By Ayman Fawaz and Swati Dasgupta

National Grid Partners

Achieving Net Zero requires renewable generation at scale as well as a radical transformation of the transmission infrastructure.

  • Peak electricity loads are likely to double and triple, in part because of factors like the increased adoption of EVs and government bans on natural gas appliances.
  • Newly deployed decarbonized sources such as solar and wind are typically situated in areas with no grid connectivity.
  • The core of the existing transmission grid will have to accommodate a significantly larger power flow.

This raises the following question: How do we increase grid capacity in a way that doesn’t require a massively larger physical footprint – yet is also cost-effective in order to have a minimal impact on consumers’ monthly bills?

Enter VEIR – a startup working on a potentially game-changing innovation that could help National Grid and the entire industry successfully and affordably achieve our collective Net Zero transmission goals.

VEIR’s Solution: Cool It

Boston-based VEIR is an early stage innovator developing a disruptive technology that could radically change the physics of power transmission.

It’s a fact that the further you transmit power over a wire, the more you lose because of heat dissipation. A typical 500kV HVDC transmission line, for example, loses about 10% of its power per 1,000 miles due to resistance.

VEIR’s approach uses superconductor materials and a novel cooling system. More specifically, VEIR uses a class of material referred to as high-temperature superconductors (HTS), which dramatically reduce power loss.

To deliver their superconductive capabilities, HTS have to operate at extremely low temperatures – well under -300° F. VEIR’s technology uses liquid nitrogen to keep HTS lines at the necessary temperature, and here’s what’s really different: While previous attempts to use nitrogen have required numerous mechanical cooling stations along transmission routes to keep the coolant circulating, VEIR’s innovation entails an evaporation approach that distributes coolant along the entire transmission line. This delivers 20x the cooling of other approaches and is far more practical over long distances.

The result: A possible 10x increase in transmission capacity within existing physical rights-of-way.

VEIR could thus become a pivotal player in an electric transmission market Brattle Group estimates will reach $500B in investments by 2050 in the US alone. But only if the technology, the logistics, and the financials work out.

The Role of NGP

That’s where National Grid Partners (NGP) comes in. We’re the utility industry’s first Silicon Valley venture capital and innovation arm – and one of the most active in any geography. We work with technologists and entrepreneurs along the entire innovation life cycle.

Since 2018, we’ve invested hundreds of millions of dollars in 32 startups whose products are being deployed right now to help National Grid, our parent company, make its transmission and distribution networks smarter, safer, and more resilient.

The NGP team knows the startup landscape well, understands the challenges utilities will be facing over the next two decades, and is therefore well positioned to identify collaboration opportunities that go beyond the conventional procurement model utilities are familiar with. In addition to conventional venture activities, NGP helps establish co-innovation efforts where National Grid and startups work together to leverage promising innovations and find better solutions to known or anticipated problems.

A Pioneering Collaboration Model

In the case of VEIR, we learned about the company and its value proposition early in the lifecycle; involved National Grid’s experts; and established a collaboration framework that will benefit both sides. VEIR will obtain valuable engineering expertise to help validate its approach, and National Grid will get an early look at a technology with potential implications for thousands of miles of lines we operate in the US and UK.

This broad collaboration will enhance all aspects of the concept-to-delivery lifecycle for VEIR’s technology, including:

  • Deployment feasibility. National Grid will provide insight into everything from real-world transmission, durability, and maintainability expectations to ensuring the solution works on existing reels and truck fleets.
  • National Grid plans to demonstrate VEIR’s evaporation-cooled HTS solution in a protected area of the grid.
  • Financial modeling. National Grid will help VEIR develop potential pricing and other economical aspects of its product.
  • Coalition-building. VEIR will have access to other prospective customers and partners. We’re believers in the power of the network effect to drive progress: NGP convenes the NextGrid Alliance, a first-of-its-kind innovation consortium for senior executives from nearly 100 worldwide energy utilities.

All this early support from National Grid will help VEIR transform its technologically creative breakthrough into a viable product utilities are more likely to buy and deploy.

Ayman Fawaz is an Innovation Consultant with more than 30 years’ experience founding and leading Silicon Valley technology companies. He works with entrepreneurs to develop go-to-market strategies and evaluate new opportunities to collaborate with corporate innovation teams

Swati Dasgupta is Director of Venture Acceleration at National Grid Partners (NGP). She also is head of the NextGrid Alliance, founded by NGP to bring together the world’s top energy providers and accelerate the clean-energy transition through innovation.