With $25M Investment, UniEnergy Technologies Plans to Scale Up

UniEnergy Technologies (UET) has landed a $25 million “strategic equity investment” from Japanese financial services firm Orix Corporation and a prior investor to accelerate production and sales of its grid-scale batteries.

The company, based in Mukilteo, WA, about 40 minutes north of Seattle, is trying to build momentum after winning contracts in the last 18 months for battery systems with cumulative capacity to store nearly 40 megawatt hours of electricity. Two of the contracts are with Washington utilities supported by state clean energy funding.

“We will scale our production, with installed systems and orders totaling at present nearly 10 megawatts and 40 megawatt hours,” said UniEnergy co-founder and CEO Gary Yang in a news release announcing the funding. “We will expand our business development, sales, and marketing teams, as well as offer financing capabilities and resources to our customers, as we meet the large and growing energy storage market in North America and throughout the world.”

Gary Yang

Yang

Those financing capabilities would presumably come from Orix, which got its start in leasing in 1964 and now has some $90 billion in assets. The global company already has a significant utility-scale wind and solar energy portfolio in Japan and sees environmental and energy services as a key growth area at home and abroad, said Yuichi Nishigori, Orix board member and head of its Environment and Energy Services division.

“We see grid-scale energy storage, exemplified by leading flow battery provider UET, as critical to the integration of renewables and the modernization of grids worldwide. Our plan is also to reach the distributed generation business—we are now actively providing battery storage rental service for household users in Japan,” Nishigori said in the UET news release.

Joining the Series B investment is Bolong Holding, an earlier UET investor and parent of Chinese sister companies that supply UET with key components. UET was formed in 2012 to develop and commercialize vanadium redox flow battery technology refined at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

The investment closes an auspicious 2015 for UET, which saw commissioning of its first commercial systems, including a 1 megawatt (4 megawatt hour) battery system for Avista Utilities in Pullman, WA. It was heralded this summer as the largest flow battery in North America and Europe.

The project was funded in part by the Washington Clean Energy Fund, which matched private investments in smart grid projects around the state and was a notable accomplishment of Gov. Jay Inslee on one of his signature issues.

The state fund—a second installment of which was approved by lawmakers earlier this year—has been the subject of some controversy of late.

Questions arose about “the appearance of possible insider advantage and a revolving door,” after employees at the state agency administering the fund went to work at 1Energy Systems, a software maker, and UET, reported The Seattle Times earlier this month. The story notes that no laws or ethics rules appear to have been violated, and that the grants were awarded after competitive review. A state ethics board investigation continues, the paper reported.

Indeed, 2016 could be a watershed year for UET as the broader energy storage market continues to grow, enabling electricity grid operators and large energy consumers to use more renewable energy and improve the efficiency and stability of the grid.

The 50-person company has contracts to deploy systems next year totaling 8.6 megawatts with Snohomish County PUD, a California avocado company, and the New York Department of Citywide Administration Services, among others. That would bring UET close to an important milestone of 10 megawatts of completed projects. Some utilities require that vendors meet the 10-megawatt threshold to bid on energy storage contracts, said Russ Weed, UET’s vice president of business development and general counsel.

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