By Janice St. Onge, president of the Flexible Capital Fund
“Battery storage is what allows renewable energy to be relevant in today’s market,” said Jay Bellows, president and CEO of Northern Reliability. “Mother nature does not provide wind or sun on demand, so figuring out how to store that energy and use it when needed is the biggest piece of the puzzle in moving the world toward renewables.”
Bellows and his team at Northern Reliability are fitting those puzzle pieces together, finding a niche in battery storage and partnering with industry leaders to push innovation and find solutions.
In January 2021, the company installed batteries at the Vermont Statehouse, making it the first in the nation to have backup battery storage. Those batteries not only ensure that the lights can stay on at the Statehouse in a power outage, but also can also be used to lower the cost of electricity during peak use.
Just a few months later, Northern Reliability announced a partnership with KORE Power, Inc. to provide the first utility-scale mobile energy storage systems through a joint venture company called NOMAD Transportable Power Systems. The “plug and play model” eliminates some of the costs associated with fixed storage models, lowering the barrier to entry for utilities and commercial entities, and makes the technology available to disaster-relief organizations who need fast access to energy during emergency situations.
“With the world’s increasing energy demands, an influx of green energy generation, and the increasingly severe impacts of climate change, the need for an adaptive storage technology has never been greater,” said Bellows.
Decades of innovation
The announcements this year are the latest in the company’s history at the cutting-edge of renewable energy and battery storage technology. Founded by the energy storage team that split from Northern Power Systems in 2007 to focus solely on battery storage solutions, their team brings deep industry experience and expertise.
When Bellows came on in 2015, he saw an opportunity to expand beyond “off-the-grid” locations to provide storage more broadly to utilities and commercial buildings looking for dependable renewable energy. “The writing was on the wall,” he said. “Interest in green energy was growing, but the wind doesn’t always blow when you want it to, and the sun goes down every night. People want energy when they want it, and storage is the solution.”
Of course, vision often requires capital to become reality and Bellows needed growth capital to move his ideas forward. “We were having some growing pains,” said Bellows, “and access to capital can be challenging in rural places like Vermont.” In support of the company’s mission, the Flexible Capital Fund came in with a $400,000 royalty note, which allowed Northern Reliability to ramp up sales and marketing efforts, hire new employees, and invest in product development. “It was perfectly timed to keep us operating and moving forward,” said Bellows, “but it was not just the money. Janice’s support and guidance has been invaluable.”
“Nothing is more gratifying than investing in a company like Northern Reliability. We saw the potential and were excited about Jay’s leadership and the team at Northern. Their mission was right in the Flex Fund’s sweet spot. Fast forward five years and we are seeing the real, tangible contributions Northern is making in reducing our carbon footprint and getting us off of fossil fuels,” said Janice St. Onge, president of the Flexible Capital Fund. “We can’t wait to see what they do next.”
Coming together around common goals
Although the company recently expanded its office space in Waterbury in anticipation of doubling, or even tripling in the coming years, the values that drive Northern Reliability forward each day reach far beyond the state’s borders. As they look to the future, the ability to store power and use it when needed will allow utilities to navigate economic and environmental challenges, strengthen local infrastructure, and provide freedom from an uncertain energy supply.
“What I’m hopeful for—praying for—is that common sense comes to the forefront in the wake of energy crises like what we just saw in Texas,” said Bellows. “We don’t have a lot of room for error with the environment. There are tough decisions to make and the issues are rarely black and white. I hope that we can find common ground and be less combative with one another so we can come up with solutions. We’ll only get there if we are working collaboratively, pulling in the same direction, and have leaders who are looking at the big picture.”
“People tend to dismiss small steps because we all want the big fix,” he added, “but several small steps in the right direction can equal one big one, and that’s what Northern Reliability is working for every day.”
About the Flexible Capital Fund
The Flexible Capital Fund, L3C is a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) and impact investment fund that provides flexible risk capital in the form of subordinated debt, revenue based financing (also known as royalty financing) and alternative equity structures, to growth-stage companies in Vermont and the region’s food systems, forest products, and clean technology sectors.
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