Tapping into New York City’s high-tech talent with a focus on sustainability and a cleaner environment, the New York City Accelerator for a Clean and Resilient Economy (NYC ACRE) is a leading force in promoting a green economy and reducing energy consumption.
by Jodi Ackerman Frank
New York is the largest city by population in the United States, with more than a million buildings and a sprawling transportation system that includes one of the largest subway systems in the world. The city has the largest commercial office market in the nation, consisting of nearly 440 million square feet.
Responding to these challenges, New York City is working with utilities, policymakers and cleantech companies to implement a plan to grow a green economy and reduce energy consumption. Over the past five years, the New York City Accelerator for a Clean and Resilient Economy (NYC ACRE) has served as an integral part of helping to make this happen through nurturing and accelerating cleantech startups throughout the metropolis.
NYC ACRE, established in 2009, operates through the New York University Tandon School of Engineering (NYU Tandon). It is one of six incubator programs funded by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to support and transform cleantech startups into viable businesses.
“By leveraging the wealth of global talent we have in New York City, our goal is to advance the city as a role model for a low-carbon future and accelerate a clean and resilient economy,” said Kurt Becker, vice dean for research, innovation and entrepreneurship at NYU Tandon.
The growth of emerging clean energy economy through the incubator program is also a core component of New York State’s Reforming the Energy Vision strategy to build a clean, resilient and affordable energy system.
Since December 2015, NYSERDA has supported the incubator program with a total of $14 million, leveraging $15 in private sector investment for every one dollar invested by NYSERDA. The companies that were fostered by these incubators are poised for continued growth as the clean energy market expands in New York State and globally.
“Innovation is a key component to a thriving cleantech economy,” NYSERDA President and CEO John B. Rhodes said. “With NYC ACRE and our other NYSERDA-funded incubators fully supporting cleantech transfer and business success, New York State is growing jobs and bolstering economic development.”
Buildings: If You Can’t Replace Them, Make Them More Efficient
In 2007, New York City launched PlaNYC, an ambitious set of strategies for sustainability, with the overarching goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent citywide by 2030.
According to the New York Mayor’s Carbon Challenge Progress Report, released in April 2013, increasing the energy efficiency of existing buildings represents the greatest opportunity to meet this goal — 75 percent of the city’s emissions come from its buildings, and 80 percent of the buildings that exist today will still be here in 2050.
“Commercial buildings in the United States waste on average 30 percent of their energy usage, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), at a cost of billions of dollars each year,” said Connell McGill, cofounder and CEO of Enertiv. The startup is one of several NYC ACRE companies that are creating products for better energy efficiency in buildings.
Enertiv, founded in 2011, has developed an energy data and analytics platform that tracks, measures and reports energy use at the equipment level. The system, a combination of hardware and software, collects energy data from every circuit in a circuit breaker panel to identify energy waste.
Enertiv’s meter, called EnertivTwo (upgraded from the EnertivOne prototype), is housed in an enclosure that is mounted next to the breaker panel. Sensors collect electricity data from the individual circuits. Each meter, which does not require rewiring of a building or other interruptions to operations, supports a typical 42-circuit panel that services about 5,000 square feet.
EnertivTwo takes thousands of readings per second. It works in conjunction with the company’s family of wireless software products, the Energy Management Suite (EnertivEMS), to track and benchmark energy consumption down to individual pieces of equipment, such as kitchen appliances, air conditioners and lighting fixtures. The data is stored on an Internet cloud server.
The Enertiv system detects common energy drains, such as leaving lights on or running air conditioning and heating systems at the same time. After the installation of the Enertiv system at a public school in Connecticut in one pilot project, administrators determined that they could save thousands of dollars a year by requiring teachers to turn off their computers when not at work.
Enertiv’s meter collects electricity data from the individual circuits. Each meter supports a typical 42-circuit panel that services about 5,000 square feet.
The system also allows users to determine if energy waste is coming from malfunctioning equipment, such as a clogged duct or malfunctioning motor.
“Our software flags problems as they happen, and our certified energy managers then analyze the consumption of each piece of equipment,” McGill said. “For example, big-box retail stores have rooftop air-handling units for air circulation. If you look at the data from the circuits that are powering these units, sometimes you’ll see the load gradually increasing over time. What that tells us is that the device isn’t operating in the most optimized way. It may need a new filter or a component replacement. So, our system is also about extending the lifetime of equipment and improving overall operations and efficiency.”
The startup, whose main market is commercial and public buildings, has already installed its systems in most major cities in the United States as well as internationally. (Read the company profile for more information on individual clients and partnerships.) The data has supported energy savings of up to 30 percent or more, with paybacks between 1-2 years.
Enertiv, which has 20 employees, continues to conduct its prototyping with the help of NYU interns and researchers through its collaboration with NYC ACRE. The final products are manufactured at McGill’s family-owned printer manufacturing facility in New Jersey.
Over the past year, Enertiv has raised $1.5 million from private investors, including Foursquare mobile app cofounder Naveen Selvadurai; J. Michael Smith, CEO of the Cabot Group, a commercial real-estate services firm; and Building Link President Jerry Kestenbaum.
“There is a huge problem with energy consumption in New York City’s buildings — a problem worth solving,” McGill said.
A Solution to Overheated Housing
Radiator Labs is also focused on helping to fulfill the goal to lower energy use in buildings. The five-member team startup, established in 2012, has created a device called the Cozy to make steam radiators more efficient.
Radiator Labs developed the Cozy, an insulated covering that regulates individual steam radiators. Each Cozy includes a Wi-Fi chip to download a free smartphone app to set the desired temperature of a space.
In New York City alone, there are about 10 million steam radiators. NYSERDA estimates that up to 30 percent of steam heat is wasted, mostly through open windows. The majority of the city’s buildings use steam radiators because they were built before World War II, when steam was the primary source used for heating.
Traditional steam boiler systems were developed before fans, pumps, valves and thermostats for controlling heat flow became available for individual apartment spaces. These boiler systems typically are set to heat the coldest apartment to a comfortable temperature, which means that the rest of the building can become overheated.
To tackle this problem, Radiator Labs developed the Cozy to regulate individual steam radiators. The device, which includes an insulated covering and fan, connects wirelessly to any smartphone to create a high-tech thermostat.
“When an apartment space is at the desirable temperature, the covering prevents excess heat from getting into the room. When it gets cold, the fan draws warm air out of the enclosure and heats up the space,” said Radiator Labs CEO and founder Marshall Cox.
Because of the thermodynamics of steam, the heat that would have otherwise overheated the room remains in the steam system, thus increasing energy efficiency. Cox said that the Cozy is a simple solution that could have a huge impact on reducing energy waste in New York City and elsewhere, with energy savings of up to 40 percent.
“We’re preventing energy waste, and that’s a very important thing if you’re talking about the city’s PlaNYC challenge, which is based on reducing emissions and pollution. We believe our company will have an enormous effect on that,” said Cox, who holds six patents.
Radiator Labs has been based at the NYC ACRE incubator since 2012, the same year it won $220,000 as the grand prize winner in the MIT Clean Energy Prize competition, organized by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 2014, Radiator Labs received a NYSERDA grant to accelerate product commercialization. The startup also received $250,000 in 2015 as a Verizon Powerful Answers Award winner in the Sustainability category. As of 2015, Radiator Labs has installed about 1,000 Cozy systems across seven buildings in New York City.
Power in a Pipe
Rentricity technicians set up a Flow-to-Wire system at the Beaver Run Reservoir Pump Station in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. Flow-to-Wire generates electricity from untapped pressure in drinking-water pipes.
While many NYC ACRE startup technologies are designed for energy savings, one company has developed a system to scavenge otherwise wasted energy from an unlikely source. Rentricity has developed a system to generate electricity from untapped pressure in drinking-water pipes.
The seed for Rentricity was planted shortly after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Company cofounder Frank Zammataro, who built a high-tech career creating websites and running a venture fund at Merrill Lynch, was working as a consultant for another startup at the time. The building Zammataro worked in was damaged, so he and his business partner Jason Scharfspitz, also a Rentricity cofounder, relocated to building space that a firm had offered to displaced companies.
“We set up our tables along a conference room wall, and right below the window was a water tower that we would look at every day. One day, we talked about the idea of putting a wheel and a pipe on that water tower to create an energy source,” Zammataro said.
A year later, the two men decided to find out if it could be done. At a friend’s suggestion, they hosted a lunch for a few professors and graduate students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Upstate New York for a chance to explain their concept. One professor said there might be a better opportunity to scavenge wasted energy not from a water tower itself, but from the pressure released from its interconnected pipelines.
Most municipal water utilities depend on gravity and controlling the momentum of water as it flows through pipes into homes and businesses. To make this happen, water is stored in towers or elevated reservoirs. When water is delivered from a high elevation to a low elevation and from large pipes to smaller ones, utilities must dissipate the excess pressure to prevent pipes from bursting. They do so by releasing it through a system of valves. Rentricity’s Flow-to-Wire system turns this pressure into electricity.
“This regulation of pressure — where friction occurs within the valve — is where we can collect an untapped energy source,” said Zammataro, who incorporated Rentricity in 2003.
The system can be installed at various points of the utility’s infrastructure, such as at pump and transfer stations, pipelines located beneath streets and treatment plants. The energy collected can be used to offset the power needed to run the utility plant or sold back to the electric grid.
Flow-to-Wire, which includes a turbine, generator, sensors, processors, electronic controls and communications equipment, can be integrated with existing SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) systems, which are computerized networks used for automating and monitoring industrial facilities and equipment.
Rentricity has installed its Flow-to-Wire system at water utility locations in New York, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, California, Idaho, Vermont and Canada. The company is now exploring the South and Central American markets as well as irrigation and industrial water applications, such as poultry processors that use large amounts of water.
Rentricity, which targets water, wastewater and industrial infrastructure for its system integrations, also has access to the global marketplace through its exclusive partnerships with Xylem, an international water technology company, and Oregon-based Cornell Pump Company.
In 2015, Rentricity’s partnership with Xylem resulted in an NSF-certified suite of products called Sustainable Energy & Monitoring Systems that integrates Xylem’s centrifugal pumps with Rentricity control systems and services.
Flow-to-Wire provides power typically between the 5-350 kilowatt range. In fall 2014, NYSERDA awarded the New York-based startup a $100,000 grant. The funding is being used to assess the energy recovery opportunity from a four-foot-diameter pipe at a water treatment plant near Albany that processes about 20 million gallons of drinking water a day.
Green Loading Zones could feature prominent striping or other pavement markings
as well as round-the-clock or time-limited zero-emission designation.
Image Credit: W X Y Architecture + Urban Design
EV Charging Stations: Going Wireless
Pollution from transportation is another area that NYC ACRE is tackling through accelerating startups that are developing advanced transportation technologies, ranging from a wireless infrastructure platform for electric vehicle (EV) charging stations to a phone app for an innovative carpooling service.
Transportation is the largest single source of air pollution in the United States. Motor vehicles contribute more than half of the emissions of the greenhouse gas nitrogen oxide and about half of the toxic air pollutant emissions in the United States, according to the EPA. New York City's extensive public transportation system makes it more sustainable than most American cities. Still, motor vehicles account for nearly 30 percent of the nitrogen oxide emitted citywide.
The good news is that the city, in tandem with New York State’s overall goal to drive a Statewide clean energy economy, continues to find ways to reduce vehicle pollutants, such as incorporating the use of EVs and hybrid vehicles.
In 2013, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo unveiled ChargeNY to create a Statewide network of up to 3,000 public and workplace charging stations by 2018 to support 40,000 plug-in hybrid and EVs. Spearheaded by NYSERDA and the New York Power Authority, the goal is to fast-track EV use.
Since ChargeNY was launched, nearly 500 EV charging stations have been added across the New York State, bringing the total number so far to about 1,000. Nearly 10,000 EVs are now on the road across the State.
Pictured here is a rendering of HEVO’s wireless charging technology in a Green Loading Zone on Roosevelt Island in New York City. Green Loading Zones are designated spaces for recharging electric vehicles. Image Credit: W X Y Architecture + Urban Design
One NYC ACRE company, HEVO Power, is developing wireless charging products to serve as a new type of electric vehicle charging station. HEVO expects to deploy its current system to fleet vehicles in depots, parking lots, garages and designated parking spots, such as Green Loading Zones.
The system consists of a HEVO power station either mounted or embedded in the pavement and a compatible wireless receiver fitted to the vehicle. Once the transmitter and receiver are aligned, the driver can start charging the battery.
HEVO is also developing a HEVO mobile app and dashboard. The app will allow users to start and stop charging, pay for charging and, ultimately, locate HEVO charging locations. The dashboard provides remote access to vehicle charging performance and energy usage data.
“Using both the HEVO mobile app and dashboard, fleet managers will be able to better optimize maintenance and repair schedules, reducing downtime and saving money,” said Jeremy McCool, a former U.S. Army Infantry platoon leader in Baghdad who founded HEVO in 2011.
HEVO, which has approval from the Federal Communications Commission to test wireless charging for EVs, has set up several pilot projects to test its system across the U.S. as well as in Italy and the Netherlands. The technology can be used with many types of EVs, including fleet trucks, forklifts, taxis and mobile food carts.
HEVO received a $240,000 NYSERDA grant, which allowed the startup to work with NYU researchers to develop its product. The NYU Tandon faculty who developed the HEVO technology also secured $150,000 from PowerBridgeNY.
Led by the NYU Tandon and Columbia University, PowerBridgeNY is a partnership between two NYSERDA-funded Proof-of-Concept Centers (POCCs). Three POCCs (the third is NEXUS-NY led by High Tech Rochester) were established in 2013 to identify promising early-stage technologies and advance them to the next step in business development and commercialization before incubation.
McCool said that what attracted him to NYC ACRE was not only the space and location, but also the opportunities to meet key players who want to move the EV industry forward, including investors, dignitaries from around the world, and other cleantech companies.
“We’ve had a chance to meet prime ministers, and even the Prince of Denmark,” McCool said.
“NYC ACRE is really a significant location in terms of having the opportunity to engage potential customers and investors and people who are truly interested in mobilizing cleantech technologies into the marketplace.”
Two Bandwagon customers pose for a picture at the National Association of Broadcasters trade show in Las Vegas that showcases media and entertainment technologies. The NYC ACRE startup has created a high-tech carpooling service through an app for iPhone and Android that allows people heading in the same direction to share cab rides.
While HEVO is focused on enhancing EV charging infrastructure, Bandwagon is focused on reducing the number of vehicles on congested roadways altogether. The NYC ACRE startup has created a high-tech carpooling service through an app for iPhone and Android smartphones that allows people heading in the same direction to share cab rides.
“The whole idea around Bandwagon is to conserve common resources, fossil fuel and public space while decreasing the cost of public mobility,” said David Mahfouda, who founded Bandwagon in 2009 and has seven employees. “There are so many people every day who travel at the same time, in the same direction, but in separate vehicles. The status quo is expensive, antisocial and inefficient.”
Through Bandwagon’s patented routing technology, the mobile app allows travelers to find others with similar itineraries and share rides for a discount of up to 40 percent off original taxi fares.
The company secured its first big pilot project in 2012, when it received a $212,000 grant from NYSERDA to work on a problem that both taxis and other car services in New York City face — how to organize shared trips from LaGuardia Airport, where as many as 100 people can make up the waiting line for a cab ride. Bandwagon ran a pilot taxi-sharing program at LaGuardia in 2013.
“The areas with the biggest transportation problems are airports. They attract more customers than they have available taxis,” said Mahfouda, adding that the company also targets train stations and big conference events.
The pilot project was a success, and the startup has launched another pilot project at the same airport that will extend from the initial one terminal to several terminals in the yearlong partnership.
Bandwagon also matches passengers at Newark International Airport’s United Airline Terminal (C) who want to travel in yellow cabs anywhere in New York City.
The app works like this: Individuals type in their destination on their phone either when they want a cab or in advance. The Bandwagon app then matches them up with other people waiting in the same line, connects them via chat so they can meet up, and splits the fare.
“On the one hand we’re doing queue management, which is passenger organization out of airports. We also offer an unexpected social networking opportunity — people who want to share rides inevitably like each other,” Mahfouda said.
Wherever they may be going, Bandwagon users can check the profiles of their potential riding partners before accepting a seat and communicate with one another on where to meet up for the ride and pay their cab fare.
In addition to its partnerships with United Airlines at Newark Liberty International Airport and the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission, the startup works regularly with the Manhattan Cruise Terminal, the Las Vegas Convention Center, the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center and the Javits Center.
Bandwagon, which won a $700,000 grant from Verizon, also has been supported by the Energy Excelerator, the Challenge Cup and the Shanghai Ford Mobility Challenge.
Mahfouda, whose company has been headquartered at NYC ACRE since 2011, said the incubator has been an invaluable resource. “We would never have applied for any of the NYSERDA grants or the Verizon funding if it were not for NYC ACRE,” Mahfouda said. “There’s a constant influx of information about our industry that the incubator does a good job of organizing and sharing.”
A Hub of Cleantech Innovation
NYC ACRE is housed in the Urban Future Lab (UFL), a 10,000-square-foot exhibition and work space. The open-floor plan allows cleantech startups to work side-by-side in an accessible location.
UFL is located in Brooklyn’s MetroTech Center, a major commercial and academic center. UFL showcases exhibitions and offers space for lectures, training sessions, meetings and other cleantech-related events. The facility is also home to PowerBridgeNY.
“NYC ACRE and our Urban Future Lab facility that supports the incubator and a whole host of other programs and events have really created a cleantech hub in the heart of New York City,” Becker said. “The result is a robust global cleantech community and network base that is serving as a catalyst for cleantech company growth.”
NYC ACRE, which has 15 client cleantech companies, has graduated 12 companies since 2009, creating a total of about 215 jobs. These companies have raised over $43 million in private capital since then.
NYC ACRE companies have access to mentors and researchers at NYU; regular venture capital investor office hours and grant writing support; and legal, marketing, human resources and accounting expertise.
“NYC ACRE is a testament to the strength of the partnerships it has, including NYSERDA, the New York City Economic Development Corporation and the mayor’s office, National Grid, ADT, among many other partnerships with universities, government and industry,” said Micah Kotch, former NYC ACRE director who now serves as the strategic adviser for innovation and director of NY Prize, part of a Statewide endeavor to modernize New York State’s electric grid.
Marshall Cox, the founder of Radiator Labs, couldn’t agree more: “NYC ACRE is the premier cleantech incubator in New York State,” he said. “ACRE has the connections to the utilities, NYSERDA and other government funding opportunities, and all the other stakeholders that have a stake in renewable energy.”
Enertiv: Building Better Transparency
Connell McGill and Pavel Khodorkovsky met as students at Babson College, a business school in Massachusetts with a heavy emphasis in entrepreneurship. McGill took an internship at a building engineering firm in Houston, where he saw big corporations, hospitals and government agencies paying millions of dollars on building management systems to save on electricity costs.
The solutions were considered the best at the time, which mostly controlled heating, cooling and ventilations systems, as well as lighting systems, with occasional recommendations for wind turbine or photovoltaic installations. But, according to McGill, these solutions were expensive and didn’t offer much data analysis.
“Building owners and companies want as much transparency as possible into how they are consuming energy, especially if they are seeking LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification on new facilities,” McGill said. “But I didn’t feel, given the price tag of the systems and the limited amount of information they received, that they were really getting that transparency.”
To address the issue head on, McGill and Khodorkovsky founded Enertiv in 2011. The startup designs, manufactures and installs real-time energy monitoring systems and software for commercial and institutional facilities.
The company’s flagship system, EnertivTwo, works at the circuit level to track, measure and report energy usage, allowing building owners, facility managers and residents to identify energy waste and trim costs. The system, which is mounted beside breaker boxes, uses split-core current transformers to monitor every circuit inside the panel.
“The monitoring system saves our customers energy and money by providing actionable insights into equipment-level usage,” Khodorkovsky said.
Enertiv has installed about 1,000 of its systems at Capital One, Vice Media, Quiznos restaurant and other commercial building locations. The company has also installed its systems at New York University and multi-apartment residential complexes.
In 2014, Enertiv was hired by the New York Power Authority (NYPA) to develop a virtual audit on 34 NYPA buildings. Con Edison also is collaborating with the startup as a channel partner to service the New York City portfolio of a high-end restaurant owner. The startup has about 50 strategic partnerships with energy management companies, utilities, LED and solar installers, and buildings control companies.
“Our company goes back to our vision of creating a service product for 100 percent energy-consumption transparency,” said McGill, “while making it affordable to businesses and educational facilities of all sizes.”
Radiator Labs: Cozy Beats Stifling Hot
Marshall Cox, who earned his Ph.D. in electrical engineering at Columbia University in 2013, founded Radiator Labs as a result of his firsthand experience of living in overheated housing. Sometimes, he said, his radiator-heated apartment would reach 85 degrees in winter.
Cox’s frustration came to a head when he temporarily shared his studio living quarters with his twin brother, who was hired to perform in a Broadway show.
“He slept on the floor by the window, and he was colder or hotter than me depending on if the radiator was on or the window was open. So, he was not happy,” Cox said.
Working with his Ph.D. advisor and some student colleagues, Cox developed the Cozy to regulate radiator steam flow and end his overheating nightmare.
The Cozy is outfitted with a fire-resistant covering that insulates a radiator. A sensor, thermostat and a fan held in a small box as part of the integrated system sits at one side of a radiator. Each Cozy includes a Wi-Fi chip to download a free smartphone app, developed by the startup to set the desired temperature of a space.
The company’s first prototype was made by using bubble wrap as an insulator and attaching a fan to the enclosure to pull heat out when the room cooled down too much.
“The hardest part was that we needed something to sense the temperature and then drive the fan based on that temperature,” Cox said.
He solved that problem by turning to an open-source electronic platform called Arduino. The interactive family of single-board microcontrollers can control light, heat, motors and other actuators. Users can make products by using Arduino’s programming language to write code.
Cox has since upgraded his product from bubble wrap attached to a plug-in mini-fan. Radiator Labs now uses insulated wood and metal enclosures make its Cozy, which has shown energy savings between 30-40 percent.