The road to success in innovation is often littered with well-intended failures and sometimes the best ideas need an unexpected intervention to find their way to the market. This has not changed since instrument engineer James Watt’s moment of clarity looking at whisky distillation in the 18th century.
Observing that the distillation process had some parallels with the rudimentary steam power available at that time, he realised that these engines could be made more efficient through the use of a separate condenser. He faced years of struggles before Watt was able to launch a commercial system and wrote himself into history with the steam engine which powered the industrial revolution.
Nowadays, the Watt family is again innovating in the energy industry. Edward Ridgway Watt, one of James Watt’s descendants, is today CEO for Teraloop, a startup seeking funding for developing grid-scale electrical energy storage – one of the top 10 most important technological breakthroughs of 2016, according to the World Economic Forum.
Grid-scale energy storage is the key to the future integration of clean and renewable sources of energy. Renewable energy is dependent on the elements: the wind turbines remain idle without the wind and solar panels are unproductive at night.
Consequently, not only are they are not always able to meet demand but can also cause widespread disruption due to the volatility of supply; to “keep the lights on” as we rely more and more on renewables, we need new technologies to store the energy when it is produced, keep the grid stable and to deliver power to match demand. This is the business of grid-scale energy storage, going hand in hand with the development of batteries for local storage.
After having completed their feasibility and validation study, Teraloop is now working on the design and deployment of their very first demonstrators, with technical partners such as VTT, Pöyry, Metsi, and Autodesk. They aim to commence building their first one in the laboratories of VTT in Otaniemi as early as September 2016.
There will be at least two demonstrators. The first one will serve as an unequivocal physical proof of concept while the second demonstrator will serve as an evolution test-bed to increase the system efficiency and reduce the costs of their upcoming pilot plant, which is due to deliver a power rating of 100MW.
After a seed round of €302,500 and non-diluting funding of €272,000, Teraloop is now seeking private equity investment of €3 million to build and operate their demonstrator system, so to have a proper operative prototype, and to then start the design of their pilot plant, for deployment in 2018-2019.
So will the Watt do it again?