Israeli contest sees investors grab energy tech startups for pilot projects

Innovations at ‘Spark Tank’ event include a robot that charges electric vehicles, and V-shaped solar panel roofs that channel rain onto crops while producing power

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Thomas, the BaTTeRi company's mobile EV charger. (Youtube screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Thomas, the BaTTeRi company's mobile EV charger. (Youtube screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

A peripatetic robot named Thomas that charges electric vehicles, a program that any homeowner can use to design solar panels for the roof, and V-shaped constructions of solar panels that produce power while also helping to irrigate crops — these were just some of the start-up companies competing in Spark Tank, a contest held Wednesday to secure backing for pilot projects from major Israeli companies.

Based on Shark Tank, the US reality TV show, in which interesting companies pitch to big investors, the event formed part of the tenth Eilat-Eilot Renewable Energy conference in Eilat, southern Israel, with judges hailing from the Bazan petrochemical group, the Israel Electric Company, Israel Natural Gas Lines, Ayalon Highways, and Shizen Israel — part of the Japanese Shizen Energy Group which specializes in renewable energy.

The Israel Electric Company chose to back pilots with an energy storage company called Mada Analytics, and BaTTeRi’s robot, Thomas.

BaTTeRi’s CEO and co-founder Tomer Shahaf explained that just 10%-13% of the capacity of stationary electric vehicle chargers are used in office parking lots. “You connect for the day, but the charger only charges for a couple of hours,” he said.

By contrast, Thomas, an L-shaped moving robotic battery,  can move from one car to the next, easily slipping under the chassis to carry out the recharging and then moving onto the next vehicle.

The robot, which requires no infrastructure, just an electric socket, is currently operated remotely but will eventually become totally automated, Shahaf said. It stops moving if the cameras and sensors pick up an obstacle, which is particularly important if a person crosses its path.

On Tuesday, BaTTeRi was among the winners of the Climate Solutions Prize in the start up track. The company has also won a grant from the European Institute of Innovation and Technology to run a pilot of Thomas in Tel Aviv and Thessaloniki in Greece.

Bazan chose to work on a pilot with Boson Energy, which burns non-recyclable waste. The byproducts are a glassy kind of rock that can be used as filler, for example in construction, as well as power, heat, or cooling for local use. The carbon dioxide is not emitted into the atmosphere but removed and either sold — for example for fizzy drinks — or solidified and buried deep underground.

For Israel Natural Gas Lines, the winner was Fast Sense, a spin off from Bar-Ilan University in central Israel. The company’s product identifies and measures different gases and gas mixtures in pipelines.

Finally, Trigo Solar caught the eye of Shenzen, whose Kyoto-based representative, Israeli Ido Tutnauer, expressed interest in using the technology for rice.

Trigo Solar’s V-shaped solar panel constructions channel rain onto crops while also producing energy.

Three additional companies also pitched: Structure Pal, which uses AI to reduce excess concrete and associated costs in structural engineering plans (concrete is responsible for around 8% of global warming gas emissions); Grid-in, whose product identifies points in low voltage electricity grids where there is power loss, developed by a new immigrant from Russia; and Intersol.

Intersol provides a platform that automates the design of photovoltaic (PV) panels on rooftops. Using satellite data, it locates the customer’s property, creates a 3D model of it, maps the roof, and uses an algorithm to place solar panels in the optimal position. Aimed at people who have no technical knowledge, it produces a detailed plan, including procurement quantities and installation instructions.

“The design phase is always the bottleneck,  and can delay the start of a project, ” said co-founder and CEO Meni Kericheli. “It takes time and needs expertise, and is not free from mistakes. Our solution is a smart platform that deals with all aspects of planning and can speed up installation.”

“Spark Tank” was organized by Ignite the Spark, an organization that works to advance Israeli energy technology companies.

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