Joining the likes of Bill Gates and Peter Thiel, Innovacorp has invested in a California energy storage company that, among other projects, is building a storage facility near New Glasgow, N.S.
Berkeley-based LightSail Energy said in a press release Monday night it had raised $37.3 million in its fourth round of venture capital fundraising. The group of investors includes Microsoft founder Gates, PayPal co-founder Thiel and the Nova Scotia innovation agency Innovacorp.
The statement did not reveal the valuation of the investment nor say how much Innovacorp was investing. Innovacorp officials were not available to comment on the matter Tuesday.
In September, LightSail’s subsidiary LightSail Canada said it was planning for a $4.6 million pilot facility to store energy produced at a wind farm near New Glasgow. The company and the wind farm developers are planning to sink about $2 million directly into the facility and have applied to the Atlantic Innovation Fund to help with the financing.
Innovacorp first made contact last year with LightSail Co-Founder Danielle Fong, a Dartmouth native and Dalhousie University alumna who served as a judge at Innovacorp’s CleanTech Open competition.
Fong, 25, dropped out of a PhD program at Princeton to found LightSail, which is pioneering a revolutionary system that greatly improves the efficiency of compressing air in order to store electricity – a system that is especially useful for wind or solar power applications.
This technology solves a classic problem in renewable energy: wind power works only when the wind is blowing, solar only when the sun shines. That means there is no correlation between periods of strong energy generation and peak electricity demand. By storing electricity, energy-providers can moderate the output and rely less on backups from more reliable energy sources, like burning fossil fuels.
Many storage systems rely on compressed air, which can be released during down-times to produce electricity; however, the compression process creates heat, a form of energy that is mostly lost. LightSail recaptures that heat and converts it into electricity.
“For far too long, the cleantech industry has been driven by politicians and ideologues who trade people's taxes for dreams,” said Thiel in the statement. “But hype is not a sustainable energy source … LightSail is run by engineers, not salespeople, and it promises to be one of the first true alternative energy storage companies.”
A key component of the LightSail process is a fine mist, comprising just air and water, sprayed into the storage chamber and the purpose of the New Glasgow facility will be to determine whether the system is effective in cold climates.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the latest funding brings the total investment in the project up to $52.7 million. Previous backers include California-based groups Khosla Ventures, Triple Point Capital and Silicon Valley Bank.
Innovacorp is actively trying to increase the international presence of its portfolio companies in the belief that more needs to be done to attract private capital to the province and to help companies participate in the global market. The CleanTech Open, for example, was open to companies from elsewhere, as long as they agreed to set up in Nova Scotia if they won, and Innovacorp three years ago invested in the Montreal-based cleantech fund, Cycle Capital.