A science fiction novel that's been turned into a feature film - that’s what usually comes to mind when we talk about renewable energy. Which is probably because traditional power sources that burn fossil fuels and account for a pesky high carbon footprint have become the norm.
But this is exactly why we need to be on the lookout for revolutionary ideas and encourage the growth of amazing, disruptive and promising renewable energy startups. As they could be the key to ironing out the transition into renewable energy.
While the general idea of renewable energy is pretty consistent in its ideology, the types of projects vary greatly from one technology to the other, and from one business model to the next.
Renewable energy startups come in all shapes and sizes - yes, some companies develop solar and wind energy technologies, but some startups simply facilitate the development and financing of such projects.
Not to mention the renewable energy startups that come up with eco-friendly, efficient grid batteries, as well as the ones that explore the potential of microgrids and utilize the environment to their advantage. But Before we get into our favorite renewable energy startups, let’s take a look at the criteria we use in our selection.
Criteria: the match score
Our platform's "match score" is a pretty straightforward ranking system in that it is a percentage score letting you know how closely a startup or company in our database matches your specific search query. How this is accomplished is through the application of NLP algorithms, namely BERT, that will understand your search query and then translate that into relevant companies. The score then shows how much of a direct match that company is to your search; it's as simple as that.
The top 10 renewable energy startups
These are the top startups, according to the Valuer score, that was generated by our platform when we searched for renewable energy. Of course this doesn't mean there aren't other innovative renewable energy startups out there, these are just the ones that our platform picked as the best fit for our exploratory search into the startup sector.
Let’s kick off the renewable energy startups list by going to Scotland. They are known for their scotch whiskey, but what about draff and pot ale, the by-products of making scotch whisky?
Celtic Renewables is an Edinburgh-based biotech startup that utilizes these by-products to create renewable energy in the form of sustainable biofuel and renewable chemicals. The technology is low-carbon and seeks to replace traditional fossil fuels in the long run.
This startup was founded in 2011 by Martin Tangney, who also founded the Edinburgh Napier University’s Biofuel Research Center in 2007. The result of the ABE, Acetone-Butanol-Ethanol process that utilizes bacterial fermentation is a biofuel called biobutanol.
In 2017, the Celtic Renewables team showed the potential of biobutanol by driving a Ford Focus around the Napier University campus. This promising biofuel can be used to replace regular fuel without the need for any adjustments to a car’s engine.
One of the global challenges of renewable energy startups is funding, which is why the next entry on our list does just that. responsAbility Renewable Energy Holding is a Nairobi-based company headed by CEO Chris Bale that finances and co-develops renewable energy projects in sub-Saharan Africa.
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responsAbility realized there was a gap in the market - while most large companies fund large energy projects, small and medium-sized startups are left in the dust. What’s more, there’s an increasing demand for affordable energy in sub-Saharan Africa, a fact that’s become even more evident during the covid-19 pandemic.
So, responsAbility’s target group for investing and co-development are small and medium-sized renewable energy startups in different project stages, which can range from development to operations. To date, the company’s portfolio includes the funding and co-development of various hydropower and solar energy projects.
Geo Renewables is a Polish, Warsaw-based company that manages renewable energy projects throughout their growth cycles. More specifically, they’ve been setting up wind parks in Poland from start to finish, including their development, construction, and the management and maintenance of operations. Additionally, Geo Renewables offers consulting on other wind energy projects thanks to their devoted team of professionals.
The startup was founded in 2013 by Radek Nowak, who realized the potential of wind energy in Poland’s wide-open landscapes. To date, Geo Renewables is one of the top private wind energy startups. It’s been a part of over 12 renewable energy projects, mostly in the wind energy sector.
Though the primary focus of Geo Renewables is wind parks, as of 2016, the company has partnered up with Ikea to launch Geo Solar, branching out into solar energy solutions. Geo Solar supplies and installs photovoltaic systems in client’s homes so that they can enjoy the benefits of solar energy for everyday electricity needs.
For both ecological and financial reasons, large organizations and companies have started to branch out into the renewable energy startups sector to cover a part of their energy needs. Cherry Street Energy is an Atlanta-based startup founded by Michael Chanin and operating since 2015 offering solar energy solutions to large-scale clients, such as universities and municipal buildings.
The company provides custom solar energy projects that would benefit the specific architectural and infrastructural needs of each customer. They come up with tailor-made, smart solar energy projects that are effective and cost-efficient, and then handle the installation at no additional cost to the client. Cherry Street also provides analytics insights to clients so they can stay on top of their carbon footprint and the cost-effectiveness of the project overall.
Cherry Street Energy has already been a part of a handful of large-scale projects including setting up solar panels for Jekyll Island, municipal buildings in the city of Atlanta, and Emory University. According to the company’s own calculations, it provides the city of Atlanta with 23% and the University of Emory with 10% of their energy during peak demand.
Enernet Global is a New York-based renewable energy startup that specializes in building microgrids. Microgrids are decentralized energy systems that integrate sustainable energy from multiple sources, so it could be a combination of any renewable energy that’s available in a given area or community, like solar solutions, wind parks, etc. That’s why Enernet Global projects create custom solutions that focus on utilizing the natural resources that a certain geographic location has to offer.
Enernet Global was founded by Michael Oster and Steve Hellman in 2015, and it has since set up projects in sub-Saharan Africa, the Philippines, the Caribbean, and Australia. Their microgrids ensure that underserved markets have an affordable, sustainable, and reliable supply of electricity, which is especially useful for remote rural areas and islands - some of Enernet Global’s top clients so far.
In fact, Enernet’s microgrids have been mainly set up in remote communities and islands, as well as for corporate clients in sectors such as tourism and hospitality, agriculture, mining and resource extraction, industrial complexes, food processing, among others.
One of the main challenges of solar energy is the negative effect of soiling on the performance of photovoltaic modules. Dirt and dust deposits build up over the surface that captures the sun's radiation, which results in energy loss ranging between 3% and 45% on average if a solar plant is not cleaned properly.
INTI-TECH is a Chilean company that was founded by Camilo Flores and Camilo Contreras (college friends) in 2016. It’s interesting how they’ve tackled the problem in a creative way that essentially takes care of the efficiency loss of photovoltaic systems and offers an alternative to resource intensive cleaning methods.
INTI-TECH has found a solution that makes operating and maintaining a photovoltaic system cheaper, and more effective in the long run. This is done through semi-autonomous and autonomous cleaning systems (depending on the plant's size) that clean solar farms without requiring any shift in infrastructure, with absolutely no water and less people compared with traditional cleaning methods .
The proprietary technology can clean weekly and on-demand on small scale solar plants. And can be implemented with a semi-autonomous mode on large scale solar plants to comply with the needs and requirements of each operator (frequency and time are customizable). Each robot is specifically designed for dry desert and semi-desert climates, where it’s a real waste not to take advantage of the power of the sun.
4. Siqens Gmbh
Siqens Gmbh is a biotech startup that was founded by Volker Harbusch in 2012 and won the f-cell award for outstanding developments in hydrogen and fuel cell technology that very same year. This Munich-based startup aims to address the lack of electricity in parts of the world.
Many aren’t aware that as many as 1.3 billion people around the world don’t have electricity, and off-grid power is most commonly drawn from sources with a high carbon footprint - gasoline and diesel generators.
Enter Siqens and their methanol-fueled battery that’s designed to be highly efficient and convert the fuel’s energy directly into electricity. This makes the methanol fuel cell more efficient in its energy conversion than traditional internal combustion engines.
Because there aren’t enough renewable resources like wind and sun in all climates, Siqens GmbH’s methanol-fueled battery gets paired with whatever amount of solar energy, for instance, it is in an area and provides the rest itself. The technology enables the cell to eliminate emissions and 70% of the cost of regular fuel.
Founded in 2017 by Illan Caplan, Louisville-based Peak Clean Energy (PCE) seeks to provide renewable energy to local communities, oftentimes rural. Though the company initially focused on providing clients, or rather, partners, with solar energy, Peak Clean branched out into wind energy as well.
In fact, the main idea of the startup is to work on creating renewable energy systems that are compatible with the resources of a given land. So far, they’ve developed solar energy projects in twelve states and wind energy systems in eleven states. PCE has worked with electric co-ops, municipalities, landowners, various local communities, commercial and industrial plants, etc.
In April of 2020, PCE also partnered up with Germany’s GmbH, a renewable energy fund to further develop utility-scale solar projects. But PCE doesn't just set up the renewable energy systems - they maintain their status as owner and operator, making sure everything is financially backed and maintained for years to come, which gives their partners confidence and safety.
Another one of the top renewable energy startups comes from the USA, and this time it’s Renewable Properties. Founded by Aaron Halimi in 2017 and headquartered in San Francisco, Renewable Properties works on both investing in and the development of solar energy.
Mainly focused on small-scale communal, commercial, and utility projects. They are now boasting a team of professionals with experience in investment and development and cooperate with landowners, financial institutions, utilities, and developers as clients.
Renewable Properties actually offers an invaluable service by evaluating what an overall project needs, its specific risks and challenges, how much it would cost, and so on. More specifically, they work with their clients to find the best site for the project, suitable power purchase agreements, construction contracts, and finally, project acquisition.
But the involvement of this company doesn’t stop there - they continue working with their clients throughout the project’s lifespan and engage in project monitoring, financial reporting, and maintenance. In 2020, Renewable Properties raised an additional $30 million from CarVal funds to accelerate growth.
For our top-rated renewable energy startups, we go further up north to Waterloo, Canada, where Sebastian Alamillo founded the PhosphoPOWER Group in 2018. Their golden-ticket idea is the Ocean battery, a scalable, renewable, efficient, economical, reliable, and eco-friendly solution to energy shortages within renewable power grids.
This hybrid redox flow battery utilizes hydrolysis for energy storage to prevent power fluctuations from affecting the end-user’s everyday lives. So, what are the problems of renewable energy grids?
Well, when a community depends on the weather - be it sun or wind - for electricity, there’ll be no shortage of shortages. Usually, communities powered by such renewable energy grids resort to traditional fuels to supplant the deficit. The Ocean battery is the first of its kind.
With battery storage systems that are actually sufficient to do the supplementation when there’s no new renewable energy being generated. The Ocean battery has an 85% efficiency, the life cycle of 80 lithium-ion batteries, and can power up to 250 homes.
Where these renewable energy startups are located
Innovation and renewable energy startups
While solar projects seem to dominate the renewable energy startups ecosystem, this is far from the whole story. What we witnessed here are innovative solutions that take the renewable energy game forward in all kinds of different directions - and all of them are quite promising.
For instance, when we’re talking about solar energy projects, it’s not just companies selling photovoltaic systems anymore. It’s startups finding ways to improve operations and efficiency; it’s groups of professionals combining any sort of renewable energy (like wind and solar) available in a given area to provide people with clean, zero-emission electricity. It’s people caring about sustainability, striving to provide off-grid areas with much-needed power.
[Related Article - Innovating Sustainability: The Future of Energy Generation]
What we also see are startups devoted to remedying any vacuums and gaps left by renewable energy startups and projects so far. The Ocean battery, for instance, is a disruptive technology that sets out to completely eliminate any residual need for traditional fuels to supplement fluctuations in renewable energy supplies. INTI-TECH, as another example, seems to improve the efficiency of solar panels through regular cleaning.
The conclusion? The overarching theme of the most promising renewable energy startups is constant innovation and striving for sustainable solutions.
Sustainable technologies and solutions are the market disruptors that will open the door to new business opportunity and business innovation. With the Valuer platform, this process weeds out the time-consuming procedures and costly accelerator programs and leaves you with what we are calling innovation on demand.
This list is just one example of what we mean about innovation on demand and just one feature of what our platform can generate for your business. With our vast database, combined with our AI-driven platform, the Valuer platform can generate insights ranging from what you see above, to in-depth analysis on industries and sub-industries. Take a test-drive of the platform for free and see what exactly we can do to help you meet your innovative needs.