Many businesses, including some of the world's largest traditional energy corporations, are focused on building and managing renewable energy assets, said Ahmad Atwan, CEO of Houston-based Clean Energy Services and founder of clean energy investment firm VC Fuel.
However, Atwan has seen few companies focused on servicing and maintaining clean energy assets once they enter operation.
"There's a huge white space here," Atwan said. "If we could build the right team, get the right technologies and execute, we could enter this space pretty quickly."
After organizing under VC Fuel late last year, Clean Energy Services, or CES, has serviced large wind facilities and battery storage operations in Texas for large energy customers, including wind turbine maintenance work for its client General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE). CES has a fleet of its own cranes for maintenance on wind turbines, and Atwan said the company is looking to acquire more cranes to take on more projects.
States like Texas and California have a rapidly growing base of wind, solar and grid-scale battery storage energy projects. Wind energy has accounted for 26% of the energy mix on the Texas power grid through August of this year, according to Electric Reliability Council of Texas data.
CES has also seen demand for maintenance from energy storage developers. There are already thousands of megawatts of battery storage projects under development in the ERCOT region, and Atwan thinks new tax credits for standalone storage projects passed under the Inflation Reduction Act will supercharge the storage industry even more.
But like wind and solar developers, storage developers tend to have been more focused on building new projects, rather than maintaining existing ones, he said. CES has worked on fixes for battery hardware malfunctions and software issues at storage sites.
"We've seen up to 50% downtime on energy storage facilities, and downtime just means lost revenue for the customers," Atwan said.
Similar to big oil field services players like Baker Hughes (NYSE: BKR), CES also sees opportunity in offering technology services for renewables customers. CES aims to implement data from satellite monitoring and thermal scanning of project sites to feed a predictive maintenance platform.
The startup is also working with Massachusetts-based Raptor Maps, a Y-Combinator company founded by MIT engineers, to develop digital twins of customer assets to better identify service needs. CES is also looking at robotic process automation opportunities at solar farms, like using automation to clean solar panels periodically and maintain vegetation around assets.
Meanwhile, CES is also focused on hiring and developing a pipeline of field technicians. The company grew from one employee late last year — Atwan himself — to a team of about 50, including senior leadership and back-office functions in Houston and many employees in the field, he said. The company aims to reach 150 employees next year, and CES is partnering with community colleges to develop work opportunities for new field technicians.
Two out of five members of the CES management team are veterans, so the company is also establishing recruitment and training opportunities for veterans interested in renewables operations and maintenance.
"We've gotten this feedback from highly experienced people from oil field services: One of the long-term keys to our success is having a talent pipeline," Atwan said.
CES has worked on projects in Texas so far, but the company plans to expand its reach into areas like Oklahoma, New Mexico and other southwestern states where renewables markets are growing.
Houston-based VC Fuel launched last year to invest in companies in renewable fuels, carbon capture utilization and storage, electric vehicles and electrification, clean agriculture and other clean tech sectors.