This brief interview is part of Sustainable Innovation for the World, a series produced by Thomson Reuters Sustainability on innovation, either scientific or social, which could help make the world more sustainable.
Featured Innovation: Axiom Exergy Systems, Cleantech Open Winner Series 2014, Venture Capitalist’s Choice Award Winner
By Amrit Robbins, President & Co-Founder of Axiom Exergy
What is your Product/Innovation/Service Called?
Axiom Exergy makes the Refrigeration Battery™, which converts power-hungry central refrigeration systems into intelligent energy storage assets.
How does your innovation/product/service help the world?
The Refrigeration Battery is a low-cost form of energy storage that enables supermarkets and refrigerated facilities to save money by shifting their on-peak electricity load (when electricity prices skyrocket) to off-peak hours (when electricity prices are low or sometimes negative). The Refrigeration Battery also can be used to keep food cool during power outages, avoiding catastrophic food spoilage events. For example: an 8-hour power outage at a Bay Area supermarket last year caused over $300,000 worth of food spoilage. Low-cost energy storage also enables electricity grids to cost-effectively incorporate more sources of intermittent renewable energy (e.g., solar PV, wind turbines) without destabilizing.
Why did you do it?
Since the advent of modern refrigeration, it has been impossible to choose when refrigeration systems run – they turn on when the food is warm, and they turn off once the food reaches the desired setpoint. This paradigm simply doesn’t work when a facility has time-of-use electricity rates.
For the first time, the Refrigeration Battery™ changes this paradigm by enabling supermarkets to “store refrigeration” for later use so that they can choose when to run their power-hungry refrigeration systems. We make it possible for supermarkets to turn off their refrigeration systems between noon and 6pm (when electricity prices skyrocket) while keeping the food cool.
“Storing refrigeration” also provides protection against food spoilage during power outages – a painful and expensive problem for food distributors and sellers around the world. This value proposition becomes especially important in places like India, where rolling blackouts are commonplace, making traditional refrigeration nearly impossible without the Refrigeration Battery™.
How did you make an informed decision to invest so much of your time and life in this?
I co-led the sales, development, and engineering of a $100 million retrofit effort for 74 supermarkets, which helped me to develop deep insight into the supermarket industry. My Co-Founder, Anthony, was a material scientist focused on solar PV, but he felt that energy storage prices were the most significant barrier to widespread adoption of renewables. Since our time together at Stanford, we wanted to build an energy-related company together, and energy storage became our primary area of focus.
Our business case is built around three key facts:
- Supermarkets already own huge heat pumps (refrigeration systems) that we can leverage to offer a low-cost energy storage solution.
- US supermarkets suffer from razor-thin profit margins, so energy savings have a major impact on a supermarket’s bottom line.
- Most supermarkets have similar refrigeration system architectures, so a modular solution can be applied to more than 37,000 supermarkets in the US alone.
What is your next big step?
We are currently on track to deliver our first full-scale system to a national supermarket chain later this year in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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