SoftBank's Vision Fund makes its first bet on energy company

August 15, 2019 13:58
SoftBank founder and CEO Masayoshi Son. The group's massive Vision Fund has invested in energy storage technology startup Energy Vault. Photo: Reuters/Energy Vault

SoftBank’s Vision Fund has made its first-ever investment in an energy company, funneling US$110 million into Swiss startup Energy Vault, which creates renewable energy storage products. 

Founded in 2017, Energy Vault uses recycled concrete blocks built into a tower that can store and release energy. The technology aims to enhance the storage of renewable energy for later use – overnight or when demand surges, a key challenge for the large-scale rollout of renewable energy.

"Energy Vault solves a long-standing and complex problem of how to store renewable energy at scale,” said Akshay Naheta, managing partner for SoftBank Investment Advisers said in a press release.

Energy Vault co-founder and chief executive Robert Piconi said the company would use the US$110 million capital raised in its Series B funding round to accelerate the global deployment of its storage technology.

Both SoftBank and Energy Vault did not disclose the latter’s valuation after the latest investment.

In contrast to existing battery storage solutions, such as lithium-ion, sodium-sulphur and lead-acid, Energy Vault’s technology enables renewable energy to be stored in a 33-storey tower of 35-ton bricks and then delivered as baseload power for less than the cost of fossil fuels at any hour of the day, the company said.

In order to store the energy, bricks of the tower will be moved by cranes, which are controlled by a software system that manages the movement of the cement blocks to either store the energy generated by solar or wind farms or discharge that energy onto the power grids.

The system has been designed to have a lifespan of 30-plus years with no degradation in storage capacity, the company said, adding that its development was inspired by the physics and mechanical engineering used in hydro plants.

Energy Vault, which raised an undisclosed amount of seed capital from Cemex Ventures in May 2019, is developing its first two energy storage facilities in Northern Italy and India. It also has contracts with other customers in four continents, the company said.

In a previous interview with TechCrunch, Piconi said each system costs around US$7 million to US$8 million, and is particularly applicable in remote locations such as desalination plants in sub-Saharan Africa and other desert regions.

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