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Publication Date: 02/1/2010
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Austin's Clean Energy Venture Fosters Debate About Utilities

For two days, deal-makers, utilities and emerging clean energy technology companies from across the U.S. converged at Austin's third-annual Clean Energy Venture Summit (CEVS) to share ideas about advancing the smart grid, compete for funding and vie for a chance to participate in the Pecan Street Project, the most aggressive smart grid project in the nation.

CEVS is an annual event hosted by the Austin Technology Incubator (ATI), a nonprofit division of the University of Texas. CEVS covers a new topic each year, from the carbon market, policy and business in a carbon economy and the early start of smart grid to this year's more developed look at smart grid technologies. This year, companies presented to investors looking for clean technology ventures to fund with approximately $1 billion in cumulative capital available. Some companies came with hopes of getting a piece of the $1 billion capital while others aspired to participate in the Pecan Street Project and garner attention from regional utilities such as: TXU Energy, Centerpoint Energy, Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative, Austin Energy, and CPS. Some of this year's sponsors included: Austin Energy, which co-hosted; IBM; Texas Instruments; Mercom Capital Group, which provided public relations services for the event; Austin Technology Incubator, which hosted; and the City of Austin. Investors in attendance represented groups such as: Battery Ventures, Sevin Rosen Funds, DFJ Mercury, 21Ventures, Applied Ventures, and SVB Financial Group.

20 Companies Compete
The summit was a competition with 20 companies each presenting for five minutes followed by a ten minute question and answer session from a panel of 25 judges. Judges included investors, utility executives, media, and other prominent representatives from the clean energy sector. The competition focused on enabling technologies in five areas: distributed generation and renewable energy; energy efficiency; storage and transportation; demand management, and other smart grid technologies. Judges evaluated entries based on innovation, overall market opportunity, stage of development, IP position, resource requirements, environmental impact and potential ROI.

Of the 20 competing companies, the list was narrowed down to the top five, with EcoFit Lighting walking away with top honors and a package of prizes from sponsoring companies. EcoFit Lighting, a developer of high output LED street light fixtures, showcased its DuraStreet Series LED light engine during the event. DuraStreet fits virtually all street lighting luminaries, allowing customers to replace existing lighting sources without generating waste associated with replacing entire street lighting fixtures.

Five-Part Win
EcoFit's winning package included the opportunity to work with the Pecan Street Project, membership in the Austin Technology Incubator, a three-month public relations package and a package of financial, information-technology and legal assistance. Following the awards presentation, Cason Coplin, CEO of EcoFit Lighting, stated, "This (summit) fosters an environment where connections can be made and where companies and ideas can grow and prosper."

In addition to EcoFit, event organizers recognized four other companies for their highly promising technologies: Anzode, Graphene Energy, Ideal Power Converters, and Trinity Thermal.

Anzode Inc., a developer of rechargeable stabilized zinc batteries to advance storage solutions for cleantech applications, delivered a convincing presentation about its unique battery chemistry compared to heavier and less durable combinations on the market today. Based in New Zealand, Anzode has a US presence in San Francisco and Austin.

Graphene Energy Inc., a developer of nano-technology based ultracapacitors for energy storage, represented a more futuristic solution but attracted judges with the promise it makes of sizable breakthroughs. Ultracapacitors store and deliver energy quickly, making them suitable for high power density applications. Graphene Energy originated at the University of Texas at Austin and has already attracted investment from 21Ventures and Quercus Trust.

Ideal Power Converters, based in Austin, Texas and a member of the Austin Technology Incubator, showcased its next generation of photovoltaic inverters that support integrated battery charging and storage. The technology targets all power converter applications greater than 10kW. The company recently received a grant from Austin Energy.

Trinity Thermal showcased IceCycle, its thermal energy storage technology, which easily and inexpensively works with small to mid-sized air conditioning systems. By storing excess energy in off periods, such as nighttime, IceCycle assists in peak demand management, lowering the cost of energy and raising efficiency. Unlike its competitors, IceCycle retrofits to existing air conditioners. Austin Energy will pilot the IceCycle technology alongside its competitor Ice Energy, giving them a chance to prove themselves in the field.

Summit organizers pulled out all stops, adding a power packed lunch panel discussion where utility executives debated how they would interact with customers in the future. Mark Rose of Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative held that utilities should service the customer by providing an open platform to track and control individual energy consumption, using the applications of their choosing.

However, in order to stay competitive, other utility executives, such as Carl Richie of TXU Energy, felt that the utilities should provide these applications and services on top of its power networks. Pricing and whether it should vary depending on the type of energy in use was also a hot topic during the discussion. Utility companies we see today will not be the utility companies we will see tomorrow, and much of the change may result from emerging smart grid technologies. Utilities, emerging companies, clean energy enthusiasts and clean energy investors all agreed that Austin's Clean Energy Venture Summit is the forum to discuss and debate changing energy needs. The impact of CEVS 2009 will encourage future identification of technologies to drive market innovation both within and outside the confines of the event.

Mercom Capital Group, LLC is a public relations, public affairs and market intelligence firm specializing in clean energy. At Mercom, we help companies build powerful relationships with media, analysts, government decision-makers and local communities. Mercom Capital Group is located in Austin, Texas and has offices in Bangalore, India.

Contact: Mercom Capital Group, LLC, 6836 Bee Cave Road, Suite 238, Austin, TX 78746 512-215-4452 E-mail: Web:

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