Softbank makes first investment in renewable energy
August 21, 2019
Japanese conglomerate Softbank has led a $110m series B funding round into Swiss renewable energy storage start-up Energy Vault.
The investment for the round was made by the SoftBank Vision Fund in its first investment in energy storage technology. Energy Vault will use the funds to accelerate global deployment of its technology, which enables renewables to deliver baseload power for less than the cost of fossil fuels 24 hours a day.
As part of the investment, Andreas Hansson, partner for SoftBank Investment Advisers, will join the Energy Vault board of directors.
Renewables have struggled historically to replace fossil fuel power as a result of production unpredictability and intermittency from reliance on variable factors such as wind and sunlight. In the absence of more efficient and cost-effective storage, the amount of electricity that can be delivered to the grid from renewable energy sources, even though now widely affordable, has been limited.
Energy Vault’s technology was inspired by pumped hydro plants that rely on the power of gravity and the movement of water to store and discharge electricity. The company’s technology is based on the same well-understood fundamentals of physics and mechanical engineering used in those plants, but replaces water with custom made composite bricks through the use of low-cost materials and material science.
The bricks, each weighing 35 metric tons, are combined with Energy Vault’s proprietary design and machine vision software to operate a newly designed crane. The software autonomously orchestrates the energy storage tower and electricity charge and discharge using predictive intelligence and a stack of proprietary algorithms that account for various factors, including energy supply-and-demand volatility, grid stability and weather.
As a result, the Energy Vault tower can deliver all the benefits of a large scale pumped hydro storage system, but at a lower cost and higher round-trip efficiency, and without the requirement for specific land topography and negative environmental impacts.
Energy Vault has experienced significant growth since its launch in November 2018. In addition to the previously announced agreement with Tata Power Limited, India’s largest integrated power company, Energy Vault will be demonstrating the first 35MWh storage tower in the north of Italy in 2019.
The company has also developed a relationship with Cemex that includes a technology collaboration and development agreement as well as an investment from Cemex Ventures announced in May 2019. As a further measure of the market demand and upcoming adoption of the technology, Energy Vault has agreements with customers on four continents.
“Energy Vault solves a long-standing and complex problem of how to store renewable energy at scale,” said Akshay Naheta, managing partner for SoftBank Investment Advisers. “The company’s integration of proven technologies with 21st century material science and machine vision software reshapes the unit economics of renewable energy while being restorative to the environment. Energy Vault is highly complementary to SoftBank’s existing energy portfolio and we are pleased to further the company’s global development.”
Energy Vault’s renewable energy storage products can transform the approach to long duration, utility-scale energy storage. Applying conventional physics fundamentals of gravity and potential energy, the system combines a crane design that lifts specially designed, massive concrete bricks with a proprietary, cloud-based software platform. This orchestrates the storage and discharge of electricity.
“As we pursue our mission to enable renewable energy to replace fossil fuels 24 hours a day, we’re thrilled to partner with SoftBank Vision Fund as we expand our global presence,” said Robert Piconi, chief executive officer of Energy Vault. “The Vision Fund shares our passion to combat climate change through innovation in energy storage technologies and, with its support as a strategic partner, Energy Vault is well positioned to meet the large and currently unmet demand for sustainable and economical energy storage worldwide.”