movers shakers virgil beaston.jpgVirgil Beaston is the Senior Vice President & Chief Technology Officer (CTO) for Powin Energy and has been with the company since 2011. Beaston has over 10 years of experience in the battery and energy storage industry and is often asked to speak publicly as a subject matter expert (most recently at EESAT 2015 and Intersolar North America 2016). He views business and the rapidly growing storage sector from a unique perspective as he previously was a patent attorney at an intellectual property firm and then was the co-founder and CTO of Greensmith Energy Management Solutions. Beaston is an inventor, lawyer, and engineer with impressive academic credentials: Doctorate of Law, Masters in Electrical Engineering, and a Bachelor of Science in Applied Physics and Electrical Engineering.

Vishal Sapru (VS), Research Manager for Energy & Power Systems Group had an opportunity to conduct a Movers & Shakers interview with Virgil Beaston (VB), Senior Vice President & Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Powin Energy.

VS: Can you start by providing our readers a brief overview of Powin Energy including the vision behind its formation and its current role in the market?

VB: Powin Corporation has been in the OEM business for 25 years. Five years ago, Powin started OEM-ing parts for a few wind turbine manufacturers, which helped guide the creation of Powin Energy and our shift in focus to the renewable energy industry.

One of the first products Powin Energy started selling was Lithium battery cells. We quickly recognized a market opportunity to integrate batteries into large-scale storage with full-on managements systems to protect the batteries. From a manufacturing point of view, we saw it as very important to take battery cells and battery management and put them into a fully-integrated battery pack that can be mass produced at a low cost.

We also realized that many of these things are customized products per specific project. Therefore, we wanted to standardize a battery pack operating system to turn these products into something that can be standardized and mass produced similar to the other products that Powin has manufactured over the last few decades. Once we had all the hardware and software in place for our systems, we realized that many of the barriers to entering the energy storage market were less related to the technology and had more to do with the financing and bankability of these systems. This led to the development of our patented battery odometer and warranty tracking functions, which will help facilitate the financing and insurability of these projects.

VS: Please describe your product/technology/solution for our readers?

VB: First of all, although we are in the energy storage business, our viewpoint is very different from much of the industry. We see storage systems as a world-wide network of battery packs/systems that are all connected through the Internet. This shapes our company’s entire philosophy, so we consider our four main products to be:

  • Smart, Scalable, Plug and Play Battery Packs that can be mass produced and deployed into many products in different market segments
  • Battery Pack Operating System (bp-OS)
  • Data Management/Collection software that can be used by the insurance industry
  • Turnkey energy storage systems
    • C&I – 125/250, 250/500
    • Utility Scale – MW Indoor and Outdoor

VS: What are Powin Energy’s greatest challenge and what strategy is in place to overcome it?

VB: We are a newer entrant into the energy storage marketplace and don’t have the brand reputation that many of our competitors have in the industry. Also, since we are selling whole systems, we are sometimes seen as competitors by our vendors and customers.

Our challenge is to convince vendors, customers, and even competitors that our technology is actually very fit to be integrated with their systems and that the technology will help give them unprecedented data and more visibility into their storage system’s operations.

VS: What is your strategy in regards to offering best value to customer for the price, compared to similar offerings from competitors? if any?

VB: Powin’s manufacturing background gives us expertise on the Chinese market that few American or European energy storage companies can match. Over the last 25 years, we have perfected our procurement and supply chain operations there. This experience is going to be invaluable in the energy storage business as China is going to become the leader in the production of lithium-ion battery cells over the next 20 years.

Powin Energy has developed our bp-OS architecture – which is far more robust than your average BMS – and system design from the ground up specifically for the energy storage market. Many of our competitors are using BMS software designed for how an EV uses energy, while ours is optimized for stationary storage systems that are much larger, more complex, and are operated very differently than a car.

We emphasize data collection, which we believe will help facilitate the insuring and financing of energy storage projects in the future. We are positioning ourselves as the thought and technology leader of this topic and have had our ideas validated by industry-leading insurance companies.

VS: Continued innovation is the key to success in this growing industry. How is the process of innovation managed at Powin Energy?

VB: We are constantly looking at what the industry is doing and where it is going to find our niche. This is why we are currently focused on getting our warranty tracker and battery odometer ready to be deployed.

We have designed our systems to be battery chemistry agnostic, so if new, better performing, lower cost chemistries and/or inverter technologies are released, we will be ready to integrate them into our systems.

VS: What do you want the company to accomplish in the next couple of years and how would you define success for Powin Energy?

VB: Powin wants to continue to develop our own projects and sell our systems into projects. We want to see the energy storage insurance industry grow to where we can integrate our battery odometer and warranty tracking functions into other storage systems. Since much of what we are developing will be a benefit to the industry as a whole and not just Powin Energy, we really hope that one day we will be able to license or sell our technology to many other storage system developers and integrators to maximize the benefit for the entire industry. The end goal is to get acquired by a large conglomerate that can fully utilize our technology and deliver it to the masses.

VS: What is your key value proposition that provides your firm a major competitive advantage over other players in the industry?

VB: Our ability to leverage our manufacturing expertise, mass produce, and drive costs down. Powin Energy’s patented bp-OS (free to use with our systems and open to license for free to get data) with the industry-exclusive Battery Odometer and Warranty Tracker:

  • Can help lower O&M costs due to balancing batteries manually
  • Can help give access to more capacity of the battery
  • Can help maximize system battery life

VS: Could you elaborate on the acceptance or adoption of your product/technology/solution in the marketplace and are there any positive client testimonials that can be shared with us?

VB: Powin Energy is transitioning from the R&D phase into the full commercialization of our technology. We have received very positive feedback from our initial demonstrations and pilots with the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), the United States Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), and Energy Northwest. Although we are relatively new to the industry, we are already building a solid project pipeline with utilities and other customers. We are going to be employing all of our newest technologies (balancing manager, battery odometer and warranty tracker) in a project with Southern California Edison that is scheduled to go online by December 31st, 2016.

VS: As a general conclusion, what do you think the future holds for such solutions and, more specifically, what role can we expect Powin Energy to play in shaping the future of the industry?

VB: The future is very bright for energy storage and more specifically for the insurance and financing of projects within the industry. Powin Energy is positing ourselves as a leader on these topics and we plan to stay at the forefront for the battery data collection and storage project insurance markets.

VS: What are your company’s marketing and product positioning strategies? Do you plan to form any strategic alliances with other client companies?

VB: Currently, Powin Energy is looking to develop partnerships with key suppliers of battery cells and converter technologies to help bring our costs down. We are also looking to develop some distributor/developer relationships to help us penetrate strategic markets. In the future, we hope to focus on our core competency and develop partnerships to help bring the bp-OS to market.

VS: Please describe the importance and focus of your company towards building and strengthening the brand equity of your offering?

VB: As a brand, Powin Energy maintains the highest level of modern design, cutting edge technology and concepts within the energy storage industry. But historically, Powin Corporation has always been a behind the scenes OEM, where we would help our clients build their brand name and equity. The Powin brand wasn’t as important as the brands we were manufacturing for. Now as Powin Energy, we would like to deploy our technology packaged in other brands’ products to help increase their capabilities and brand image. If we are acquired, we can enhance a marquee brand in the industry vastly expand the capabilities of their product. If not, we can fall back on being an OEM and a technology provider to these bigger companies.

VS: What kind of customer feedback mechanism do you have in place to ensure that the product development and innovation matches market and customer needs?

VB: This is a difficult one because these products cost lots of money, but during our R&D phase we purposefully sought out demonstration projects to help us gather customer feedback. This was an invaluable resource that helped us refine our systems and make improvements in our new product designs with expanded functionality. We have seen that service levels are extremely important in the industry and as long as we are very responsive to any customer requests in the field, we can maintain a high level of customer satisfaction.

VS: How do you compare yourself with top competitors in regards to offering Best-in-Class solution, with a full complement of features and functionality?

VB: Many companies are in the battery storage industry, but when it comes to the functionality of Powin Energy’s bp-OS, battery diagnostic systems, and warranty tracker, we are very far ahead of the industry and believe that we are the only company that offers this robust of a BMS.

VS: What is/are unique features of your product/technology that address unmet customer needs and competitors are unable to replicate and replace?

VB: Our technology enables us to partner with international suppliers of battery cells that aren’t as well known in the U.S. – but provide a high quality, cost-effective product – while playing on an even playing field functionality-wise with the top tier vendors. We are attractive to them as partners because can help these international suppliers get into the U.S. market. We see our BP-OS as meeting a real need in the industry for battery management software that is designed for how a containerized storage solution is operated rather than for an electric car.

VS: What is your key value proposition that provides your firm a major competitive advantage over other players in the industry?

VB: Our bp-OS delivers unprecedented visibility for large-scale storage systems through real-time battery monitoring, state-of-charge management and detailed diagnostics. The software ensures safety, optimizes performance and extends the operational lifetime of battery storage systems, regardless of chemistry.
Powin’s proprietary Battery Pack Operating System provides detailed diagnostics about every layer of a battery system down to the cell level.16) Do you foresee the acceptance of your product/technology/solution in the marketplace to have an influence on the direction of the overall market going forward?

Yes, we believe that the real barriers to entering the industry is less technical and more on the financial and bankability side.

VS: What is unique about your company in regards to offering the best and differentiated service experience to customers?

VB: We are the only company focused on the bp-OS, battery odometer and warranty tracking functions of an energy storage system.

About Frost & Sullivan

For six decades, Frost & Sullivan has been world-renowned for its role in helping investors, corporate leaders and governments navigate economic changes and identify disruptive technologies, Mega Trends, new business models and companies to action, resulting in a continuous flow of growth opportunities to drive future success.

Frost & Sullivan

For six decades, Frost & Sullivan has been world-renowned for its role in helping investors, corporate leaders and governments navigate economic changes and identify disruptive technologies, Mega Trends, new business models and companies to action, resulting in a continuous flow of growth opportunities to drive future success.

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