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March 25, 2019 FOCUS: Green Business/Energy

Hartford startup’s boiler aims to turn heat into electricity

Photos | Contributed Enviro Power Chief Technology Officer Michael Cocuzza shows off the startup's SmartWatt boiler in the company's testing facility.
(Left to right) Enviro Power employees Daryl Biron, Charlie DeLorenzo, Graham Steen and CTO Michael Cocuzza.

When you're making heat, why not also make electricity?

That's the idea behind Enviro Power, a Hartford-based startup seeking to give a green upgrade to the billion-dollar heating industry.

With a working prototype of its SmartWatt boiler installed at its facility and a dozen purchase orders pending, Enviro Power is poised to grow and is currently planning a Series A funding round.

“We can create a product that can actually make a difference,” said Enviro Power Chief Technology Officer Mike Cocuzza.

The SmartWatt boiler works by adding a second heat-exchanger and turbine to a conventional boiler to convert waste heat into steam and then electricity. Like a solar panel, the SmartWatt then channels the electricity it generates into an inverter that allows the power to be used inside a structure or fed into the electrical grid.

The company estimates that SmartWatt's electricity generates about half the CO2 emissions of electricity from the grid. In addition, the SmartWatt over time also can save a heating customer significant money, according to Enviro Power Chief Operating Officer John Hoffert.

“From a business perspective, it's valuable to the customer because when you generate electricity on-site from natural gas, it's one-seventh the cost of buying from the grid,” Hoffert said.

“We see a large market potential here,” said Patrick O'Neill, managing director for venture capital investments at Connecticut Innovations, which invests in early stage companies. “We have a great technical team and there's a large market here, people who want to generate their own energy.”

Connecticut Innovations has invested $250,000 in Enviro Power so far and plans to be part of the next funding round, O'Neill said.

“There's a strong economic case for it,” he said of the technology. “It really is a win-win.”

The SmartWatt got its spark in the mind of Cocuzza, a Southington native who spent much of his childhood taking his toys apart and putting them back together. He graduated from UConn with a mechanical engineering degree in 2010 and started searching for a green energy project to suit his skills.

“Climate change is an issue of our time,” Cocuzza said. “Efficiency in itself is a way to address that. … I started to realize there's probably an opportunity to think different,” Cocuzza said.

From idea to startup

The idea of using one fuel source to generate both heat and power is not new, but higher fuel costs and concerns about climate change have renewed interest in the process, called cogeneration.

The first challenge for Cocuzza was to make his product affordable and easy to operate and maintain, a necessity in an especially cost-sensitive industry.

By 2013, Cocuzza had a working prototype using off-the-shelf parts that he put to use in his Middletown home. His first reaction, he said, was “'Hey we made it, where's my million-dollar check?' Then I realized how much more work it takes to build a business like this.”

The next step was putting together an advisory board and determining the company's strategy. “There's a lot behind bringing a product like this to market. We needed some expertise, a lot of expertise,” Cocuzza said.

Hoffert, who had worked as a mentor to green businesses, signed on as COO in 2016, and experienced energy executive Dan Nadav took the CEO post a year later.

In January, the company installed its first SmartWatt boiler for beta testing at the former Fuller Brush complex on Main Street in Hartford. The boiler now generates part of the power at the complex, which is also home to Enviro Power's seven-person office and testing lab.

Regions like the Northeast with low natural gas prices and high electricity demand are ideal for Enviro Power's product, Hoffert said. New York City is an especially attractive market with its generous efficiency incentives and thousands of multifamily buildings.

“We're going to save those landlords a ton of money,” Hoffert said.

So far, the company has raised just over $1 million and is seeking $5 million to $10 million in capital to ramp up over the next two years. Plans include doubling the firm's current 1,500-square-foot footprint, with the potential to build a 20,000-square-foot-plus assembly facility in the next five years.

Like many growing companies, Enviro Power is open to relocating based on incentives. “We'll be exploring what the options are,” Cocuzza said, adding that the company has benefited from its location in the state as it focuses on manufacturing its product.

“The talent and experience and knowledge base in small companies in Connecticut is second to none,” he said.

Future products in the Enviro Power pipeline include technology that allows boilers to provide backup power in case of blackouts. Also on the horizon is adapting the company's technology toward trigeneration — providing heating, air conditioning and electricity as part of a single, highly efficient system.

Ideas are plentiful but integrating green technology into existing markets is the real challenge, Cocuzza said.

“What we're trying to do is solve an engineering problem — that's the easy part. The hard part is how do you identify a market need and go out and navigate on no budget, very little resources and try to tackle what's ultimately a multibillion-dollar industry.”

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