Santa Cruz Tech Beat

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infiniRel – Back to the Future

By Bert Wank
infiniRel Corporation CEO
Special to Santa Cruz Tech Beat

May 26, 2020 — Santa Cruz, CA

(Image source: infiniRel)

Monterey Bay Startup Challenge 2020 winner has a mission to make renewable energy more reliable, available, and affordable

What a great welcome to the Santa Cruz Monterey Bay Area, to be honored recipient of this year’s Startup Challenge Monterey Bay 2020 award.

infiniRel is a high-tech systems company with its mission to make renewable energy more reliable, available, and affordable. I founded infiniRel on my observation of critical failures in solar plants. We provide the proverbial check-engine light for utility-scale solar plant operators to avoid critical engine failure – in this case the solar inverter, using our patented, predictive analytics system.

infiniRel’s team came up with its independent, proprietary approach that is similar to an EKG, an Electro Kardio Graph, to monitor the heart signature of patients, rather than checking a pulse. We call it Energy Kardio Graph, embedded in our infiniPad inverter health scanner.

Diagram showing how infiniRel works
(Image above: PowerBrain technology integrates analog, digital signal processing, A.I., and cloud technologies to ensure the heart of a solar plant lives longer so that timely corrective action minimizes cost. Source: infiniRel)

It is designed to work with most patients, in our case solar inverters, regardless of manufacture. If our inverter patient shows signs of sickness, we deploy a pacemaker, the infiniPod, to lower stress of the inverter and extend it life. This saves our clients escalating maintenance, repair, replacement, and expediting costs, that otherwise eat into their profits – for the remaining years of the solar plant. And a healthy eco system is important for California.

After initial testing of our EKG system for the heart of a solar plant in the Bay Area in 2011, our initial approach was technically successful in detecting inverter failure, but unsuccessful detecting business model failure. The company had to pivot to survive.

At a solar conference in 2014 I had the opportunity to meet Jigar Shah, former founder and CEO of now defunct SunEdison. I asked Jigar to comment on hardware funding after Solyndra, whose failure made hardware funding even more difficult to come by.

“Funding is not the problem,” I heard. So what is the problem?

“Policy. Policy de-risks money.”

And California makes great policy for renewables. A few months later I left Dallas, TX, for Silicon Valley, soon to meet Bill Allen, who returned from setting up Volvo’s manufacturing plant in India.

Back to the future

By 2019, the solar industry has seen up to 500% budget overruns to fix inverters. Increasing costs in the supply chain left fewer profits for manufacturers and operators, and declining market prices for renewable energy started a race to the bottom. It changed the rules of survival for many inverter and solar companies.

Our 10-year old technology now gained attention, affirmed by a consulting contract with an Energy Service Provider (ESP), using our PowerBrainTM technology. The market has changed and the business model has changed. In December 2019 I met Andreas Schneider, a fellow German and Thunderbird alumnus and former telecom executive with domain expertise in solar plants. Formerly responsible for the global service division of KACO new energy, an inverter manufacturer that was acquired by Siemens, Andy immediately recognized the opportunity.

We had a follow-on meeting at Pono Hawaiian Grill in Santa Cruz, which provided a fun backdrop for our video submission for the NREL-administered American Solar Challenge.

Andreas joined our team from Germany as our advisor and Chief Marketing Officer-in- Residence. In February 2020 infiniRel won a semi-finalist award from the Department of Energy. It is an exciting time to be here, away from the hustle and bustle of the Valley, yet close enough.

We will soon be adding data science, machine learning, UI/UX and cloud computing expertise. If you have mastered challenges in these domains and are eager to make renewable energy reliable and affordable, we would love to hear from you. Solar power is only the beginning of our journey.

Renewables, e-mobility, and battery energy storage systems become critical components in our energy and transportation future. Electric vehicles, heavy-lift drones and air taxis need affordable and reliable power. infiniRel predicts reliability and extends the life of critical components these applications rely on. Winning the Monterey Bay Startup Award 2020, under this pandemic, motivated us to relocate our headquarters from NextSpace/PAC San Jose to NextSpace Santa Cruz.

My thanks go out to Brad Barbeau and his team at CSUMB, Rick Thau who volunteered as our mentor, and the CSUMB / iiED sponsors, who have pulled together despite our challenging economy. It is great to be in good company, and grow the region’s hardware eco system between Joby Aviation and Zero Motorcycles. Santa Cruz’s atmosphere helps decompressing at the beach, getting our next inspiration of solving big problems.

Meet me at NextSpace sometime after the COVID fog lifts, and let’s brew some German Hefeweizen.

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The TI bug is a registered trademarks of Texas Instruments, logos are registered trademarks of Volvo and Kaco new energy (acquired by Siemens). The orange infinity symbol, infiniRel, infiniPad, infiniPod, GyroVerter, Transform Energy, and PowerBrain are trademarks of infiniRel Corporation.

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