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October 01, 2020 | Tom Ballard

TVA, EPRI event casts spotlight on importance of energy-related entrepreneurship and innovation

Two Knoxville assets – TVA and EPRI, officially the Electric Power Research Institute – hosted a special event yesterday afternoon where the spotlight was clearly on innovation and entrepreneurship.

Noting that TVA had been a supporter of the annual “Innov865 Week” since its launch, Amy Henry, TVA’s Director of Transformative Innovation and a member of the Innov865 Alliance Steering Committee, opened the session by saying how exciting it was for the utility to host its own event during the weeklong celebration.

Ahead of overviews by three of the participants in the EPRI-managed Incubatenergy Labs initiative, those viewing the session heard from four speakers including three with local ties. They were, in order of presentation: (1) Mike Odom, President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Knoxville Chamber; (2) Jeff Lyash, CEO of TVA; (3) Mike Howard, EPRI’s CEO who used to live in Knoxville and is returning after he retires at the end of 2020; and (4) Eric Steeb, EPRI’s Program Manager for Incubatenergy Labs.

As you might imagine, Chamber executives never miss an opportunity to pitch their communities, and Odom (pictured here during the event talking from the Chamber offices) extolled the virtues of the Knoxville region before urging the three Incubatenergy Labs presenters to consider relocating here.

“I was completely blown away with its (the region’s) assets,” Odom said in describing what he learned about Knoxville and Oak Ridge during his vetting process while considering the opportunity to relocate from Round Rock, TX. Now that he is more than a year into the job, he said unabashedly, “I am even more awed today.”

Later in the event, one of the three executives in the Incubatenergy Labs program said he would be looking for a manufacturing location, so standby! There could be an unexpected win out of this session.

For TVA’s Lyash, Incubatenergy Labs and its relationship with the utility is all about the future of the community, region and country.

“We must make TVA an innovation company,” he said, adding that “it was born as an innovation company, but we lost it along the way.” Noting that innovation is one of the utility’s four core values, Lyash said TVA is working to ignite innovation internally and across the seven states it serves.

He added that innovation and entrepreneurship are critical ingredients in TVA’s ability to find solutions to provide abundant, plentiful, reliable, affordable and environmentally-sensitive energy in the future.

Howard, who was part of a start-up years ago, shared the vision for Incubatenergy Labs – bringing together entrepreneurs, utilities, mentors, and investors – to accelerate the innovation that Lyash said was critically important to utilities like TVA.

The three current participants in Incubatenergy Labs who described their companies were:

  • Alex Houghtaling of LineVision that works with electric utilities and pipeline operators to deploy advanced sensors and analytics that improve the reliability, capacity and safety of their assets.
  • Lynn Mueller of Sharc Energy Systems that recycles thermal energy from wastewater, generating one of the most energy efficient and economical systems for heating, cooling and hot water preheating. Customers include commercial, residential and industrial buildings.
  • Joseph Vellone of EV Energy that is building a platform that guarantees individuals can charge at home with the lowest cost, greenest electricity available, presented in an easy-to-understand app that displays the battery status of their vehicle, what time it will be charged, and how much the charging session will cost.

While not a presenter yesterday, another of the current Incubatenergy Labs companies is Grid Fruit, founded by Jesse Thornburg and a participant in Cohort 3 of the “Innovation Crossroads” program. TVA is a supporter of that initiative, too.

All 10 companies in the Incubatenergy Labs 2020 cohort will have a “Demo Day” from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. EDT October 14. Those interested in watching can register here.

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