“It’s not that easy to get that from them – you need certain permissions; you have to work on behalf of market participants,” Ariante said. “But because we come from that space and work with developers, we can get our hands on that underlying data.”
Nira Energy’s software cannot handle the full range of investigations from grid operators such as MISO and the utilities that operate large-scale transmission networks, he noted. But the visibility it can provide in the front end of that process is still much better than what developers could get before.
That value has allowed the startup to grow largely through revenue from customers like AESCypress Creek and Doral Renewables, along with a $500,000 financing in 2022 from seed investor Y Combinator, he said. Although he would not disclose the full list of customers using the software, “I would say five out of 10 The largest developers in the country, in terms of megawatts deployed, are customers – and we are in discussions with virtually the rest,” he said.
It’s too early to say how the greater visibility Nira offers its customers could change the broader interconnection bottlenecks now plaguing clean energy developers. Those consequences will only reveal themselves “as quickly as these projects can move through the queue,” he noted.
But as more developers are able to identify network interconnection points with a greater chance of successful interconnection, the number of project failures should decrease, he said. Greater visibility should also allow developers to reduce the duplicate requests they now make, hoping to discover the points on the grid to which they can afford to connect. “shotgun” approach that in itself contributes to the backlog of projects that utilities and grid operators need to process, he pointed out.
“When we look at the number of gigawatts in our customer base, you have quite a material impact,” he said. “When these things are fully understood, you will have a picture in a few years.’
Pearl Street Technologies: Forecasting project interconnect costs from start to finish
Although Nira Energy has positioned itself as a tool to kick-start the interconnection process, says David Bromberg Director of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Pearl Street Technologies, sees his company’s software as a way to optimize projects once they’re actually in the interconnection queue.
Since it 2018 Pearl Street, a spinout from Carnegie Mellon University, has primarily worked with transmission system operators such as Southern Company and Midwest grid operator Southwest Power Pool to help them speed up and streamline their processes for studying interconnection. But this summer, Pearl Street launched its Interconnect platform, aimed at providing a similar service to clean energy developers.
“It is a ‘what if’ platform that allows developers to conduct interconnect studies at scale and see how changes in assumptions (such as which projects in an interconnect queue will retire) will impact your project,” Bromberg explains.
That process goes well beyond the initial cost estimates for the interconnection, he noted. As projects move through a grid operator’s multi-step process to receive final interconnection agreements, they experience changes to the underlying network and other projects being added or dropped, as shown in this chart.
Like Nira Energy, Pearl Street mirrors the approach of traditional software platforms from major enterprise players, such as Siemens’ PSS®E and General Electric’s PSLF, which is widely used by grid operators and utilities across the country. But these platforms were originally designed when utilities added a relative handful of new fossil fuel projects to the grid each year, rather than hundreds or even thousands of smaller-scale wind and solar projects.
Using these software platforms in today’s much more complex environment can take weeks for transmission planners to adjust models, experiment with adding new facilities and adjust settings to see what works, Bromberg said. In some cases, these older software platforms may fail completely “solve” for those variables, essentially forcing network engineers to do so “brute force” their way to a satisfactory result, grid expert Jay Caspary told Canary Media last year.
Pearl Street’s new mathematical approach to these challenges, developed with support from the Department of Energy ARPA-E program and the National Science Foundation, can reduce the time required to solve these complex modeling problems to hours, as evidenced by grid engineers from Midcontinent Independent System Operator and Southwest Power Pool.
The Interconnect platform performs essentially the same tasks for property developers, Bromberg said. “It creates the energy flow models, performs the impact analysis, identifies upgrades and allocates them to costs, all according to one [independent system operator’s] published methodologies.”
This does not replace the investigations that individual grid operators and utilities conduct, he warned. But it is “a way to get most of the way there very quickly, to get a reasonable expectation of the results of your interconnection, in hours versus weeks and months.”
These near-real-time assessments become particularly valuable at times when developers must make decisions that could entail millions of dollars in costs, such as making the serious payments required to advance to the next step in an interconnection process, Bromberg said. . Waiting weeks for model results doesn’t work “if you have 15 business days to make a decision on whether to withdraw or move forward,” he said.
Pearl Street has over $2.8 million from investors including Powerhouse Ventures, Incite Ventures, VoLo Earth and Pear Venture Capital. Bromberg declined to name the developers using his Interconnect platform, but he said several companies have used it to support decision-making for active projects at key decision points.
“I don’t think you’ll find that surprising 99 percent of developers call interconnection their number 1. 1 headache these days,” he added. “It is the project killer.” Software that can reveal the range of costs a developer can expect to bear during the interconnection process can play a big role “the difference between a project and no project,” he said – but “it may take years to realize that value.”