Deep Dive on Funding from the California Energy Commission
Join us for a fireside chat between OpenGrants CEO Sedale Turbovsky, and California Energy Commission’s (CEC) Deputy Director of Energy Research and Development Erik Stokes. We dove into the CEC’s various funding opportunities, and learned what they mean for energy and climate researchers & entrepreneurs.
The California Energy Commission is leading the state to a 100 percent clean energy future for all. As the state’s primary energy policy and planning agency, the Energy Commission is committed to reducing energy costs and environmental impacts of energy use while ensuring a safe, resilient, and reliable supply of energy.
In This 1-Hour Session, We Covered:
- Clean Hydrogen Program
- Industrial Decarb and Load Flexibility Program
- Carbon Removal Innovation
- Climate Innovation Program
- Long Duration Energy Storage Program
About the Speakers
Sedale Turbovsky, Co-Founder & CEO, OpenGrants
Sedale Turbovsky is the CEO and co-founder of OpenGrants, a venture-backed startup focused on building modern infrastructure for funding. He has been an entrepreneur since childhood. After honing his leadership skills as an outdoor guide in his younger years, he started his professional career as an independent consultant focused on delivering data products and digital strategies to enterprise clients in South America. He is experienced in independent grant writing and public/private partnerships at the highest level, having worked directly with OpenGrants’ current strategic partner, Momentum.
Erik Stokes, Deputy Director, Energy Research and Development, California Energy Commission
Erik Stokes is the Deputy Director of the Energy Research and Development Division at the California Energy Commission. In his 14+ years at the Commission, Erik has spearheaded numerous initiatives to bring new clean energy technologies to the market. Erik has worked to strengthen California’s innovation ecosystem for cleantech entrepreneurship which has helped cleantech start-ups attract over $9 billion in private investment.
In addition, Erik has worked to address barriers that prevent broader deployment of emerging clean energy technologies, particularly in underserved communities. In 2016, Erik and his team pioneered a $50 million design-build competition to transform low-income neighborhoods into some of the most technologically-advanced clean energy communities in the world. In 2019, his team launched Empower Innovation, the first professional networking platform developed specifically for the cleantech sector. Empower Innovation has grown to over 3,000 members.
Read the Transcription
Please note, this transcription is automatically generated and may contain some spelling and contextual errors.
Sedale Turbovsky: All right, everyone. Super excited to be here. Thank you so much for joining us. My name is Sedale Turbovsky. I’m the c e o and co-founder of OpenGrants, and we are the easy way to win grant funding. Super excited. We’re, today we’re gonna do a deep dive on some of the really exciting funding opportunities from the California Energy Commission.
We’re gonna learn a bit about the Energy Commission, who they are, what it’s like to work with them, and what kind of funding opportunities are out there for entrepreneurs in this space. But first, Little housekeeping. We are for everyone’s safety and security we are using the q and a only.
So if you have questions, please do use that format to reach out and submit questions to us. We will start with just an overview and the chat about the Energy Commission funding opportunities and that kind of thing. And then we will move into a q and a period in like the final 15 minutes of today’s today’s webinar.
And if there is a lot of discussion, of course, we’re happy to break early and dive into that. But as I mentioned, my name is Sedale Turbovsky, I’m the founder and c e o of [00:01:00] OpenGrants for the easy way to win grant funding and with us today, super excited to introduce Erik Stokes. He’s the Deputy Director of Energy and Research of Energy Research and Development at the California Energy Commission.
Erik, thank you so much for being here. And what we’d love to hear a little bit just, about your background, who you are
Erik Stokes: Yeah. Thanks Sedale. Yeah, so Erik Stokes, I’m the Deputy director at the Energy Commission’s Research and Development Division, and just for those who may not be familiar with the California Energy Commission, we’re the state’s primary energy policy and planning agency.
And we have several functions including, one of the things we do is we set, efficiency standards for buildings and appliances. We developed the state’s demand forecast for the energy sector, so looking at how much energy the state’s anticipated to procure or supply over the next few years so that we make sure that as we, procure supply for that energy demand that we’re able to meet that.
One of the other functions of the Energy Commission is, essentially being able to advance new technologies that can support the state’s policy goals. And within the CEC we have the Energy Research and Development Division. And just in a nutshell, the R&D division’s [00:02:00] responsible for taking inventory of all the state’s energy policy goals and then identifying those scientific and technology advancements that.
That need to happen to be able to realize those goals, especially on an accelerated timeframe and at a lower cost than what we typically project to be able to meet those goals. And then going actually now helping advance those technologies through funding and other different types of support mechanisms.
Just a little bit about my experience. I’ve been with the c for 15 years now. Served in various roles, all in the research and development division. Prior to that I actually worked in the storage industry just the data storage industry. And now I’m spending a lot of time working on energy storage and seeing a lot of parallels and a lot of excitements.
And so just been a really interesting space right now in the clean energy sector.
Sedale Turbovsky: Awesome. Yeah, we’re super excited to have you here. I love the role that the Energy Commission plays in this space. Obviously California has some very aggressive goals and there’s some pretty exciting kind of targets they’re trying to hit, and definitely would [00:03:00] love to hear a bit more about that.
But I wanna start with just for those who are familiar and maybe those who aren’t I wanted to start with maybe just a quick overview of, what it’s like to work with the Energy Commission. We’ll get into the funding programs and all those exciting things afterwards very shortly here, but what is it like to work with the Energy Commission?
How do these programs typically work and, any thoughts you want to share high level on, what folks can expect in working with a partner like the Energy Commission?
Erik Stokes: Yeah, so I think, being a state government agency, we try to do everything in a public and transparent manner, and that really starts.
With how we actually develop our funding initiatives for our respective programs. And we do that through a stakeholder process where we have a lot of different workshops. We wanna get a lot of different input from a variety of stakeholders to really understand, what those topics or what those initiatives are gonna have the greatest impact for the state’s goals.
And typically that goes through a kind of a review process at the c and it gets formally adopted. Typically this is like an investment plan or a budget plan where the five commissioners, essentially [00:04:00] vote to approve that plan. And really from that step, we’ll start to develop solicitations.
And, as we’re developing solicitations, we wanna be gathering as much information as possible as we’re really putting these concepts together. We often have numerous organizations, numerous groups, kinda reach out to us just to talk about what they’re doing, some of the needs they’re seeing.
We do go through a period where we call it Our quiet time where we’re not allowed to talk to outside parties, and that’s typically when we’re developing a solicitation. But then once we release the solicitation, one of the things we always do is for every solicitation we release, we have a pre-application workshop.
And this really gives the opportunity for app the kins to learn more about the solicitation better understand what we’re looking for and ask questions. One thing we do is every question we get, we respond to either at the workshop or we follow up in written comments and provide responses to those questions.
For those that do go on to submit an application to one of our solicitations, it goes through, competitive scoring process. Typically each solicitation, we allocate so much [00:05:00] funding for that topic. And what we do is we typically go down the list, all the applicants that score the highest get ranked, and those get selected for funding until essentially the funding amount is fully allocated.
Were. And really from that process, what happens is we assign the c will assign a project manager to each project that gets selected for funding. And that project manager will work with the applicants to, develop or refine their scope of work, their budget for the process project.
That eventually gets taken to a c e C business meeting where the commissioners vote to approve that project. And then once that project is active e essentially you’ll have a c project manager that kind of helps oversee the project that, basically makes sure that you’re delivering on the various deliverables in the statement of work.
Also provi also is there to really provide a resource. There’s a lot of kind of intricacies when you’re getting government grants. There’s a lot of nuance and they’re there to oversee the project. They’re also there to be a resource. And Roy to help of guide you is also able to connect you to various efforts going on within the commission, just within kind of the [00:06:00] broader state energy policy landscape.
One of the things we really try to do, especially for the applicants, for the recipients we fund, is really profile them. Make sure that other agencies, other parts of the commission that are thinking about other different policies that can really create the type of market pool for these technologies.
Understand they’re seeing what’s coming down the pipeline or up the pipeline so that as they’re thinking about these other policy and planning efforts, they’re doing that with some of these newer technology breakthroughs in mind. One of the things with, if you’re selected for a government grant there are some reporting requirements.
We have taken steps to try to minimize those to the extent possible, but with each of our programs, we are required to report on the benefits and typically that’s information that we get from the recipients to better assess know, the types of benefits and the types of impact these projects are having versus what the program is intended to do.
Sedale Turbovsky: I just wanna throw out one thing real quick, is that one of the one of the neat impacts of the, that reporting and reporting collection that I always encourage folks to do is that you can often go and look [00:07:00] through these. You can actually go and look through these final reports.
The Energy Commission hosts all of these files. We have library with them at OpenGrants as well. But you can get all kinds of really interesting insights and data to help you build on the work that you might be doing as an entrepreneur. Also a great way to gain insights into maybe some technology that you might be able to use or develop or incrementally move along or maybe exponentially move along.
And just wanna throw out there that, also as Erik mentioned, the, it’s an incredibly collaborative process. Certainly ideally and the Energy Commission does a great job of. Being there to collaborate and be a partner instead of just this like shadowy funder of things that you don’t ever talk to
Erik Stokes: Yeah. And you typically how we look at it, we wanna be good stewards of public funding, but ultimately the success of our recipients, our performers, is ultimately gonna be our success. And we do try to help ensure that they’re successful both in the project and then after the project as they’re really kind moving towards commercialization.
Sedale Turbovsky: Yeah, a hundred percent. That was awesome. I appreciate the overview [00:08:00] and I just wanted to throw that out there. If you had some additional lenses or cuts you wanted to take at it, that’s fine. But I did wanna like highlight that point because I think it’s super important. Often we find entrepreneurs and other folks who haven’t done a lot of work with government don’t, maybe don’t have the best experience with government.
Like a lot of us, if you don’t spend a lot of time in this space, your experience might just be the D M V, which to their credit, they’ve gotten a lot better. But like it’s, it’s not always the best. Or it’s the DMV and paying taxes and that’s about the end of it. And so working with a government partner in this environment where you’re researching new technologies and you are also participants in taking public money.
And putting it to work which is something that, I think, folks should take very seriously. You are, you’re leveraging, the public’s dollars to, to make something really cool happen. And so you have this incredible opportunity to collaborate in those kind of where I think you had a specific, like pre-application meetings, right?
Where Yeah, you have an opportunity to come and participate, submit comments. I think at this point I’m sure there’s like a digital or like other online participation [00:09:00] format or is it in person? That’s a question I have for you.
Erik Stokes: Yeah. So we have transitioned to doing these pre-application workshops through Zoom.
And it’s been, really important tool. We’ve always had the hybrid option. People could participate in person, they could also participate remotely, but we’ve gone almost exclusively to, to virtual. One of the benefits in addition to learning about the solicitation we found over the years is it’s also a good opportunity for.
Different organizations to kind of network with each other and really be thinking about teaming partnerships on proposals. A lot of our solicitations really put a lot of stock in various partnerships especially as we’re moving out of the lab and really projects that are more intended to be demonstrations and early deployment.
There’s a lot of a lot of benefits to having these different partnerships. It’s a little trickier to do with the virtual format than we used to have these in person to really try to form those partnerships. But we have some other tools that I can talk about a little bit later to help facilitate that.
Sedale Turbovsky: Yeah, let’s definitely talk about that. I do, I remember when we were doing a lot of energy commission work, we would just be [00:10:00] there at these meetings. And it’s very exciting. I think, Zoom’s opened up a lot of opportunities, but in particular, if you happen to live in somewhere rural or remote but you’re doing a lot of work the fact that you don’t have to fly or train, take a train or drive and be in a physical location is an exciting opportunity to be able to engage.
A larger group of stakeholders. But let’s get into it. So love, high level overview of the Energy Commission and working with them, highly collaborative, lots of opportunity to engage. And one of the things I’m happy to share, like personally is that when we had Energy Commission grants, our program, manager or person at the Energy Commission, also a great resource, we developed a relationship and there certainly was that kind of collaborative approach to making sure the project went forward and created the outcomes that were expected and that we’re all hoping for.
Really great really great kind of collaborative environment. I’d love to dive in, what what funding programs are you most excited about? What’s, what’s new and exciting, but maybe let’s hit the high points real quick and, I initially reached out about Cal Seed, which is exciting, but I know you all have a lot of very interesting things going on, [00:11:00] I would love to hear, and I’m sure that the audience would as well, what are the exciting programs that you’re hoping to see a lot of cool applications for in the next few months and year?
Erik Stokes: Yeah, and maybe I’ll just take a step back. So in the r and d division, we don’t have a dedicated funding source for r and d activities.
Our act, our fundings actually kinda gets cobbled together from various funding programs. Typically our baseline budget comes from a surcharge on electric and gas bills. And the reason I of bring this up is each kind of funding source of each program has some specific requirements around what those programs must do.
So in the case of our baseline funding, which is the EPIC program, and then there’s a gas r and d program, one of the one of the criteria with these programs is they have to return benefits to investor own utility rate payers. One thing you’ll note you’ll see with these programs is especially around demonstrations, if we’re gonna do a demonstration, it has to be in the service of an investor own utility, such as a pg and e or a Southern California Edison.
In addition to those two programs. And like I said, the baseline budget for those two programs is about one 60 to 170 [00:12:00] million per year. But I think what’s exciting is this last summer with the budget surplus the legislature and the governor approved a set of new programs in the climate space to really fill some gaps.
We’d been seeing within the r d landscape, just some technology topics we hadn’t been able to fund, just given some of the limitations of this these requirements around investor own utility repair benefits. One of, a couple key themes really emerged from these new programs that the legislature approved.
One is federal funding. There’s this kind of once in a lifetime opportunity with all the federal funding that’s coming out with the I R J A and the I R A and we’re looking at ways as we implement these programs to really be able to leverage as much of that funding to California. The other theme is really around reliability.
It’s always been a big issue the last past couple summers. And so there’s a big focus in these programs around reliability. And I’ll just give a couple of examples. One of the new programs that got approved this last summer is our long duration energy storage program. Right now we’re projecting just record setting rates for installing energy [00:13:00] storage.
And we’re currently relying on one technology and lithium-ion batteries. And it’s a great technology, but there’s a lot of limitations with lithium-ion technology, especially as we start to scale up to some of these longer duration energy storage durations such eight, 10 hours and even longer.
And so lithium technology just isn’t well suited for that. And so this program really really was put in place to. Really established the bankability of some of these non lithium technologies, different flow batteries, thermal batteries, different chemistries such as zinc iron air that really overcome a lot of the limitations of lithium ion technology.
And these are large ward sizes, 30 million that we’re anticipating out of this program. And to really try to advance this kind of technology forward. And we’ve had a lot of history doing smaller sizes with non lithium battery storage technologies typically around the one megawatt rated size, but they’re, no, it really needs to be a jump in size and scale for these technologies to be able to demonstrate that they’re ready to contribute towards some of the reliability goals.
Yeah, another [00:14:00] program we’re pretty excited about is this new industrial decarboning grid flexibility program. So the industrial sector, it’s one of the most challenging sectors to decarbonize. In addition there’s some real opportunities for the industrial sector to support. Grid reliability.
And so this is another program that’s specifically intended to help decar really advance technologies that can, accomplish those objectives. Doesn’t have to accomplish both, but, accomplish one or two of those objectives. We’re looking at, various types of solar thermal c h P.
We’re looking at different communication and control technologies that can allow industrial facilities to be able to participate in various, demand response programs or other types of load flexibility applications.
Sedale Turbovsky: I have two questions about these programs, and I think they’re pretty relevant to the audience as well as one are, do you expect when you see these programs move forward, do you expect to see folks bringing additional federal money to the table?
So the, DOE has their virtual power plants program that they’re rolling out. Is there an opportunity too? I guess my real question is can you like stack money together for these projects? [00:15:00] Is that something you like to see?
Erik Stokes: Yeah, definitely. And I’ll just kinda maybe flip that too.
I think one of the opportunities we see is to be able to use funding from these programs to help applicants meet the cost share requirements for doe solicitation. So I think doe solicitations typically require about a 25% or 50% cost share , which is pretty steep. And know, we’ve actually had this up and running for several years now, but we have a we have a process or a program, we call it federal cost share, where.
Applicants can submit a short application to us. It’s about 10 pages. It goes through a review process, and if, it’s a, go no-go. And if it’s a go, what we do is we provide a letter of cost share commitment, so applicants can include that in their application to the doe and they’re successful in their due application.
We agree to contribute, x million dollars towards their cost share requirements. I think to your earlier question, can applicants use d o e funding for our solicitations and yes. We, depending on the program, we typically have cost share requirements and regardless of whether it’s a requirement, we typically [00:16:00] provide bonus points or some sort of incentive or scoring bonus for people that bring cost share into these project.
Sedale Turbovsky: Awesome. Another thing, talking about these larger demonstration projects and often, we’re working or a lot of the folks we initially work with at OpenGrants, they, there’s entrepreneurs, there’s small startups, maybe they’re like a four-person company.
And they always have the capabilities and they’re not always in the best position to take on a demonstration project. You can you share any thoughts about, partnering and partnering strategies? And I know you touched briefly on, on that, but I think this might be a good time to maybe go a little bit deeper on, how you might go about partnering with a municipality or a large industrial facility as a technology provider.
Erik Stokes: Yeah. One of the things we’ve tried to do in the past, and it’s something I think we’re gonna be looking to do again, is we can’t actually facilitate partnerships ourselves, but we can put the forums in place that helps. Helps facilitate some of those partnerships. And a couple years ago we used to have what we were calling our Empower Innovation events.
[00:17:00] And, essentially these were breakout sessions based on topic for people that are interested in those topics to join and just talk a little bit about their project or talk a little bit about what their interests would be in partnering in a project. What expertise what types of resources they could potentially bring into a partnership.
Maybe it’s a start company looking for a project site. And providing that forum to really help facilitate those partnerships. The other is our empowered innovation website. We have on that we have what’s called the final partner sorry, one second. Dog’s barking.
Sedale Turbovsky: No worries. I’ll just speak to, I’ll speak to that a little bit. So one of the resources that is available, and we’ll definitely include a link to it, is there’s a resource, the Energy Commission put together with the assistance of some partners called Empower Innovation. It’s a great directory.
You can find OpenGrants on there. You can find all kinds of great folks, but you can also find, especially for the founders on the call and also for communities on the call who might be looking for technology like this. You can find technology providers and you can filter and search by the technology, the [00:18:00] services they’re offering, all those things.
And so it is a great spot to go, start your search. And I would also just suggest lean into, networking, go to the meetings, those things. But great resource.
I think, one of the questions that we get a lot is, how do, what are you looking for? I think a great and useful piece of communication is just a candid, rundown of what makes folks successful when they’re putting these projects together. Any kind of red flags, lessons learned that you can share about, what the difference is between winning a Energy commission grant and being unsuccessful.
Erik Stokes: Yeah. A couple things is, we’re always looking for what problem. Is this technology or is this project really trying to solve? And then what’s the impact if successful? I can just tell you having, I haven’t done this in a while, been on the kind of the project review side or proposal review side.
But, we get a lot of details about the project. But, going back to a line, I think our colleagues at RPE use, it’s if it works, what matter? And we apply a general lens. I think a lot of the scoring criteria we have in our solicitations are really trying to get after those questions.
What’s the real breakthrough, what’s the advancement? [00:19:00] And then what’s the impact of that advancement if it’s successful. know, It depends. It very much depends Solicitation by solicitation. Each kind of have their own or. They’re their own, each their own little mini programs and have their own specific objectives that they’re trying to accomplish.
We’re really looking at those two criteria. And then some of the other criteria get a little more administrative. One of the things is the state funding. So obviously there’s an emphasis on keeping as much of that state funding in California. So there’s ladder based system.
So the more funds you spend from the grant in California, the higher score you get for that core category. And then, one of the state’s policy priorities is around energy equity. And so a lot of these solicitations will have an emphasis on equity and there’s requirements we have that so much of our funding goes to under-resourced communities.
But one of the things we’re also looking at in these solicitations is what type of engagement did the applicant, or did the technology developer or the project developer do with these communities? One of the messages that’s been communicated to us from some of these communities over the years is that sometimes they [00:20:00] feel like an afterthought.
The project’s already been developed and then they’re just trying to find a place to do it where what the communities really want to, they wanna be involved, they wanna be engaged in really shaping that project. And so our solicitations and some of the criteria really try to assess whether there was that meaningful engagement between the technology and the project developer.
Sedale Turbovsky: I love that you brought that up. That’s one of the things that I think the Energy Commission does a great job on is, highlighting and pushing that narrative forward within your solicitation requirements. And I would love to hear a little bit more maybe on just, when y’all think about and you’re looking at applications I know that in each applications is different.
there’s different requirements. But are there any things that stand out in terms of are you looking for at this stage, is it better to come with a partner, come alone? Does it not really matter? What are there preferences there?
Erik Stokes: Yeah. And that’s really depending on the solicitation, maybe the stage of the solicitation.
So let’s just take Kelsey for example. You brought it up. At this stage we’re not expecting an applicant to come [00:21:00] with a partner. These are mostly startup companies. It’s really kinda that proof of concept funding. As we start moving, further down in the maturity stages and getting into demonstrations, we do want to see either partners or letters of support or from either industry partners that can help really scale the technology partners from the local community, showing their support for the projects.
One thing is, one of our programs Bridge, one of the things we really look for is that commercial validation. Does the private sector see, see potential in the technology? And so one of the requirements with Bridges, there has to be an investor partner with that program.
Sedale Turbovsky: These are great. And I always, I always encourage people, and I, obviously this is important just and Erik alluded to this earlier, but there are, literally rubrics and like a scoring criteria for these solicitations. And so you can, read through the requirements and act accordingly.
Another question that I wanna throw out there is just on the timeframe, like logistically, How does this work? I think one of the things that turns people off from the space from time to time is the length of time that it [00:22:00] can take to get a grant. I would love to hear your, you just like high level, what’s the timeframe look like?
What, application process, logistically, do we do it online? Do we ship in paper?
Erik Stokes: Everything’s done online with one exception. And it’s this weird state government rule that, we have, there’s grants and then there’s contracts. Contracts are more when the energy commission’s trying to procure internal support services, those still have to be submitted in person.
But 95, not more percent. What we do in the commission is grants, and that is all submitted online. Typically the timeline from the time we release a solicitation to the. I guess say the project starts and funding’s coming in can range. I would say range is about eight to 12 months. And it seems like a long time, probably the biggest time is the time we give people once we release a solicitation to start to put their proposals together, which, depending on the specifics can either be anywhere from three to six months.
Obviously the the more complicated the projects or the projects we’re hoping come from that solicitation are the longer we tend to give people, [00:23:00] especially if there’s some issues around permitting that need to be resolved ahead of the the project starting. Awesome. Yeah. And one thing I was just gonna get back to earlier today, we talked a little bit about the pre-application workshop.
One of the pieces of advice we tried to give new applicant. Even if you’re not applying for a solicitation, we always recommend maybe just tuning into one of the pre-application workshops just to get a feel for the workshop. What types of questions are being asked, what type of information’s being presented?
[ For new newcomers to the c, that’s always one of the first things we recommend. Yeah.
Sedale Turbovsky: And I do wanna throw out there too, if you are looking for these application workshops, they are often in the RFPs themselves, but they’re also c e c website is gone through some iterations over the last few years and it’s pretty quick and easy to jump on there and sign up and get the emails, get plugged into that, that that calendar of events so highly encourage you to check it out.
They are a great partner in the space. Let’s let’s fast forward a little bit, so you’ve gone through the application process itself. You’re, you’ve got your, you’ve [00:24:00] got your approval and you’re ready to like, get started. What is, and I assume the reporting on the grants also varies, but what is the kind of the expected sort of reporting burden?
How does that, like whole thing work? When you get, do you get the grant money upfront, typically? Is it on a reimbursement basis? Can you talk through a little bit of that?
Erik Stokes: Yeah so one of the things is so it is on a reimbursement basis. I could be wrong on this, but we typically provide the option for recipients to invoice on a monthly or a quarterly basis.
Typically the reporting requirements is, and like I, it’s either a monthly or quarterly progress report that they submit to. Project manager at the c e c. In addition, in the statement of work, there’ll be several kind of product deliverables that they’re required to submit at various times.
And those are some of the other reporting requirements is being able to submit these deliverables. One of the things we do do as far as reporting requirements is we really want to try to assess the benefits of these projects and to the extent we can to be able to quantify those benefits.
Are they providing energy [00:25:00] savings, grid reliability? And so we have some kind of spreadsheet that we’ve developed based on, established methodologies that we require recipients to fill out at the start of the project and also at the end of the project as it gets towards completion.
The other kinda reporting requirement is we have our online database of projects and a lot of the information that we’re required to report. For statutory purposes. We have a portal where once the project begins, the recipient gets access to that portal and they’re able to go submit that information and then it goes through the, kinda the internal approvals at the CCC and then gets posted to the website.
People that are interested in what have we funded, more information on the projects, contacts can go to that website and give more information.
Sedale Turbovsky: Yeah. And it is I alluded to it earlier incredible resource, energy Commission’s been funding projects for quite some time now, and they’re, there’s an incredible wealth of knowledge there.
That I, I think it’s really useful, especially for early stage companies. They’re trying to navigate this space. One of the questions we get a lot on the so we’ve done the project, we’re reporting or what have you, [00:26:00] and something happens and it’s just. Goes, we don’t achieve the outcome.
The technology is found to be not viable or for some reason there’s problems. How does, how’s that handled? Do you have to give the money back? What’s the, higher level question is, what are the risks for companies working with the Energy Commission and how can they get basco about managing any of those? Or do they exist?
Erik Stokes: Yeah, so this is an r and d program that we, or programs that we oversee. We understand there’s risks that sometimes these technologies just don’t pan out or there’s just technical challenges they can’t be overcome. There, there’s a couple tools we have to manage these projects.
One is what we call critical project review. And so if we see the project maybe isn’t progressing as we hope milestones aren’t being hit hit or there’s other issues maybe there’s permitting issues that come into play that really delay the project. We’ll issue what we call critical project review, which is basically just, where.
Ourselves and the recipient come together just to talk through the issues and to really try to see if we can find a path forward. And, some some action items to really try [00:27:00] to get the project back on track. The other kind of tool on our bells that we call a stop work order, which we might issue, and sometimes that might proceed a critical project review.
Sometimes it might come after one, but essentially if we’re worried the project’s not on track we’ll issue a stop work order. And essentially that does, it just puts a stop on the project for the time being while there’s more conversations that take place and to see if there’s a path forward with that project.
know, As far as repayment to the commission if milestones aren’t hit we really don’t have that. Like I said, this is an r and d program and it’s part of the risk. You’re just, some of these technologies just aren’t gonna be able to overcome some of the technical challenges.
Typically where we see. Recipients owing back money is more around audit findings. If there’s some audit issues we have an internal auditor who will audit recipients from time to time. And if the audit’s office discovers issues, they may determine that recipient needs to repay repay part of the grant back to the c.
Sedale Turbovsky: And I’m glad you brought that up. So you, and we’ve done [00:28:00] other kind of deeper dives on just like grant management. Yeah. I the light takeaway here and, with the caveat that I’m not an attorney and I don’t believe Erik is either , no. Definitely, have a good C p A and a, you accounting crew who knows how to work with grants and knows how to work with grant money and properly account for the activities related to the grant.
And just know that, anytime you do work with any agency be it the state or federal government or local government, you may be subject to audit. And so that is additional incentive to just do the work right the first time. And obviously make a, concerted effort to make that happen.
Everyone makes mistakes of course. But yeah, just, that’s a good thing to invest in. And to that point, I I was gonna bring up are you allowed to in your grant, are you allowed Budget for grant management in with Energy Commission grant funds?
Erik Stokes: Yeah, I believe so. And I’ll just maybe to the earlier points today.
I think one thing too is ask questions, especially early on in the process. We do audit these projects, but we’re not out to get people. One of the things we do is we have a kickoff meeting for each project. And, in a lot of ways it’s really to [00:29:00] talk about the project, talk about the technology, but we do bring our audit staff in there just to provide some guidance to recipients.
And so just encourage people, especially if they’re new to the CC process, it’s their first time getting a grant to ask questions to really try to avoid maybe some audit issues down the.
Sedale Turbovsky: Yeah. Awesome. That’s great to know. Let’s let’s dive in a bit more to there’s a variety of funding available and how much what does that like investment look like over the next few years?
I know that, and maybe don’t have these numbers off the gi for your head, but I know that there’s a significant amount of money that has been committed to this effort, and I wondered if you could share high level, what that outlook looks like. How do these programs look like? What do these programs look like moving forward?
Is this stuff that’s coming back next year? Any thoughts on that?
Erik Stokes: Yeah, it’s a little bit hard to put an annual budget allocation to these. We just we’re looking at, almost close to a billion dollars rolling out from the r and v division over the next three or four years with all these new programs as well as our baseline set of programs.
Sedale Turbovsky: Awesome. Very cool. This an [00:30:00] exciting exciting opportunity for companies. Certainly. There’s some cool questions in here the, in the q and a that I want to dump it jump into real quick. One of the first ones that I think is particularly interesting we talked about is a discussion about this r and d money that is available for r and d.
What, how early of a stage is accepted? Do you like to see are we talking like feasibility paper kind of stuff, or is it lab tested? What kind of, t r l if that’s the, if that’s a term y’all use do you like to see in these programs?
Erik Stokes: Typically we like to see pre prototypes. Typically at TL three doesn’t mean if you’re at like a TL two, you’re excluded from many of our programs. But, we, we don’t do basic science or research. We start really at that applied science or research But I would say, most of the companies that come into Cal Seed are really at that TL three or four, and that’s usually our earliest touchpoint for a lot of these technologies.
Sedale Turbovsky: And another question that comes up a lot and would love to hear, cuz you touched on this briefly, but if you’re a company that’s located outside of California, do you have to be headquartered here? Do you [00:31:00] need Nexus here to be eligible or can you just apply regardless?
Erik Stokes: Yeah, you don’t have to be headquartered in California. And like I said, this is a little bit programmed by program. It changes, typically the one requirement across all the programs is that you’d be registered with the Secretary of State and in good standing. So if you haven’t done so already, go to the California Secretary of State Web website and.
Sedale Turbovsky: And I think the, as you mentioned, the nuances there in terms of scoring and what that looks like preparing a good application are gonna vary from program to program for sure. But yeah, you definitely can do things here. What are we talked about the decision making that goes into awarding grants and that’s come up quite a lot in the questions.
Is there a preference when it comes to cost share? Is there a preference to to use? Let’s see, what is this question Fully c cost share for the D O E I, I think this is more gonna be solicitation based. But how long does it take for the C E C to provide feedback on a grant application that you’ve submitted?[00:32:00]
Erik Stokes: Yeah I don’t know if this is quite getting at the question they asked, but After we’ve had a solicitation and we’ve done the scoring and we’ve announced the results applicants can request a request a debrief on their proposal. And you don’t have to, you can be successful and request a debrief or you can be unsuccessful.
And just to get more information on where the scoring committee felt the proposal was strong, maybe some areas where they felt it wasn’t quite as strong. And I think that’s important feedback, especially for applicants if they’re thinking about applying again to future funding opportunities through the cc.
Sedale Turbovsky: To follow onto that, does it hurt your opportunities? Say you’ve applied and you haven’t, you didn’t make it the first time. Is there is there any kind of stigma there or is it, you just get better and apply again?
Erik Stokes: It’s definitely the latter.
Get better. And like I said definitely encourage applicants, especially if they aren’t successful the first time to really. Ask for those debriefs because there’s a lot of insights. You get a lot more perspective on what we review for through some of those debriefs.
Sedale Turbovsky: Awesome. Another great question here, more on kind of focus [00:33:00] and big picture thing.
How big of a focus is methane mitigation? From, I don’t know actually what o n G operations are, maybe you do. But how big of oil and gas? Yeah. Oh yeah. That probably, yeah, that makes sense. , how big of a focus is methane mitigation from oil and gas operations for c e c funding? Yeah.
Erik Stokes: Yeah. It’s, It’s been a focus and I’d say less from oil and gas.
Let me think. It’s been a focus of our gas r and b program. Obviously there’s been some high profile leakage issues from the natural gas infrastructure. And so we’ve had a lot of r and d projects over the years to really try to. Address some of those challenges. Looking at better detection through better sensing looking at ways to seal the pipelines or not seal the pipelines, but be able to better fix the pipelines through less invasive measures.
The other thing is there’s been a real focus on kind of what we call the strategic decommissioning, looking at the parts of the natural gas infrastructure that can be pruned, where we anticipate those areas going electric. Awesome. That’s great.
Sedale Turbovsky: Another another question on the [00:34:00] eligibility that, that comes up a lot.
what about, foreign companies, so Canada, outside of the United States, are they eligible for c funding?
Erik Stokes: Believe they are. But I think the same requirements they have to be registered with the California Secretary of State. Great. Awesome.
Sedale Turbovsky: Best advice you have for, startups reaching out to the c e C. The question here is who is our point of contact to just discuss grant opportunities in more detail? And I would fire back and just say that you want to figure out what grant opportunities you’re going after, and it’s published right there.
But any thoughts on, the kind of best ways to approach the c e C if you’re looking to just build the relationship, make them aware of what you’re doing, and, get more involved in in the process of, public meetings and those kinds of things.
Erik Stokes: Yeah. And outside the pre-application workshops, we have a lot of additional workshops that our staff conduct and, sometimes, as I mentioned, we’ll take a topic we’re planning to release a funding opportunity around, and we want to get further information to further scope what the need is and what the gap we’re trying to address.
And so a lot of times, the people internally that are running those workshops are some [00:35:00] of our subject matter experts. That’s a good way, just follow up with them. You can follow up with me and I can help try to direct you to the right people. We are just scaling up an engagement and outreach unit.
And so we can share kind of some of the contact people and that’s a good way to starting point. And they can help direct you to who the right people are in the organization. If you’re, if you wanna talk about what your technology is, what you’re doing.
Sedale Turbovsky: Yeah, and I’ll just throw out there that, a lot of the information, so if you hop over to the c website and you just look at the programs that are out there’s contact information all, all over.
And folks are fairly responsive, I think they pretty much tired of hearing from me, but I send emails all the time asking for different things, like all of the applications for a certain project that went in that kind of stuff. But yeah fairly straightforward to work, work with them.
And to your credit, Erik, you and your team have done a great job of being accessible to folks. So thank you. Any advice, like high level advice for energy startups that are doing software? The specific question here is energy decision making software, [00:36:00] there’s certainly There seems to be more of a hardware focus in the space.
But what are the energy commission’s thoughts on software? Is there a desire to see more of it, less of it, like thoughts on that space?
Erik Stokes: Yeah, it’s a little hard to speak for the broader commission. I think different divisions are seeing obviously more opportunities and more needs for software and some some of the benefits it can provide just within the r and d space.
Our focus is typically on the hard tech side. And the reason for that is just of, that’s where historically we’ve seen the need for government funding is on the hard tech side, just given how long it takes new hardware solutions to reach to the market and some of the challenges with getting private sector invest.
That being said, I think there are some applications we’re seeing around software and some of the, it’s more of an integration better ways to, optimize different behind the meter resources to be able to provide. Grid flexibility. There’s definitely a lot of interest around software applications and kinda that sensing and thinking about ways to conserve energy better and conserve other [00:37:00] resources such as water.
We’ve had several projects over the years are looking at that precision irrigation and thinking about ways to not only minimize any use, but minimize water use while also providing better crop yields. So it’s really looking, like I said, unfortunately it comes down to looking at it solicitation by solicitation and seeing what types of opportunities there might be for software.
But primarily, especially in the RD space, we’ve had a focus on heart tech.
Sedale Turbovsky: Awesome. Yeah that’s great to know. Any can you provide timing, guidance on upcoming announcements or releases for Bridge and Epic programs? Any thoughts there that you can share? I’m not sure, but ? Yeah.
Erik Stokes: They come out on a flow basis.
We don’t have typically have set timelines for these programs. Typically when especially under EPIC program and the more topic specific solicitations, it’s just more on a flow basis when the solicitations are ready. We released them bridge, we have tried to move this to more of an annual offering but it’s subject to budget availability.
Sedale Turbovsky: That’s great to know. On the cost, [00:38:00] on cost share funding opportunities, if the, if A D O E f o A is not within the eligibility requirements, is it possible to add the foa? I’m not exactly sure what that question is. Do maybe. Maybe , but
Erik Stokes: Yeah, I think I can try to answer it. Yeah, if you see an f o a you think and it’s one you think we should consider for cost share, send it to us and we’ll take a look at it and, see if it measures up against the various criteria for one of our programs and we can look at it.
Sedale Turbovsky: There seems to be a lot of these cost share questions and I think they’re probably vary, but can the opposite in terms of federal cost share, can the opposite be true? For example, can funds from a federal grant qualify as all are part of matching portions of an Epic grant?
Erik Stokes: I believe so. I think the one limitation if you can’t use state funds as cost-share for state funding, but I believe you can use federal funds as cost-share.
Sedale Turbovsky: Advice any advice for companies working on improving solar pv cell efficiency?
Erik Stokes: Nothing specifically that comes to [00:39:00] mind.
I think one thing is obviously the c along with the California Public Utilities Commission a couple years ago put out, the, it was called the SB 100 plan, but those not familiar. SB 100 basically puts California on track to decarbonize our electricity sector by 2045. And really the buildout we’re gonna need for solar is each year is pretty substantial.
We’re gonna be setting over the next several years record levels of solar installations to be able to meet those goals. And there’s some real challenges to that especially on the land use, permitting interconnection. . And so any solutions, this is maybe where the software solution comes into place is any solutions that can help us address some of those barriers I think are gonna be really critical.
Yeah. As far as the conversion efficiency, yeah. I think that really helps, goes a long ways towards addressing some of these barriers. If we can get more power or does that square foot that, that’s gonna be a big benefit to the state and some of these policy.
Sedale Turbovsky: One thing I want to touch on and just maybe get your your thoughts on it is what’s the most efficient way?
Cuz [00:40:00] we’ve, you’ve brought this up a few times and I know it’s super important, is not only are you looking for, technology that’s that is interesting and game changing, but you’re also looking for technology that’s gonna help support the agency and state goals on this path to decarbonization and energy efficiency.
What’s the best way for founders and for folks who are looking to engage with you to understand what those goals are? Like, is there a place they should go to read something? What, or should they just talk to you? What’s the best way to get a, a good overview of what all those, what are, what those goals look like, what the landscape is?
Erik Stokes: Yeah, there’s a couple different resources. At least on the CCC website. We talk a lot about what those statutory policy goals are. The other resource is, for our Epic program we develop an investment plan. And we really do frame our r d initiatives around those policy goals and there’s, quite a bit of information on what those goals are and how we see that connection between the the r d initiatives that we’re proposing.
It’s not a short read, it’s a pretty long document, but there’s a lot of information that can help bring you up to speed on what those policies are.[00:41:00]
Sedale Turbovsky: We can include a link to it so that y’all can read it. And yeah. Great advice. Another kind of very specific question.
Last year’s ramp briefing talked about a second tranche in 2023. This person is asking, is a July application for a 2023 for a November, 2023 start expected?
Erik Stokes: I believe so, yeah. Yeah. It is gonna be a little bit dependent on how many proposals we get for a ramp. But yeah I would expect a November would be for the July deadline would be probably about the right timeframe.
Sedale Turbovsky: All right. Feel free folks dropping. Any other questions we’ll try to get through through some more of these here. One of the one of the things that I think is interesting is the opportunity to, do demonstrations with your community bringing together, multiple stakeholders and getting out there.
Any apart from, the empower Innovation Network and the meetings you talked about having these other workshops. Are those also an opportunity? Do you find that the people who come to these workshops, is it more industry folks? Is that another opportunity to go and kind of network [00:42:00] with folks that you might be able to partner with in future opportunities?
Erik Stokes: It is. And, in addition to those events, know, I think one thing we recommend too is yeah, every year we have an annual symposium. That, brings about anywhere from a thousand to 1200 people online now. But we do get a lot of communities coming to those events now virtually as well as industry partners.
And like I said, I think we’ve taken steps to try to make that networking piece better. Virtually it still has some limitations, but that’s also another opportunity. In addition, and just internally we’re thinking about better ways to help facilitate some of those connections, especially with industry partners.
And then on the community front, it’s really an effort led out of our public advisor’s office. They’re very very close to the communities at least. They’re a, I think they get a lot of information from the communities and sometimes they can be a resource for the various communities and as well as, for companies are interested on, how to partner with those communities.
Sedale Turbovsky: That’s a great point. It actually, can you touch on the public advisor’s office just a little bit more, because I do think that’s a resource that honestly I’m, I’m [00:43:00] sure a lot of people don’t even know exists or in particular on this call, maybe .
Erik Stokes: Yeah. Yeah. So one of the one of the branches of the commission is called the Public Advisors, and they’ve actually expanded their role.
They’re really the voice of the public and I think kinda this new expanded role has a lot more emphasis on really trying to bring communities into the clean energy policy discussions and be a resource for them, specifically those under-resourced communities. One of the key functions, there’s a tribal liaison who really meets regularly with the tribes into, its kind of develop trust with these tribes.
And so they’re just another resource within the c c.
Sedale Turbovsky: And I highly recommend, there’s as Erik mentioned, there’s a lot of different, like obviously a lot of people, different people doing different jobs in the public that resource office is an incredible liaison and conduit both to the energy commission as well as to the network of folks who might be interested in this space.
There’s one specific question here that I’ll throw you away, and then I would love to ask you two questions, and I’m throwing ’em at you now so you can think [00:44:00] about it a little bit. One is what, like if you had to highlight one startup or technology that you’ve seen come through the program that’s your favorite, that you just is, you’re super excited about it, love to hear about that.
And then any calls to action you have for the audience. Wanna say thank you to everyone? We’re about five minutes out from closing up this session, but it’s been great to have y’all here. Hopefully this has been useful for y’all. That will certainly be a recording afterwards and send out an email with links and such.
But one last question here. Someone launched an electric motorcycle manufacturing company in Santa Cruz and they have questions about any representatives at the CEC or D OE who could help them with. Understanding the rebates space. I’m not sure if y’all play much in that area, but would love to hear your thoughts.
Erik Stokes: Yeah, and it depends on the specific rebates and one, one organization within the state, governor, I forgot to mention outside the c. C is go Biz. It’s the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development. And I think they’re a great resource for understanding the various incentives, not just rebates, but tax [00:45:00] incentives, especially for those companies looking to expand manufacturing in California.
Awesome. Go. Yeah. . And then, I dunno, did I answer earlier? A company that’s come through the pipeline, I think one. I wouldn’t call it a favorite, but it’s one that’s gotten a lot of attention this last year is Gradient Comfort. They started off in our Road program, went through Bridge Ramp they’re developing this cool looking electric heat pump.
They were featured or mentioned in time magazines, best inventions of 2022. And last year they, they won a big contract with New York to install their heat pumps. Those haven’t seen it. It’s a pretty cool looking, looks like kind of a, looks like the iPhone of heat pumps. It’s a pretty slick looking device.
Sedale Turbovsky: And I think, that’s not an uncommon trajectory for folks who are especially savvy entrepreneurs and other folks who are leveraging these programs to advance technology. And I love that you brought that up because it is it’s not an uncommon pathway and I could name a few other incredible companies that have moved.
Doing [00:46:00] early demonstration, feasibility research, and then larger scale demonstrations and then contracts and, the government and energy commission in this particular case incredible partners in leveraging non-dilutive capital to help you de-risk develop technologies and then get them into the hands of, in particular, if you are doing something in the energy space, you’re working with utilities, you’re working with governments these are folks that are not always easy to approach.
And they are risk adverse. So having that, not only that signal and stamp of approval, but also that financial backer to help you really, de-risk, de-risking commercialized technology. Just an incredible resource. To that point, Erik last question here is what call to action for people who are listening or are interested in working with y’all?
Any kind of like parting thoughts that things folks should do.
Erik Stokes: Yeah. In participating in government programs, like the ones we run through in already, it, it is an investment. It’s an investment in time. I think we feel it’s a, it’s really a worthwhile investment, especially for those that go on to be successful.
It’s not just the funding. I think he alluded to it. It’s the funding, it’s the validation. It’s [00:47:00] critically important. We track fall on private investment dollars that our recipients get, and I think we’re over like 10 billion or, several hundred million dollars we’ve allocated over the last seven or eight years.
It’s also access, we’ve really tried to design our programs to provide access for startup companies to really try to shorten the time and cost to bring a new technology to market. And probably sometime this year we’ll have our next application round for Cal test. Which really gives, start companies access to the facilities and the expertise at the uc system, as well as some the national labs within the state.
So I just really encourage folks to of make that investment and do some of that legwork. Like you said, empower Innovations. It’s a great resource. We try to curate the funding opportunities better than on our website. We even send out push notifications on funding opportunities around specific topics.
We do have the list serve on the CC website. It’s called Opportunity. It’s a little bit the fire hose method of information. You get all the funding opportunities that come outta the c c. And so it’s a little bit hard to sort [00:48:00] through. But like I said I think it’s a well worthwhile investment.
Just as Sedale mentioned it’s the non-dilutive funding and it’s also these other benefits that come with that.
Sedale Turbovsky: Thank you all Erik, thank you so much for your time. Really appreciate you coming on. Love the work that y’all are doing, of course. And to everyone on the on the call in the last minute here, we will, we’ll send out an email.
It’ll have links to all of the agencies resources mentioned. We will be putting this up on YouTube as well as a video that y’all can, review and re-listen to. So thank y’all for being here. If we didn’t get to your questions, apologies we’re on a bit of a time schedule and we will certainly, follow up individually.
If there’s any burning questions as well, feel free to reach out. And I’ll also be following up with Erik after this and whatever contact info he wants to forward onto y’all we’ll include that in the follow up. So thank y’all for being here. Really appreciate it. And we’ll see you next month.