Alexa Fund startup SPAN is enabling electrification for all

Staff Writer Jan 05, 2023
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According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the decisions individuals make in our homes - from what appliances we have in our home, how we power our home, to what car we drive - contributes to 42% of total US greenhouse emissions. According to non-profit Rewiring America, making greener choices when it comes to the home we live in and the cars we drive will be critical to combating climate change. 

Combating climate change might not be at the top of everyone’s priorities – but even so, the 2022 Inflation and Reduction Act offers rebates for electric vehicles, heat pump water heaters and dryers, electric stoves, including induction ranges.

Crucially, the IRA includes rebates of up to $4,000 for a new electric panel and up to $2,500 for wiring upgrades. Think of the electric panel as the beating heart of the system that supplies electricity to your home. And here’s where SPAN comes in: by moving the outdated electrical panel into a new era: the SPAN Panel (which goes in the same spot as a breaker panel in the home) takes in power from your utility company and then intelligently routes it to the discrete circuits that supply power to the different outlets, devices and appliances in your house.

“The circuit breaker panels we see nowadays in our homes haven’t really changed from the 1960s,” says Colin Law, Vice President of Strategy and Business Development at SPAN. “It is inadequate for a world where people are plugging in electrical vehicles, solar, heat pumps, and other appliances.”

Prior to SPAN, Law led teams deploying energy storage solutions that help residences generate, store and manage clean and affordable solar energy. 

“One of the problems we ran into frequently was how to manage energy in an intelligent way,” Law says.

Law provides the examples of when over 5 million people in Texas experienced outages during the 2021 winter, or in California, a state that experienced 44 weather-related outages between 2019 and 2021 – more than a third of the state's total since 2000. 

“So many people around the country are increasingly concerned about power outages – and here’s where our SPAN Panel can help by utilizing the energy stored in solar panels intelligently to manage electrical loads in your household. This way, you don’t drain your energy into something you didn’t want to use. This way, you won’t find yourself in a situation, where you can’t use your coffee maker, because all of the power has gone to the water heater.”

Law points to the SPAN Drive EV charger as another product for electric vehicles that is capable of helping with the company’s mission of enabling electrification for all. Today, nearly 48 million homes in the United States will need an electrical service upgrade to install Level 2 EV fast-charging. Level 2 EV chargers deliver an average of 32 miles of driving range per hour of charge (as opposed to 4 miles from Level 1 chargers), and can charge an electrical vehicle eight times faster.

However, depending on your electrical service and utility, installing a Level 2 EV charger in your home can take months to schedule, cost thousands of dollars to complete, and might require disruptive trenching for outdoor service wires. The SPAN Drive allows you to get a Level 2 performance from your charger without the need for an expensive upgrade.

In addition to these advanced capabilities, Law says that enabling people to interact with their products in easy and intuitive ways is crucial to the rapid adoption of SPAN’s offerings. Here’s where the Alexa integration comes in.

Integrating with Alexa

The SPAN Home skill for Alexa gives owners of the SPAN Smart Panel an intuitive voice-enabled interface to their home energy. You can use Alexa-enabled devices to perform different tasks or to check solar and battery states. By using just your voice, you can ask Alexa to learn how much power you have left in case of an outage, and ask the voice AI to give you customized tips to increase your battery time. 

The team’s development engineers set-up several AWS Lambda functions in the SPAN Cloud account to support a Smart Home implementation - giving each circuit on the SPAN Smart Panel “Smart Home” functionality including power toggling and routine/schedule control. By re-configuring their existing AWS Cognito Pool to issue OAuth code grants, they were able to set-up “Account Linking”, which allowed Alexa voice commands to make SPAN API requests on behalf of the homeowner, opening up the majority of SPAN’s functionality to voice control. 

“Integrating with Alexa was simple, and took us a little less than three weeks,” says Law.

Going forward, Law says that the company is excited to collaborate with Amazon to enable electrification for residences across the country. The Alexa Fund is an investor in the company. 

“At SPAN, every member of our team is deeply committed to fighting climate change,” says Law. “Given the magnitude of the problem, it’s easy to feel pessimistic – however with incentives to go green in bills like the Inflation Reduction Act, and the innovation enabled by companies like SPAN and Amazon, we firmly believe we can effectively address what is among the most important challenges of our times.”

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