Bill Watkins named CEO of Imergy Power Systems [San Jose Mercury News]
(San Jose Mercury News (CA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Dec. 02--FREMONT -- Bill Watkins made a name for himself in Silicon Valley as the CEO of hard-drive maker Seagate and then LED start-up Bridgelux.
Now Watkins, a seasoned executive known for his love of bringing new technologies to global markets, has a new gig: as the CEO of energy storage start-up Imergy Power Systems, formerly known as Deeya Energy.
On Monday, Imergy announced several changes. There's the new name: Imergy combines "imagination and energy" and is thought to be more global-sounding than Deeya. There's a new executive team: joining Watkins is Tim Hennessy as executive vice president of sales and marketing and Jack Jenkins-Stark as CFO. And as the company prepares to expand, it has partnered with Flextronics to contract some of its design and packaging work.
Energy storage has long been considered the holy grail of the electricity industry, and interest in the technology has exploded as renewables like solar and wind come down in cost and integrate onto the electric grid in greater volumes. But while Silicon Valley is filled with dozens of battery-based energy storage start-ups, no clear leader has emerged from the pack.
Watkins was lured to Imergy by venture capitalist Ira Ehrenpreis of Technology Partners, Imergy's lead VC investor. Watkins was skeptical, but was won over as he learned more about the company's technology and the emerging energy storage landscape as a whole.
"Everyone is trying something, but these guys have it," said Watkins, who thrives on competition. "No one owns this brand, and no one owns this market. That's why we are trying to scale this fast. We think we can own this market."
Imergy's storage platform is based on redox flow batteries, a type of rechargeable battery where a liquid electrolyte flows through an electrochemical cell. The company is backed by venture capital firms Technology Partners, NEA, BueRun, DFJ and Element Partners; there are 87 employees at its Fremont headquarters.
Imergy is not just working on flow batteries in the lab. The company has 50 batteries installed, primarily as backup solutions for telecommunications towers, throughout northern India. India has been a great test market for Imergy due to its hot temperatures, remote locations and an electric grid that constantly goes down. That's battle-tested the technology in tough conditions and given investors confidence that the start-up is ready to ramp up production and conquer new markets.
"About a year ago, the technology team had a breakthrough and fundamentally changed the chemistry they had been working on," said Ehrenpreis. "That breakthrough opened up the floodgates, and enabled us to recruit a top team. With Bill, Tim and Jack, you have a team that can take the technology breakthrough and bring it to commercialization."
Imergy is now working on larger systems that can be used to maximize power output from renewables like solar and wind, as well as applications for commercial customers like data centers.
"We've been starting off with small systems, like 5 kilowatts," said Tim Hennessy, who previously worked as president of Prudent Energy, a manufacturer of flow batteries in China. "But we will grow the system size. We're working on a 250 kilowatt unit, and then units can be stacked together."
In October, state regulators with the California Public Utilities Commission approved a groundbreaking proposal that requires PG&E, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric to collectively buy more than 1.3 gigawatts of energy storage by 2020--roughly enough electricity to supply nearly 994,000 homes. Once large quantities of energy can be stored, the electric grid can make better use of solar, wind and other technologies that generate energy sporadically rather than in a steady flow, and can better manage disruptions from unpredictable events such as storms and wildfires.
But Imergy is not just focusing on the California market, in part because there is so much opportunity overseas.
"In places like India and Africa and Asia there's millions of people without electricity. There's a lot of momentum to put in microgrids," said Watkins. "Once you get your mind around the chemistry and understand the market, you know this is a game-changing opportunity. We're evolving India, going after China and East Africa. We need to move fast, move big and move international."
Contact Dana Hull at 408-920-2706. Follow her at Twitter.com/danahull.
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