SPAN – the company that back in May last year raised $10M to bring their smart electrical panel to market – has finished closing a $20M Series A financing round. As part of this effort they will be using the capital to fuel outreach to homeowners and solar installers across the US while also investing into new product development.
SPAN is an interesting company. Digitizing the outdated electrical panel sounds like a no brainer and integrating in sensors and building in functionality to replace traditional backup loads panels used by batteries creates a unique value proposition to homeowners that are price and value conscious.
With significant awareness among the cleantech community – Span has demonstrated to be a valuable grid-edge hardware solution for utilities and operators more so than a “Smart Electrical Panel”.
SPAN Electrical Panels Aren’t Cheap
Priced for the hardware between $1,000 – $2,000 depending on the type of electrical panel you have makes the cost to implement a Span Smart Electrical Panel come out to around $3,000 when you factor in labor.
Now the pitch is that the cost savings on labor overall – when implementing a solar + storage system outweighs the cost for using something like a Lumin Smart Panel or comparable protected loads panel.
This is predominantly due to cost.
Any value that may be available in cash savings by choosing Span over a traditional protected loads panel is likely to be negligible when considering the overall cost of a solar + storage system.
Which is why most homeowners that will consider purchasing a smart electric panel will likely purchase this premium product from Span since it is the best current choice based on early feedback and system specifications.
However, for Span to make it to the mass market/incumbent stage a lot of things have to go right for them.
May Become The Best Demand Response Solution
SPAN’s customer is not the homeowner, it is the utility and the grid operators.
OhmConnect, Virtual Peaker, Autogrid, Uplight and a few others all play in this “load flexibility/demand response” space. Some specializing in providing load flexibility via physical batteries at homes and some using smart thermostats to reduce load during peak hours.
SPAN can hit every single breaker to the house.
Since their product digitizes the entire electrical panel it is hard to see any utility or grid operator not jump at an opportunity to actually use that to their advantage. Turning off entire breakers within the house during demand response events or shifting to backup power from the battery dynamically creates a compelling use case for utilities to heavily subsidize these systems.
However, this may be a catch 22 as for utilities to see value from SPANs panels – there needs to be a decent number of installs active in their territory.
Homeowner Adoption Is Span's Biggest Threat
Demand response, energy management and renewables as a whole requires a compelling value proposition beyond “savings” to drive adoption.
Tesla is winning in the residential market – alongside Sunrun of course – because those who buy a Tesla end up wanting to purchase solar and storage for their home to charge their Tesla with renewable energy.
Buying solar no longer becomes a question of “savings” for those purchasing solar from Tesla as much as it is about helping the environment, buying a strong brand or literally recharging your Tesla for free.
Span needs to figure this out and fast – $30M is not a lot of runway for hardware companies, especially for those that require significant customer traction to reach a stage where they can unlock the utility clientele.
SPAN’s partnerships with industry leading battery manufacturers
This has to be the smartest play by Arch Rao and his team at Span. Coupling their smart panels with batteries natively increases the likelihood of adoption as installers aren’t having to sell a smart electrical panel separate from the battery they pitched their prospective customer.
With native integrations and support from giants like Panasonic and LG for their residential solutions it is likely that Span’s growth rate and adoption rate is betting on the adoption of Panasonic and LG batteries.
The fear I have here is the explosive growth and saturation Tesla Powerwalls have – especially now since SunRun pushes Powerwalls to all its customers.
Tesla, being like Apple, will build everything internally. Which means Span’s success may depend on beating Tesla in the race for adoption – especially if their primary growth strategy is manufacturer partnerships.
However, startup founders tend to know a thing or two about growth and figuring out how to beat the incumbent in the space. Span’s founding team is a strong one and likely has multiple paths to market that we haven’t uncovered yet that’ll continue to help them scale well beyond their early success.
Span’s Team and Capitalization Gives It The Best Shot At Survival
The investors involved, the team building and the product are all great from what we’ve gathered on Span. There are natural concerns on price, homeowner demand, scale performance and the true savings a panel can create – but these are standard for any new company on the block.
Span has found a niche that the cleantech community has supposedly gotten around and is curious in following.
We believe that Span – or broadly smart electrical panels – have a niche in the demand response and load flexibility arena because of the level of control they can provide the utility. At the end of the day the thing that will give Span the win in this market over existing startups isn’t price, product or team/capitalization…it’ll be their ability to adopt customers at scale.
The journey will be long for Span, but given they can continue to improve their product and drive widespread adoption over the next 10 years they may have one of the most valuable demand response assets on the market.
About The Author
Swarnav S Pujari
CEO @ TouchLight | Founder of The Impact
Swarnav is the CEO of TouchLight, a utility backed energy company that develops grid-edge management software for residential and commercial properties.
Concurrently, Swarnav founded The Impact to help provide a platform for operators within the industry to share their opinions about how the cleantech space is evolving. He also is appointed as the Chairman for the Town of Yorktown’s CSC Task Force, where he helps with legislation and sustainability efforts within the town.
Swarnav has a background in building physical products and has been working in the energy space for a decade. He also holds 2 patents and is active in the tech, energy and finance industries.