Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring Shirlington Gateway. The new 2800 Shirlington recently delivered a brand-new lobby and upgraded fitness center, and is adding spec suites with bright open plans and modern finishes. Experience a prime location and enjoy being steps from Shirlington Village.
(Updated 9:30 p.m.) Ballston-based Fluence is ramping up its efforts to tackle climate change with energy storage systems for renewable energy.
The energy storage company was founded three years ago this month as the joint venture of Berlin-based Siemens and Arlington-based Fortune 500 company, AES Corp. It enjoyed torrid growth over the course of 2020: About 100 staff came on, including a new CEO, and it acquired a company in October.
This year is off to a great start, too, with a pledge of $125 million in investment from the Qatar Investment Authority.
“We have been experiencing an enormous growth since the inception of the company,” said Vice President of Strategy Marek Wolek.
Fluence develops batteries that store energy from wind and solar. Since 2018, Fluence had quadrupled the amount of energy storage it has deployed or is working on, from 600 megawatts to 2,400 megawatts. It has deployed or been awarded contracts for storage in 24 countries.
The work is “a little bit more complicated” than just batteries, however, Wolek said. It also makes sure the supply of natural, renewable energy can be converted into enough electricity to meet demands, without leading to surges in electricity or deficits for customers.
“That’s extremely valuable, and makes the whole energy grid stable,” Wolek said.
But to keep up in a rapidly innovating market, the company started seeking out investing partners about six months ago, he said.
“How we effectively create a grid of future requires investments,” he said. “The mark is moving very fast: We have to make sure the technology is easier and faster, and efficient to use, for our customers.”
With the $125 million from Qatar Investment Authority, a founding member of the One Planet Sovereign Wealth Fund Initiative, which invests government funds into climate change solutions. Fluence will be investing in hardware and software, as well as staff to further develop the battery technology, he said.
In a statement, CEO Manuel Perez Dubuc said tackling climate change requires both technology and investment worldwide.
“We see energy storage as the linchpin of a decarbonized grid and adding QIA to our international shareholder base will allow Fluence to innovate even faster and address the enormous global market for large-scale battery-based energy storage.”
Dubuc came on as CEO in May 2020, after serving on the company’s board. He switches roles with Stephen Coughlin, who now sits on the board, said Director of Communications Alison Mickey.
He and the newly hired 100 staff members grew the company’s workforce to more than 300 worldwide.
In October, the company bought Advanced Microgrid Solutions, which develops AI bidding software for batteries and other tech for storing and generating renewably sourced electricity. The merger will help to improve energy storage, grid reliability and efficiency, Wolek said.
Fluence is headquartered at 4601 N. Fairfax Drive, and has offices in San Francisco, suburban Atlanta, Germany and Australia.
HQ2 Employment Up 50% in Two Months — “Less than two months into the new year and Amazon.com Inc. says it has more than 600 employees at its second headquarters — a fairly significant staffing jump considering there were some 400 employees there as of late December.” [Washington Business Journal]
Construction Progress at DCA — “It’s happening: Reagan National’s nightmarish Gate 35X at Terminal C will soon be demolished. Construction is underway for Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s Project Journey, which will bring a new concourse to the north end of the airport and add new security checkpoints for Terminal B/C.” [NBC 4, DCist]
Fire Alarm Delays DCA Flights By 30 Minutes — “Flights have resumed and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) controllers have returned and continued tower operations after a control tower was evacuated to investigate a sprinkler alarm activation Wednesday.” [WJLA]
Food Delivery Driver Robbed in Claremont — “At approximately 11:04 a.m., the victim, who was operating as a food delivery driver at the time of the incident, exited his vehicle to make a delivery and was approached by three male suspects. The suspects demanded the victim provide them with the contents of the delivery, then attempted to assault him. The suspects stole the delivery and fled on foot.” [Arlington County]
Property Owner Goes 100% Renewable — “Brookfield Properties has added 100 percent clean, renewable power to six of its office buildings in Northern Virginia, with the new energy source going into effect this month… The changes are impacting three of the firm’s Arlington properties: Potomac Tower at 1001 19th St., 601 South 12th Street, and 701 South 12th Street.” [Commercial Observer]
Big Raise for Startup With Clarendon Office — “Carbon Relay and Insight Partners today announced a $63 million transaction to accelerate the growth of its Red Sky Ops solution for optimizing application performance in Kubernetes environments.” [Carbon Relay via Potomac Tech Wire]
‘Mr. Z’ Wins Award, Gets on TV — “The Virginia Department of Transportation has named an Arlington County crossing guard one of 2019’s Most Outstanding Crossing Guards. He’s one of only four in the state. Affectionately called Mister Z by faculty and students, Zeleke Taffesse says his smiling students make him feel younger every day. Taylor Elementary School is one of three schools he’s worked for.” [Local DVM]
Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.
A Crystal City-based startup that works to integrate energy generated at home with the electrical grid is looking to scale up operations and create a better product, thanks to new some new funding.
Increasing adoption if electric vehicles and home solar panels have made houses a viable energy generator. Called distributed energy resources (DER), these community-generated energy sources create a two-way power flow and are generally renewable. ConnectDER, based out of Crystal City (2001 Richmond Highway), aims to make becoming a DER more accessible for homeowners.
The Simple ConnectDER is a collar that connects to a home’s circuit. Solar panels can be connected to the collar and the output moderated by the system, which operates parallel to the home’s utility grid.
According to the company website:
The Simple ConnectDER enables three key innovations in the DER installation process: it reduces the time that an electrician or utility representative must be onsite to interconnect the system to less than 10 minutes, it removes the need for installers to enter the residence (in the case of externally mounted electric meters), and it enables easy “swap-in” of future distributed generation resources as they are introduced to the market. To date, over 5,000 ConnectDERs have been deployed to tie [solar photovoltaic] systems into the US electric grid.
The company also offers over versions of the connector with more advanced features, like an ethernet bridge and cloud accessibility.
ConnectDER recently closed on $7 million in financing.
“The growth of residential-scale DERs such as solar and storage presents an enormous challenge for utilities tasked with integrating them into the grid cost-effectively and with an outstanding customer experience,” Whitman Fulton, CEO of ConnectDER, said in a press release. “At ConnectDER, we’re delivering technologies that can connect and transform these traditionally unmanaged resources — solar, storage, and EV charging–into grid-supporting assets at a fraction of the cost of current practices.”
“This funding underscores the market recognition that ConnectDER offers what utilities need to maximize the value of residential-scale technologies for the 21st century,” Fulton added.
The company will use the new funding to scale up operations and its supply chain, the company said in the release. The company is also looking to enhance the energy storage of the collar. A new version of the ConnectDER device that launched last week.
Arlington County is set to take a big step toward meeting some of its ambitious renewable energy goals.
The county, which is working to become carbon-neutral by 2050, is joining Amazon in purchasing power from a new solar array in rural Virginia. The County Board is set to vote tonight on purchasing 31.7 percent of the output of a planned, 120 megawatt facility — dubbed the “Amazon Arlington Solar Farm Virginia” — in Pittsylvania County.
“The proposed agreement would support construction of a significant solar electricity-generating installation on tree-less rural land,” says a county staff report. “Dominion Energy Virginia (DEV) acquired the project from Open Road Renewables, and the project has all necessary local permits… After construction is completed, the project is scheduled to produce electricity beginning in 2022.”
Amazon will purchase the rest of remainder of the solar farm’s output, helping it to meet its renewable energy goals for HQ2.
More from the county staff report:
Arlington will purchase 31.7 percent of the energy produced by the solar farm, or about 79 million kWh annually. In a separate transaction, Amazon is purchasing 68.3 percent of the energy produced. The broad scope of Arlington County government operations – buildings, streetlights, traffic signals, water pumping and wastewater treatment – consumes about 95 million kWh per year. Thus, the energy production purchased by the County from this project represents approximately 83 percent of the total amount of electricity used by County government each year.
The outcome of this agreement advances key Arlington County policy goals. On September 21, 2019, the Arlington County Board adopted a revised Community Energy Plan (CEP) as one of eleven elements of the Comprehensive Plan. Goal 3 of that Plan is to Increase Arlington’s Renewable Energy Resources, and Policy 3.1 states “Government operations will achieve 50% Renewable Electricity by 2022, and 100% Renewable Electricity by 2025.
This power purchase agreement would not only surpass the County government 2022 renewable electricity milestone, but also substantially satisfies the 2025 goal of 100 percent renewable electricity for County operations. Closing the remaining gap (less than 20 percent of our electricity use) will involve a combination of onsite solar installations, reduction in electricity needs through energy efficiency, and perhaps a supplemental agreement for additional offsite renewable energy.
There will be no upfront costs for the county and county staff expects the solar power to be no more expensive than the county’s existing electricity, thanks to some of the power generated by the solar farm being sold wholesale into the electrical grid. Staff says there’s a possibility, depending on market dynamics, that the solar power could be up to $100,000 more or less expensive annually.
“Staff confidence in the financial prudence of this agreement is based on due diligence performed in terms of understanding the wholesale power market in general (and in Virginia in particular); consideration of key factors affecting future wholesale power prices; and the use of an analysis of wholesale price projections for Virginia from a third-party expert,” the staff report says.
The Board is expected to approve the agreement with Dominion Energy at its Tuesday night meeting.
Officials say a new statewide renewable energy commitment could help Arlington achieve its own green goals.
Gov. Ralph Northam (D) announced today (Friday) that Virginia has struck an agreement with Dominion Energy to purchase 30% of the all energy used by the state government’s buildings from renewable sources. Local officials says the agreement to sustainability agreement also helps their own goals.
“It means that we’re kind of being aggressive but the state is pulling in this direction so it does make it easier for us,” said Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey, who is running for re-election and who said the governor’s morning press conference at George Mason University’s Arlington campus meant the county was no longer “swimming upstream” when it came to leading in sustainability.
Public-private partnership leads the way for clean energy in Virginia as @GovernorVA announces purchase of 30% of Commonwealth energy needs from renewable sources at @DominionEnergy & others. Largest renewable purchase by a state in US history. pic.twitter.com/qnS2XfAvlP
— Arlington Chamber VA (@ArlVAChamber) October 18, 2019
“When you consider the state government, when you consider Amazon’s commitment to even exceed their originally ambitious goals — this is all good stuff for us,” Dorsey said, referring to Amazon going from Gold to Platinum LEED certification goals for its new headquarters. “This means we have a better likelihood of achieving all of our the goals in the timeframe set forth.”
“Arlington recently committed to its own, ambitious energy targets and we hope to see more cities follow its lead,” the governor said during the press conference.
Northam’s announcement comes two months after Arlington committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 for all buildings — public or private. The goal was part of the county’s updated Energy Plan, a planning document which envisions a future for Arlington where “all electricity will come from renewable sources, where more residents will drive electric vehicles and more will use transit, and where homes and buildings will be more energy-efficient.”
Since passing the plan in August, Dorsey said Arlington has been contacted by “three or four” other Northern Virginia jurisdictions for advice on enacting similar carbon-cutting goals themselves.
“Sometimes all jurisdictions need to see is one shining example,” said state Sen. Barbara Favola, who is also running for re-election. “Somebody gets out there and takes the lead and something good happens and they go, ‘I can do that, too’.”
She told ARLnow that when the state government takes a stance on sustainability, it also paves the way for local jurisdictions to do the same.
“Richmond is not known all the time for being a trailblazer but in this area but seem to be trailblazing so I’m delighted,” Favola said.
Renewable energy for state government buildings and universities will be sourced from Dominion Energy’s Belcher Solar project in Louisa County and its offshore wind farm near Virginia Beach, among others.
“Under the partnership, Dominion Energy will supply the Commonwealth with 420 megawatts of renewable energy,” the utility company wrote in a statement. “When combined with previously announced solar projects, the power produced is enough to meet the equivalent of 45% of the state government’s annual energy use.”
“That’s the equivalent of powering more than 100,000 homes,” noted Northam.
Friday’s announcement comes on the heels of the governor’s earlier promise to power the state using 100% carbon free resources by 2050 — a mission aided by agreements with Dominion Energy and planned initiatives like replacing traditional diesel school buses with electric buses and investing in electric cars.
The governor said collaboration is key to tackle climate change and “move this state in the right direction.
“We can leave our children and our grandchildren a world that’s cleaner and more sustainable,” Northam said.
So you have a Tesla or some other electric car, but where in Arlington can you charge it?
Most of the electric car stations are grouped around Arlington’s Metro corridors, according to ChargeHub, a website that tracks charging stations. Charging stations follow a line between Rosslyn and Ballston, for instance, and there are 22 throughout the Crystal City and Pentagon City area alone.
But finding stations outside of those areas can be a hassle.
One bank of electric chargers is located along Columbia Pike at the Arlington Mill Community Center (909 S. Dinwiddie Street). In Shirlington, an electric car charging station is located at the Campbell Avenue parking garage.
Additionally, there are three charging stations in residential North Arlington:
- Discovery Elementary School (5301 36th Street N.)
- Harris Teeter (2425 N. Harrison Street)
- Potomac Overlook Regional Park (2845 N. Marcey Road)
There are seven Tesla-specific charger locations in Arlington.
- Two Liberty Center (4075 Wilson Blvd) — Four Tesla connectors available to the public
- Clarendon Square (3033 Wilson Blvd) — Two Tesla connectors, parking fees may apply
- Market Common Clarendon (2800 Clarendon Blvd) — 18 Tesla Superchargers
- 2311 Wilson Blvd (2311 Wilson Blvd) — Three Tesla connectors, parking fees may apply
- 1320 N. Courthouse Garage (1320 N. Courthouse Road) — Two Tesla connectors, parking fees may apply
- The Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City (1250 S. Hayes Street) — Two Tesla connectors, available for patrons only
- Renaissance Arlington Capital View Hotel (2800 S. Potomac Avenue) — Two Tesla connectors, available for patrons only
Meanwhile, if your car is charged and you’re looking for fellowship with other electric car enthusiasts, a local group of residents has formed the Arlington Solar and EV Charger Co-op, with the goal of making it easier to save money on the purchase of solar panels and electric vehicle chargers.
The group is planning to hold an information session on Thursday (June 27) from 6:30-8 p.m., at the Arlington Central Library (1015 N. Quincy Street) to discuss solar energy, electric vehicles, and simplifying the “going solar” process.
Arlington is looking for public input on a plan to use energy more efficiently.
Tonight (June 4) from 7-9 p.m. at the Central Library Auditorium (1015 N Quincy Street), county staff plan to host an open house during which the community can ask questions or offer feedback on an update to the county’s Community Energy Plan (CEP).
Goals for the project include:
- Increase the energy and operational efficiency of all buildings: By 2050, the plan aims to have total building energy usage in Arlington be 38 percent lower than in 2007. In the report, staff says both code-required reductions for buildings and incentives for voluntary efficiencies — a carrot and stick approach — will be required.
- Ensure Arlington’s energy resilience: The report notes — and anyone in Ballston two weeks ago can confirm — Arlington’s energy infrastructure is vulnerable to extreme weather and other factors. The report says Arlington will need to use new technologies to rely on more local sources of energy and potentially establish “microgrids” to make critical pieces of infrastructure like Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall and the Virginia Hospital Center more independent from blackouts across the county.
- Increase locally generated energy supply: The plan aims to have Arlington County follow the example of Discovery Elementary, which won accolades for using all its energy generated on-site, and establish more solar energy collectors and other green energy sites across Arlington.
- Move more people with fewer greenhouse gas emissions: The goal here is fairly self-explanatory, but the general idea is to get more Arlingtonians using buses, bicycles, and other non-car means of transportation, while encouraging those who are required to use cars to shift toward hybrid and energy-efficient vehicles.
- Integrate energy goals into all county government activities: The report says Arlington should aim at having government facilities reduce CO2 emissions to 71 percent below their 2007 levels by 2040. The approach would involve a mix of smaller efficiencies in energy and water usage and larger shifts in making new government facilities more energy efficient from a design standpoint.
- Support residents and businesses that reduce energy usage: The final goal of the report involves using county staff and resources to help encourage locals — from individuals to business owners — find ways to rethink energy usage in their own lives.
“We invite the community to drop in and spend as much time as needed to learn about the draft CEP update, CEP implementation details, and provide feedback on the proposed changes to the 2013 CEP,” Rich Dooley, Arlington’s community energy coordinator, said in an email.
Crystal City commuters were greeted by a bit of an unusual sight this morning at the neighborhood’s Metro station: a human-sized Amazon Echo.
Environmental activists with the group Greenpeace USA invited people at the station to ask questions to their very own “Alexa” Thursday, and posted a variety of signs around the area proclaiming it as “National Landing,” the name chosen by local officials pitching the trifecta of Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard for the tech giant’s new headquarters.
It was all part of a demonstration designed to draw attention to Amazon’s practices for powering its data centers scattered across the Northern Virginia area.
Though much of the opposition to the company’s move to Arlington has centered on its labor standards or the incentive money flowing to the massive firm, this morning’s demonstration accused Amazon of falling short of its commitments to use renewable energy to fuel its 55 data centers scattered across the region.
“We asked Alexa if she thought Amazon would be a good neighbor to Virginians and she replied, ‘that depends how much you like breathing clean air,'” Elizabeth Jardim, a Greenpeace USA senior corporate campaigner, wrote in a statement. “Amazon’s cloud including Alexa is powered largely from Northern Virginia, where it uses 88 percent dirty energy — meaning every question to Alexa is driving carbon emissions.”
Activists invited commuters to ask questions of “Alexa” about Amazon’s energy practices, and the life-sized Echo (voiced by local improv instructor Donna Steele) was ready with plenty of snarky replies.
NOW: We’re in front of the Amazon’s new HQ2 in Virginia with Alexa to tell Amazon: it’s time to clean your cloud! RT if you think Amazon should stick to its promise to power is cloud with 100% #renewableenergy! #AskAlexa #ClickClean pic.twitter.com/ndHezOPOqT
— Greenpeace USA (@greenpeaceusa) February 14, 2019
"How does Amazon power its cloud?". Alexa's answer: Amazon powers its cloud with fossil fuels. "We have ten years, people!!!" Send us your question and we'll #AskAlexa!#ClimateChange #ClickClean pic.twitter.com/dtPphy32E4
— Greenpeace USA (@greenpeaceusa) February 14, 2019
Amazon committed years ago to someday using 100 percent renewable energy at its data centers, run as part of its lucrative Amazon Web Services cloud computing division.
But Greenpeace is accusing the company of abandoning that effort, even as other tech companies in Virginia like Google and Microsoft make progress.
The tech giant responded to the report by saying it’s “firmly committed” to that goal, and claimed that Greenpeace is using “inaccurate data” that “overstate both AWS’s current and projected energy usage.”
The activists stand by their numbers, however, insisting that the company address the issue if it’s to be a good neighbor in Arlington.
“Before Amazon breaks ground on its HQ2 in Virginia, Jeff Bezos needs to take responsibility for Amazon’s already massive energy demand in the state and follow through on its commitment to use 100 percent renewable energy,” Jardim said.
Arlington officials have said in the past they’ve had their own conversations with Amazon executives about the best ways to ensure that the company’s new office buildings across “National Landing” are energy efficient, but those discussions won’t proceed in earnest until the county formally signs off on the incentive package designed to bring the company to Arlington.
An Arlington elementary school is earning some kudos for its energy efficiency, after it generated more energy than it used last year.
The nonprofit International Living Future Institute awarded Discovery Elementary School with its “zero energy” certification on May 2, meaning that the school was powered completely by on-site renewable energy sources over the course of a whole year.
Discovery, which opened in September 2015, is just the fourth school across the country to earn this certification, and the largest building of any type with such a distinction, according to a press release.
The building’s designer, Charlottesville-based VMDO Architects, says Discovery’s energy systems saved Arlington Public Schools roughly $117,000 in annual utility costs. The firm also estimates that the building sent roughly 100,000 kilowatt hours of excess energy back to the electrical grid, enough to meet the average power needs of 7.5 households.
APS partnered with the U.S. Department of Energy to help design plans for “zero energy” school facilities, and last year changed its procurement rules to require that contractors can meet that energy standard. The school also designs lessons about renewable energy around the building’s systems, giving students hands-on experience with the facility.
“What is most important about [Discovery] is that it allows teachers to think about how students learn,” Discovery principal Erin Russo wrote in a statement. “Curriculum is just something the state gives to us and you can teach that anywhere, but with this space, we can get creative, experiment and shepherd meaningful experiences.”
The organization announced today that it is launching its Ready for 100 energy awareness campaign in Arlington and Alexandria. Fifteen U.S. cities including San Diego have already committed to 100 percent clean energy and Arlington has already vowed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050.
“We strongly support a goal of 100% clean energy,” said Elenor Hodges, Executive Director of Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment, in a press release. “Arlington County has already set a high bar for Virginia, but we can do even better. I think this is an effort many residents will get behind.”
The price of clean energy has dropped significantly over the past few years, with solar energy costs alone dropping by 80 percent, according to the Sierra Club. The solar industry has expanded as well, with over 200,000 people working with solar energy, nearly twice as many as the coal mining industry.
“By transitioning to 100 percent clean energy, our city could prevent thousands of asthma attacks and dozens of premature deaths every year,” said Dr. Samantha Ahdoot, an Alexandria-based pediatrician. “This would be a big step in the right direction toward allowing our kids to breathe easier.”
According to a study by scientists from Stanford, transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy would save the average American family $260 per year in energy costs and an additional $1,500 in health care costs.
The Sierra Club is rallying local residents — including students — to urge local officials “to boost the local economy and save families money by leading the way to 100 percent clean energy.” From the press release:
The electricity sector has embarked on an unstoppable shift from its high-pollution, dirty-fueled past to a safer, cleaner-powered future. The stay issued by the Supreme Court on the Clean Power Plan cannot reverse that trend. Nor can it dampen the overwhelming public support for action on climate change and clean energy.
“Our current dependence on fossil fuels means that my generation will be dealing with the impact of climate change for our entire lives,” said Helene Turvene a junior at Washington-Lee High School. “A commitment now to 100% renewable energy not only will help to begin reversing those impacts, but it will position our community for a more sustainable future. Students want to know that local leaders are acting with us, and future generations, in mind.”
Photo courtesy Sierra Club