In a major move to reduce wildfire risk across its territory, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) has committed to underground 10,000 miles of distribution lines. At a cost of multiple million dollars per mile, this represents one of the largest single capital initiatives in the history of utilities. As part of its continuous effort to identify and demonstrate safer, less expensive and faster methods of undergrounding, PG&E is now looking to the innovation community by partnering with ADL Ventures to launch an open innovation challenge to identify additional emerging technology solutions in multiple technical areas.
Improving the line undergrounding process with next generation technologies can offer major benefits to PG&E and its ratepayers at such a large scale. This open challenge is being run through ADL’s ProblemSpace platform, a powerful AI-powered platform that legacy-sector corporations use to surface the entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial-minded academics most likely to solve gnarly technical problems.
This challenge consists of six categories, according to the following descriptions:
Undergrounding construction unavoidably disturbs soil at the site, generating excess spoils that must be properly disposed of. These spoils must be handled according to specific requirements and often must be hauled off-site for processing, remediation, or disposal.
Labor required for digging tunnels and trenches, laying conduit and pulling and splicing cables drives the majority of undergrounding costs.
The existing process of obtaining the necessary permits, approvals and easements for undergrounding projects is burdensome and time-consuming. Depending on the specifics of the project, the permitting process may extend the overall timeline by over a year.
Projects typically require a more stringent permitting process with longer lead times or more costly construction methods when tunneling is involved or required. While best efforts are made in the design phase to avoid these constraints, in some cases it is not feasible to sufficiently alter route design to avoid these areas and the associated additional costs or extended permitting period.
The technology installed to monitor underground utility infrastructure in most cases is reactive and fairly rudimentary, lacking the sophistication to enable more proactive maintenance and precisely locate issues without further manual inspection.
Though significant advances have been made in subsurface mapping technology, existing methods remain unable to provide a highly accurate and comprehensive view of subsurface conditions.
Entrepreneurs are encouraged to propose innovative solutions for any of these six areas on the ProblemSpace platform. Finalists in the ProblemSpace process will have the opportunity to pitch to PG&E undergrounding decision makers and to be considered for a demonstration project.
The end-to-end ProblemSpace application process consists of several judging rounds, including a semi-finals round in which industry experts - such as engineers from PG&E and its utility peers, as well as leading energy VC firms - review applications and offer perspectives. Past challenges have led to VC investments in startup applicants, including those who failed to advance to the final round.
Learn more and apply here by September 16 - initial applications are quick, and it is free to participate.
ProblemSpace was built by ADL Ventures with a Department of Energy Innovative Pathways grant, taking aim at the well-known problem that it is exceedingly difficult for startups to break into legacy risk-averse markets like utilities. Large corporations, however, have the resources to help startups succeed: domain knowledge, manufacturing capacity, distribution, sales, etc. Through ProblemSpace, corporate sponsors challenge entrepreneurs, academics and new ventures to propose innovative solutions to gnarly technical problems.
ProblemSpace is also a consultative service through which ADL Ventures helps challenge sponsors better define their challenges, articulate a solution space, evaluate proposals for commercial and technical viability, and establish commercial terms with entrepreneurs. Startups and innovators who advance to later rounds of each challenge also receive coaching from ADL’s team to refine their pitch and communicate a value proposition consistent with their target customers’ needs.
ADL Ventures rebuilds and energizes a clean and vibrant world by rewriting the rules of engagement among legacy corporations, new ventures and government. ADL focuses on developing and deploying new services and products on behalf of critical infrastructure incumbents. Our firm is a do-tank, not a think-tank, and our deliverables are outcomes as opposed to reports. For more information, visit ADLVentures.com.