After Sale, Packetized Energy Plans to Stay — and Grow — in Vermont | Off Message

After Sale, Packetized Energy Plans to Stay — and Grow — in Vermont


  • File: Terri Hallenbeck ©️ Seven Days
  • Paul Hines
Packetized Energy, a Burlington company that makes power-saving technology, has been acquired by New York City company EnergyHub and plans to grow in the coming year.

Founded in 2016 by University of Vermont electrical engineering professors Paul Hines, Jeff Frolik and Mads Almassalkhi, Packetized Energy has developed algorithms to help utilities communicate with water heaters, electric vehicles, and battery systems to determine when and how they are operating. The algorithms also allow utilities to control how much power a home or business uses — for example, by dropping the thermostat or water heater a few degrees during times of peak demand.

Some utilities already do this, using specialized software that monitors internet-connected thermostats and other devices to assess energy use remotely.

“We built the software platform around the idea that you’ll have lots of these internet devices connected to the grid, and we need a common language for communicating with all of them,” Hines said.

Through UVM, the three founders received a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to turn their research work into a commercial project. They’ve since received another $3 million in federal research funding, according to UVM.

The companies declined to reveal the sale price. The acquisition will enable Packetized Energy to expand, said Hines, the CEO, who started teaching at UVM in 2007 and left at the end of last year amid the acquisition. Packetized has nine employees, and Hines expects the staff to double in the coming year. The company is looking for software engineers and larger office space now.

“Packetized Energy was founded to help address the climate crisis, and the acquisition by EnergyHub allows us to bring our technology to scale,” the company said in a statement.

Hines and Brodie O’Brien, a senior brand marketing manager for EnergyHub who now works in the Burlington office, said they expect the company to stay in the state, at least for the foreseeable future.

“There is a very sincere commitment to grow the office here,” Hines said of his new employer.

Packetized Energy has operated pilot projects in California, South Carolina, Canada, and in Vermont, including one with the Burlington Electric Department. EnergyHub has more than 60 utility clients in the U.S. and Canada.

“We joined with Energy Hub because it gives us opportunities to use our algorithms at a much larger scale across the U.S. and Canada,” Hines said.

The three Packetized founders came up with their technology when they were looking for ways to help utilities balance demand with the power supply coming from technologies such as solar and wind. Those renewables are the fastest-growing sources of electricity worldwide, but they also produce power inconsistently.

“Wind and solar come and go whenever they want to,” Hines said. “As we get to the point where we are getting more of our electricity from wind and solar, we need to adapt the rest of the system to use electricity when that is plentiful, and avoid consuming electricity when there is a shortage.”

To reduce the stress of meeting peak demand, utilities use technology called distributed energy resources, or DERs. Such systems include anything that feeds power into the grid, including solar panels; anything that stores power, such as batteries; and any device that is used to moderate how much energy an appliance is using. Packetized Energy's software is itself a DER. 

Local officials are looking into using the technology to increase the resilience of state's energy grid. Solar produces about 14 percent of the power that is generated in Vermont, according to the Department of Public Service. And local utilities also obtain power from state and regional hydroelectric plants, wind turbines, biomass, and from a pool that includes natural gas, oil, nuclear power, and even a small amount of coal, according to Anne Margolis, the deputy planning director at the Public Service Department.

Vermont sees energy demand peak in both the summer — when air conditioner use is rising — and winter, when solar generation is low and people need to heat their homes.

“Our regional energy system is very stressed out during polar vortices,” Margolis said. “If it’s a five-day stretch of 10-below temperatures, we need to make sure we are not having all those electric vehicles and heat pumps adding further to that stress.”

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