming to my neighborhood distribution feeders soon to help with the integration of increasing levels of solar generation and electric vehicles.   I could also see some of the technologies showing up in my house, such as the PowerNet developed by Stanford team, an open source hardware and software system that could transform millions of homes into smart distributed resources.

It was hard to believe that it has been less than two years since GridBright received its own ARPA-E award to develop a new way to share grid models, as part of the GRID DATA program.  In that time, we have built and launched the BetterGrids Grid Data Repository, and collected over 300 grid models in a publicly available database that is free of charge to grid researchers.   You can learn more about it at www.bettergrids.org.  While much of the credit goes to the 50+ industry volunteers who helped us build BetterGrids, none of it would have been possible without ARPA-E’s foresight and leadership.

What is even more exciting is the rich pipeline of new grid models in the making by the six other GRID DATA projects.  The new Bay Area synthetic distribution grid dataset developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is a joy to see.  It is a distribution data set that is more than two orders of magnitude larger than any public dataset available prior to its release.   We at GridBright were thrilled when NREL uploaded it in the BetterGrids Repository, and look forward to more models from NREL and the other sister projects in the coming months.

The only sad part about this year’s Summit was the timing.  The Summit was literally progressing in parallel with the budget discussions in Washington, with the entire ARPA-E budget on the chopping block!  I keep my fingers crossed that Washington continues to invest in our energy future and ARPA-E continues.

Ali Vojdani, CEO, GridBright

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect those of our clients and partners.