Building InPipe EnergyMedium Monday, April 12th 2021
We recently had the opportunity to interview Dynamo Energy Hub Member Gregg Semler, President and CEO of InPipe Energy. We asked Gregg about creating InPipe, the benefit they bring to their customers, obstacles they have faced, their outlook on 2021, and trends to be looking for in the future. Check out the interview below to learn more about how InPipe converts water infrastructure into new sources of renewable energy.
Tell us about your background and what led you to create InPipe Energy.
I’m an entrepreneur with a lot of operating experience. I’ve spent most of my career working for building companies, and about 20 years ago while working in the Bay area I got involved with an energy startup that was a spinout SRI Stanford research in Menlo Park. Since that time, I’ve been very focused on building energy and water companies. I started a venture fund focused on sustainability in the pacific northwest, and out of that I started looking at water–energy nexus opportunities. I was then recruited out of my venture fund to become the CEO of a company called Lucid Energy, which was working on a novel turbine to convert running water into electricity by pipelines. We commercialized that technology in a pretty high-profile project in Oregon and Riverside, California. I started thinking about producing renewable energy from existing infrastructure, which I learned about through my experience at Lucid. The opportunity at Lucid was really elegant and cool, but I realized there was a real opportunity to work with smaller water agencies. We could move from renewable energy projects that were customized to a more standardized platform. So, four years ago, I started InPipe Energy with the idea of converting water infrastructure to a new source of renewable energy.
Tell us about InPipe Energy; how it works and what issue you are looking to solve.
Water is the most important resource on the planet, but it’s also the most energy intensive. As the cost of energy rises, so does the cost of water. At the same time, about 83% of renewable energy comes from nuclear power in renewable energy. So, I thought why don’t we produce renewable energy from existing infrastructure that is reliable, schedulable, small, and has no environmental impact? These are the values that we introduced in a new product, called the NPRV, which is a pressure recovery valve our customers (water departments) can use to manage pressure and convert it to a new source of renewable energy. This reduces their carbon footprint, saves water, and extends the life of their infrastructure.
How do you benefit your clients?
We’ve developed both a unique product that we can integrate into existing pipelines, and we’ve developed an easy approach for water departments to integrate our product without turning the water off. Everything we design is to upgrade existing infrastructure where they are currently managing an array of valves within their service area; we can convert those to a new source of renewable energy.
What are the main obstacles you face?
The biggest challenge we face is that water departments are very mission driven. Their mission is to deliver safe, clean drinking water at the lowest possible cost. The infrastructure in most of the world is old and broken down. We lose close to 20% of our water in the United States to leaking pipes, with other countries losing even more. Leaking pipes result in pipe bursts, which wastes a lot of water and money. Water departments operate urgently and don’t spend a lot of time on innovation. They are focused on maintaining the current infrastructure that they have. The challenge we have when wanting to sell to water departments is that they’re busy and very skeptical, wanting lots of data and evidence proving that our solution isn’t going to ruin their current situation. There’s a process we have to go through to convince them that our solution is safe, reliable, and low cost. The challenge is educating water departments about the importance of energy and reducing their carbon footprint. It’s our job to show them a new product they can use that provides benefit to them and can make it through all the processes they have to get a product sold.
What would you like to highlight from the past year and what are you excited for in 2021?
2020 was a challenging year for everyone. Our customers right now are cities, and cities have been devastated by COVID. We have been fortunate that water departments are really interested in reducing their energy footprint and are looking for ways to meet these new mandates they have. We were fortunate to get a contract in February and we installed our first NPRV system right outside of Portland, Oregon in a city called Hillsborough. The system generates about 200 kWh of electricity, and can displace about 2,000 lbs. of carbon on an annualized basis. This saves the water department close to $1 million in energy savings. It’s been up and running for the last 4 months and has been operating beautifully. That was our first project, and once we did that, we’ve gathered more interest. The water industry really needed the evidence that we were able to demonstrate to them at the end of September. In the past year we’ve built our sales to about 33 projects, mostly focused on the West Coast. We hope that 2021 turns out to be a year where we can travel more.
What are some trends you are watching in the coming year?
Water is the most important resource on the planet and water agencies are oftentimes the largest customers for electric utilities. They have a big carbon footprint. I believe with the new administration; infrastructure is going to be a really important aspect of their agenda. I want to make sure that water is included in infrastructure projects because we aren’t going to be able to solve the problems of climate and reduction of greenhouse gases without including water. The problem with water is there is no “Department of Water”, so people aren’t as familiar with water as they are with energy. Energy attracts lots of innovation and capital, but we have a very fragmented water system. They are not as good at lobbying, influencing politicians, or getting people to investing in infrastructure. As a result, our water infrastructure is falling apart. I am very excited about what’s happening with the new focus on carbon and climate. I want to bring water agencies into that world where they can participate in a grid that’s based on renewable energy. I’m really optimistic and excited that we can do that at InPipe Energy. There are other technologies like storage that we really want to do to mitigate forest fires that are happening on the West coast which have been devastating because of COVID. There is no “green solution”, but we have some ideas for the future.
About InPipe Energy: Working with one of the market leading firms in the industry, InPipe Energy estimates the US market for its product, the In-PRV is $30 BN dollars. This represents 12 GW of potential renewable energy, enough electricity for approximately 7.6 Million homes while eliminating 2 Billion tons of carbon in the United States.
For media relations contactClaudia Prandoni Marketing & Communications Manager