When Harvard postdoctoral fellow Wenbo Shi first started his company Singularity Energy, decarbonization was not the first thing he had in mind. A technologist in smart energy innovations, he completed his Ph.D. at UCLA before moving to the Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities in 2015, where he began working on software to help people better manage battery storage to maximize cost savings.
“When we started talking to some of our initial customers and prospects, we got a lot of questions related to carbon,” Shi said. “They wanted to know how much carbon they can potentially save, and how they can quantify the benefits. A lot of people don’t even know the carbon emission that they have today.”
This is how Shi began exploring electricity-related emissions, which are a significant part of the world’s total carbon footprint. According to Singularity’s founder, while the power sector already accounts for 30% of the global emissions inventory, that number is set to rise with the electrification of transport and heating.
“It is a very big opportunity, but at the same time, it’s a very interesting question, because the emissions associated with your electricity consumption are not direct,” Shi said. “You don’t actually burn coal or natural gas to generate electricity in your home. There are power plants that supply the electricity that everybody is using through the power grid. And that is a very complex machine. How do you really know where your power comes from? Does that come from clean energy sources? Or does that come from fossil fuel sources? When people start asking these questions, then you have to know that. And the answer is not very simple.”
Speaking to his first customers about the decarbonization of the grid, Shi identified a market gap. “When you look at the existing solutions, they’re not looking at carbon directly, they’re looking at energy consumption in kilowatt-hours or megawatt-hours,” he said. “But they’re not really translating that into carbon and then making a decision based on that.”
After deciding to focus on carbon, the team behind the Massachusetts-based startup began collecting emissions data and developing products and tools that allow forecasting, optimization, and analytics for different types of customers to utilize that data.
For one of its clients, home energy management company Sense, for example, Singularity provided data for a white paper study that showed optimizing electric vehicle (EV) charging for CO2 intensity would result in 8-14% reductions in related carbon on average across 44 U.S. states.
“When people buy an electric vehicle, it’s not zero emission,” Shi said. “It depends on the carbon intensity of the electricity, and then different parts of the country and different times of the day, you will have a different carbon intensity. So this white paper takes a look at that, and then tries to answer the question of what are the emissions associated with EV charging, and how can we reduce when we have this information.”
What differentiates Singularity’s platform is precisely its approach to grid emissions data that is based on both time and location.
“If you go to our website today, you can see the real-time data on carbon intensity that updates every five minutes,” Shi said. “The first step to solving the problem [with data accuracy] is to increase the granularity on the time horizon. The second parameter is location because the data is both time and location-based. Right now we are working on increasing the location granularity, or how we can tell you the differences, for example, between New York and Boston. Even within each city, there are differences.”
A winner of the Harvard Physical Science & Engineering Accelerator, the Greentown Labs Bold Idea Challenge, and the Small Business Innovation Research Award, Singularity raised $4.5 million in seed funding led by Spero Ventures and Energy Impact Partners earlier in 2022.
“The path to the net-zero economy runs through the electric grid,” said Sameer Reddy, Managing Partner at Energy Impact Partners. “Singularity’s platform provides unprecedented transparency and real-time carbon awareness to utilities, grid operators, and large enterprises across all sectors. With increasing scrutiny around emissions measurement, we believe this is an essential capability for the entire Fortune 1000 and beyond and are excited to be an early investor in the company’s journey.”
For one of its customers, New England’s largest energy provider Eversource, Singularity provided insights into understanding CO2 emissions associated with line losses for data-driven decarbonization.
Utility companies are becoming increasingly committed to sustainability, and they place “carbon as a top priority,” Shi said. “So this means that utilities need to have more tools, more technologies, to help them better understand the measurements, and then take actions on emissions. The seed funding opens the door for us to start expanding our technology and solutions to help utilities decarbonize, but at the same time, it will also help their customers. We’re helping to become that bridge to bring the two sides together. That’s where Singularity is uniquely positioned. Because we’re not only focused on utilities but we are also focused on end users like Sense.”
As for Singularity’s long-term goals, Shi said the company aims to become “a carbon intelligence engine that can be used by anybody.”
“Our long-term vision is to help people (…) utilize the best location and time-based data to drive decision-making and accelerate the conversation,” he said. “So that we’re solving the real problem by measuring and using the right metrics.”
As part of that mission, Singularity has launched the Open Grid Emissions initiative, the first publicly-available dataset of validated hourly emissions and generation data for the U.S. power sector.