Achieving net-zero initiatives is not something that just happens. There is, and should be, well-thought-out planning involved from ideation to execution. With lofty goals continually being set throughout the U.S. and the world to aid in decreasing our collective carbon footprint, we are in need of better capability planning tools to meet the necessary milestones to combat climate change.
This is where ProsumerGrid can help. Led by CEO, Chief Scientist and Co-Founder Marcelo Sandoval, the company uses an advanced software solution they developed to effectively plan and model distributed energy resource (DER)-based grids. Currently, this technology is in its pilot stage; however, it has the potential to be used by countries, states, cities, utility and industry-based companies, and consumers.
“The key message that we always communicate is: renewable energy resources and distributed energy resources — such as solar, energy storage, electric vehicles, flexible demand devices, energy efficiency devices — will continue growing massively in the coming years,” Sandoval said. “We have seen this in partner electric utilities who have reported over 5,000 new solar installations taking place each month. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Vermont, New York, in the southeast or in California, this net-zero transition, net-zero commitments, ambitious climate plans and renewable energy standards continue to happen.”
ProsumerGrid’s planning software, research and values have helped the company win various funding opportunities, awards and competitions over the past nine years. In late 2021, Sandoval himself was even honored as one of Forbes Next 1000 — this list of impactful entrepreneurs and innovators. While one of the company’s most recent recognitions was being named the winner of the DeltaClimeVT Energy 2023 climate economy business accelerator through a peer-review process. Not only did they receive $25,000 but they were also awarded a pilot contract with Burlington Electric Department (BED). The accelerator featured a hybrid three-month-long curriculum with information sessions, mentorship opportunities, homework and the chance to sit down with electric utility representatives in Vermont.
When reflecting on the awards and competitions they have won, Sandoval commented, “They mean a lot because they represent the validation that better planning tools are required as more sustainability and net-zero objectives are being imposed or planned by electric utilities. So, this is tremendous validation that our solution is needed and is required, and it gives us great visibility that we hope to increase through these additional events.”
Their team’s ability to combine their varying experience and talents has made all of the difference for ProsumerGrid — something that they proudly point out when discussing what makes them different. Also, the need for this type of proprietary software and planning has been evident to Sandoval and his co-founders from the beginning and it’s currently the only comprehensive planning software tool for electric utilities — at least that the ProsumerGrid team is aware of.
“You can’t do it without a great team and we’ve got that,” ProsumerGrid CFO, Vice President of Industry Management and Co-Founder John Higley said. “The second thing though, is that nobody has created the software tool that we have. I think the best thing is it’s just more comprehensive than anything that exists.”
Where ProsumerGrid’s development journey itself is impressive, when you add in the journeys of its team members, their stories come together in a nearly perfect innovative union.
The evolution of the company dates back to 2011 when a team of five professors and 20 Ph.D. students received a $2 million grant to complete a project from their home university, Georgia Tech. This project, which would eventually become the company ProsumerGrid, had an agency-required technology commercialization component. Sandoval remembers the technical aspect of software development for the project being excellent, but the team struggling in the area of commercialization. Among the faculty on the project was current ProsumerGrid Chairman and Co-Founder Dr. Santiago Grijalva, who took note of Sandoval’s previous industry experience and put him in charge of solving the technology commercialization aspect.
“I was 26 years old and I had no idea what to do, so I got into the MBA program [at Georgia Tech] and I tried to equip myself with the business skills,” Sandoval recalled. “So, the first thing that we learned is that innovation only happens if we make it useful to someone — if we’re solving a problem. We devoted ourselves, as opposed to trying to force a technology solution onto people, to try to understand what challenges the electric industry was facing related to integrating these technologies. That’s how we discovered that one of the biggest roadblocks is actually planning and analysis.”
Higley added vast experience to the team with his knowledge as a retired managing partner in Deloitte’s Global Electric Utility Practice and with Energy Management Associates (EMA) where he helped transition them from seven employees to acquisition.
“I’ve been in energy and utilities for about 40 years now — really started looking at renewables in the 90s, and solar and wind — and just came away with ‘this is the long-term answer for how we’re going to generate enough electricity without polluting the world for everybody’,” Higley commented.
After the company’s transition from a project at Georgia Tech to a solid business, the team entered and won a business plan competition in 2014 that awarded them $100,000. Then, in 2015 they’d refine their ideation through participation in the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) I-Corps Program.
When remembering the time participating in I-Corps, both Sandoval and Higley laugh with shared sentiments of the “brutal” but “focused” process. In the end, they are grateful for the experience and the insights they were able to gain as a result of the required industry interviews and discovery process — which for them also meant extensive traveling due to the wide coverage range of electric utilities. This variety is what ultimately led them to the business model they have today.
“The key finding [from I-Corps] was that many distribution utilities reported that they didn’t have the tools to simulate what was out there, they needed better planning capabilities, better decision making support — so that’s why we went into that direction,” Sandoval said. “But, it was very valuable for sure to have this focus on hypothesis-driven testing for the business assumption that we had at that time; with respect to what our value proposition is, who our target customers are and what we can offer.”
Proof of their concept would come in 2019 when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, causing mass power outages and system disruptions. ProsumerGrid would partner with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) to import the territory’s electric generation, transmission and distribution systems into ProsumerGrid’s software to help determine the best solutions for the type, size and location of their power grid resources as well as the associated benefits and costs. They have continued working with both PREPA and Sandia National Labs to optimize Puerto Rico’s microgrid planning in the areas that took the longest to restore in the aftermath of the hurricanes.
Also in 2019, the ProsumerGrid team applied to and won the 76West competition in New York with a prize of $250,000. This was also how they learned of the Koffman Southern Tier Incubator and began a working relationship with its Clean Energy Incubator Program.
Higley is particularly enthusiastic about ProsumerGrid’s relationship with the Koffman, exclaiming that working with them is, “Fabulous! It’s just been great, it really has. Everybody is not just friendly, courteous and kind, but actually getting things done. In all honesty, COVID threw the whole world a curveball, and it threw us a significant curveball because we won that [76West competition] in 2019 and were [planning on] opening the office in early 2020.”
ProsumerGrid officially established its New York state presence through an office at the Koffman in February 2021.
“ProsumerGrid is truly one of the best-kept secrets in the clean energy industry for accurately forecasting the effects of electrification on the future of the grid,” the Koffman’s Clean Energy Incubator Program Director Mike Jagielski said. “They have a well-seasoned executive team that effectively listens to its customers and is consistently exceeding expectations. They are an ideal target company that I wish other companies would emulate. Constantly innovating, while cognizant of the fact that go-to-market commercialization is paramount to advancing their software platform. No time for science projects here, as they use real-time utility scenarios to accurately forecast the future effects on the grid for years to come.”
Sandoval added, “The experience has been significantly supportive to us. Just going specifically to Mike’s contribution to us, we have a monthly call that is scheduled and he’s always willing and able to assist us on any specific question that we may have. He has provided many resources through these years, so we’re just very proud and happy to be part of the Koffman.”
As for what’s next, the team’s immediate focus is on progressing the improvement of the software and completing three pilot programs with electric utility companies to further validate their business before increasing the number of deployments to other electric utility companies next year. This will help ProsumerGrid continue to innovate so they can meet demand for their services as more states continue to join the 11 who have already mandated new DER planning.
Further in the future, there’s the potential to shift to target complementary markets. There is potential for their software to be used by residential consumers to help them design their own grid system. In fact, Sandoval recently used the company’s software to help his brother-in-law install solar energy storage in his home — proving there is a use for this software for everyone.
For now, the mission is simple — raising awareness.
“We want people to know now that we have the capability right now to perform these analytical services,” Sandoval said. “They are currently targeting electric utilities — but also cities, states, commercial and industrial companies, and energy service companies should be aware of this capability to better plan their investments in these distributed energy resources. We want to increase awareness that we are here to serve you and to help you to analyze the risks, decisions and to mitigate those potential roadblocks that prevent the deployment of these clean energy resources.”