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Elec­tri­fi­ca­tion at scale presents tremendous possibilities

In every case where carbon can be taken out of the energy equation, it must be. That means replacing almost every fossil-fuel-burning machine in industry, trans­porta­tion, and building management with electric alter­na­tives, and decar­bonizing and shoring up the grid to power them.

The DCVC Deep Tech Oppor­tu­ni­ties Report (which debuted this year) summarizes our thinking about the deep tech investment areas we consider the most exciting, important, and conse­quen­tial. It’s also a guide to the inspiring work innovators inside and outside the firm’s portfolio are doing to extend human capa­bil­i­ties, save the environment, and make everyone’s lives longer, healthier, and easier.

Three of this report’s oppor­tu­ni­ties bore on climate tech. This is one of them.

We’re just at the beginning of the trans­for­ma­tion to an economy built on renewable electricity. The revolution will require a combination of public-policy incentives, private investment, and technical innovation, especially for the infra­struc­ture to deliver electricity on demand to every machine that will need it. DCVC’s portfolio in this area is still small, but our investing profes­sionals are on the hunt for companies with demon­strated success and a path to scale. 

One such company is DCVC-backed Reach, which is making it easier to shift work to electrical devices by untethering them from the grid. Reach’s AI-based power-at-a-distance technology can steer radio-frequency elec­tro­mag­netic energy through the air to a mesh of devices in factories, warehouses, and stores. (It’s like Wi-Fi, but at higher power levels, with safety protocols that protect living things by disabling or rerouting the power before anything enters the beam.) Reach’s system can already power small devices such as displays, video cameras, industrial sensors, and inventory trackers, and as the technology matures it will power robots, autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs), drones, and entire buildings.

If you look out your window at those power lines, you’re receiving your electricity pretty much the same you have since Thomas Edison and George West­ing­house were slugging it out in 1910,” says Alan Cohen, a DCVC general partner and Reach board member. Wireless power-at-a-distance gets electricity to places where it’s not efficient, or not possible, to wire things up physically or to repeatedly recharge their batteries, Cohen says. DCVC very frequently uses deep tech to go after real-world industrial problems and oppor­tu­ni­ties, and the ability to transmit power to this vast array of targets is an absolutely classic case. Reach’s opportunity is to become the leader of the wireless microgrid.”

To win large-scale adoption, new elec­tri­fi­ca­tion tech­nolo­gies will need to be user-friendly, comple­menting rather than clashing with existing infra­struc­ture. Reach does exactly that. Systems can become really complicated and hard to use,” says DCVC partner Rachel Slaybaugh. We need solutions that can actually be adopted in practice. Not that many people are thinking this all the way through yet.”

Read and/or download the Deep Tech Oppor­tu­ni­ties Report here.

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