Photo: Packetized Energy Technologies team. Courtesy photo.
by Joyce Marcel, Vermont Business Magazine Packetized Energy Technologies, winner of this year's Small Business Administration's Vermont Microenterprise of the Year, was founded in 2016 as the brainchild of three University of Vermont professors: Paul Hines, Mads Almassalkhi and Jeff Frolik.
In a 2018 article, UVM Today said, “Packetized Energy, it turns out, is the hottest of hot commodities in electric utility circles, the creator of a set of clever algorithms with products to match that could go a long way toward addressing the great challenge facing the energy sector and the planet: how to harness the increasingly abundant, but fickle, power of renewables like wind and solar when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow.”
The professors took on what has always been the greatest sticking point with renewable energy: how to command a steady supply of energy at a reasonable cost.
Photo: Paul Hines, Co-Founder & CEO of Packetized Energy. Courtesy photo.
“There are a lot of renewable energy resources coming online every day,” said Kate Desrochers, Packetized's senior manager of projects and initiatives. “There are lots of state and local goals for reaching green energy targets. But one of the challenges with electricity is that you have to use it as soon as it's generated. It's difficult to store. Batteries are not 100 percent efficient, and they're quite expensive. For some people that cost makes sense. It provides reliancy. But there are cheaper ways. You can increase power plant output, but the other side of that equation is moving the demand for energy up and down. We manage electrical loads in response to various signals.”
The professors came up with programs that they call “a virtual battery.” They have an app that attaches to home appliances — anything that stores energy, like a hot water heater, an electric vehicle charger, an HVAC system — and pulls energy from the grid when it is abundant. Then it provides that energy to the homeowner when it is needed. This allows homes to use energy at a lower cost than only at “peak times” — and may allow them to access greener energy, as well.
“You connect to it large appliances that use electricity but aren't especially needed all the time,” Desrochers said. “You can make the load curve match the supply curve. There's a software product that coordinates resources. There are hardware products. There are different devices to connect. There's a smart service set for water heaters that are Wi-Fi connected. The utility would offer you a monthly rate, and in exchange install one of our controllers. We would manage your heat pumps and use energy when it's inexpensive, or when the grid has capacity, while still maintaining a comfortable temperature in your home. It lets us know when peak events are happening.”
Packetized has headquarters in Burlington with a branch office in Boston. Right now, besides the three founders, the company has a mix of eight full-time and two part-time employees, plus one intern.
As word gets out, Packetized is growing.
“We have seven utility customers in Vermont, South Carolina, California and Ontario,” Desrochers said. “A lot of our funding is a mix of federal grants and utility contacts. This is another opportunity for people to participate in reducing costs from the grid.”
The COVID-19 virus has put the business on pause, but there is still a lot of data to be studied.
“We're experiencing reduced deployment,” Desrochers said. “We've been able to keep everyone employed. We're developing new technologies and doing some analysis to prove our systems work. And we're looking at how we can reach people who aren't making a new energy investment. We're figuring out ways for them to participate with us.”