Innovation That Matters

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Robot-made tunnels could reshape the power grid

Agriculture & Energy

Robotic, renewable-powered tunnel-boring technology could speed up the connection of energy projects to the grid

Spotted: The US has a huge problem with its utilities. The country’s current grid is both outdated and overloaded. And the transition to renewable energy is exacerbating this problem, as increasing electrification – driven, in particular, by the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) – creates a greater demand for power. At the same time, increasingly frequent extreme weather conditions are straining the grid beyond its ability to function. According to startup EarthGrid, tunnels are the solution to these problems.

Normally, utility tunnels are time-consuming and expensive to construct. But, EarthGrid has developed a way to bore tunnels exponentially faster and at a fraction of the cost of conventional techniques. The company’s Plasma Trenching System uses a plasma robot powered by renewable energy to trench in hard rock at speeds of up to 600 meters per day.

EarthGrid uses its plasma torches to bore underground supergrids that can be used to transmit renewable energy as well as ultra-high-speed internet, clean water pipes, and even delivery services.

The company offers two services. Its Build, Own, Operate & Maintain (B.O.O.M.) service offers a long-term lease covering the commodities flowing through the EarthGrid tunnels. Meanwhile, Boring and Drilling as a Simple Service (B.A.D.A.S.S.), is designed for customers who want to own their own tunnels.

EarthGrid has been granted Utility Status and Certificates of Public Convenience and Necessity in 34 States. A recent seed round was massively oversubscribed, raising $30 million (around €28 million), bringing the total equity to approximately $50 million raised since inception in 2016 (around €47 million).

Transporting renewable energy is becoming a big limiting factor for new projects. Luckily, a number of innovations are seeking to tackle this, and Springwise has spotted the use of modular fuel packs to transport energy and the development of thermal energy storage systems.

Written By: Lisa Magloff




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