Sustainability entrepreneurs turn a new leaf at VERGE Accelerate

VH Hydroponics
VH Hydroponics
A system by VH Hydroponics, winner of one pitch competition at VERGE Hawaii.

Sustainability startups at VERGE Hawaii this week sought to impress a live audience of business leaders, government officials and investors — as well as a global online audience — in hopes of winning the VERGE Accelerate Showcase.

VERGE Accelerate elevates early-stage entrepreneurs with solutions that address market opportunities across any one of the eight VERGE Tracks: City and Regional Resilience; Next-Gen Buildings; Grid-Scale Power; Connected Transportation and Mobility; Renewable Energy Procurement; Smart Infrastructure; Distributed Energy Systems; or the Circular Economy.

Day one

Day one judges included Richard Cotter, director, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center, National Renewable Energy Laboratory; and Dana Cotter, portfolio lead, Elemental Excelerator. Here are the companies that made their case:

1. Hover Energy

The problem

The planet’s growing population demands ever more electricity, even as we must move away from fossil-fuel energy sources.

The solution

Hover is a low-cost rooftop wind array system that can turn the built environment into a power source. It uses the building as a sail with the array creating a multiplier effect. It produces significantly more power than a rooftop solar array.

2. Solar Analytics

The problem

With residential solar uptake growing, homeowners do not have sufficient tools to manage their generation as efficiently as possible.

The solution

Solar Analytics analyzes energy generation, local weather conditions and on-site energy consumption data to provide real-time insights that allow homeowners to maximize the value they get from their solar power systems. The company is also working on a process that will allow solar generating homes to transfer their excess generation to consumers who cannot install rooftop solar.

3. Shifted Energy

The problem

Wind and solar only account for 8 percent of electricity generation in the United States. Appliances use power day and night, regardless whether the sun shines or the wind blows. Renewable energy that’s not stored is wasted.

The solution

Shifted Energy retrofits electric water heaters with real-time controls that allow the heaters to act like batteries. The product is also available to renters who lack access to renewable energy programs. The potential scale and social justice impact of this technology could be enormous.

4. VH Hydroponics (Popular Vote Winner)

The problem

Industrial agriculture is harmful to the environment. Meanwhile, a growing global population demands ever greater quantities of food. Fresh produce is expensive, and the primary factor in its cost is the distance it travels from its point of production.

The solution

VH Hydroponics makes large commercial vertical farms and smaller indoor gardens that allow anyone anywhere to grow fresh food year-round. The company’s approach also requires no pesticides and reduces waste and runoff.

5. Transit X 

The problem

Cities are increasingly congested and polluted.

The solution

Transit X provides a low-cost, fully automated transit system that would fully replace cars and trucks. Its light-weight autonomous vehicles can transport passengers or freight. Its fully solar-powered network of flying solar pods cost 90 percent less than Uber and Lyft, or roughly equivalent to existing mass transit. Transit X provides the benefits of a private car with the benefits of mass transit.

Day two

Day two judges included Greg Gaug, VP of investments, Ulupono Initiative; and Captain La Duca, U.S. Navy vice commander, NAVFAC Pacific.

6. Allume Energy (Popular Vote Winner)

The problem

Many people in the world do not have access to solar power, particularly multi-family unit residents.

The solution

Allume Energy unlocks solar for the multi-family market. Its "SolShare" product optimizes electricity distribution throughout multiple units in a building from a single rooftop installation. Through power-purchase agreements, solar installers finance the installation, then sell the power to residents at less than retail cost. The company particularly targets people living in financial stress, as this product enables them to escape rising electricity costs.

7. Waste to Energy Generating

The problem

Several billion people have unreliable access to fresh water. Meanwhile, waste heat escapes many of our products and processes, and global demand for electricity continues to grow.

The solution

This company’s industrial water and energy plants produce electricity from ultralow potential waste heat while generating clean drinking water. The product can be used across markets ranging from steel to solar to marine fleets, anywhere in the world. It does not depend on the sun shining or the wind blowing, and it twice as efficient as traditional water and electricity generation. It offers the least-cost option for energy, cooling and water.

8. Ceres Imaging

The problem

Agriculture has not had access to pro-active imagery for a long time, which has compromised its efficiency and resilience.

The solution

The company uses aerial imagery to improve water and nutrient management in agriculture. It can detect crop problems well before other methods can, improving farmers’ yields and profitability. Information is delivered to customers via a web or mobile app. It provides "imagery as a service," helping users to make the best sense of the insight the images provide.

9. Signol

The problem

Employee behavior change is notoriously difficult to measure, and to implement. This is especially challenging when it applies to reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

The solution

Signol delivers academic insights to commercial products to scale them up to solve big problems. In aviation, they generated $5.5 million in savings in fuel costs, along with the concomitant carbon dioxide emissions. It was the largest marginal carbon dioxide abatement cost ever, so the founders turned the process into software. It takes data from the aviation customer and applies behavioral science to incentivize fuel savings. A secondary benefit was an increase in job satisfaction among pilots.

10. NETenergy

The problem

Peak electricity is expensive, and building cooling is the primary driver for high prices. 

The solution

NETenergy’s "Black Ice" technology is a thermal battery that stores cold. It integrates with small commercial and residential air conditioning systems, and allows for variable speed usage. The product reduces peak demand by 40 percent and improves efficiency by 10 percent. Utilities can benefit from widespread uptake, as it helps to reduce the heaviest demand on their systems. 

Tags: