Start-up Ampd Energy hopes to oust noisy, dirty diesel backup generators

Hong Kong start-up Ampd Energy hopes to make diesel generators obsolete with its battery-powered energy storage system, especially in countries like Indonesia and India which often suffer power failures.

The Ampd Silo, which runs on lithium-ion batteries and has a 17 kilowatt hour capacity, could provide four hours of uninterrupted power to a three-bedroom house or a 10-person office, Ampd Energy chief executive Brandon Ng said.

The start-up, which joined Hong Kong Science and Technology Park’s Incu-Tech incubation programme in 2015, hopes to replace diesel generators as back-up power sources. Once the Ampd Silo is hooked up to a building, it can provide uninterrupted power the moment it detects a break in the usual electricity supply, with no transition time in-between

“You won’t even know that there is a blackout unless you look outside and see that everyone has lost power,” Ng said.

The Ampd Silo also required little to no maintenance, the company said, compared with diesel generators that needed to be maintained regularly to ensure the engine was kept lubricated and the battery would not die.

Brunei-born Ng, who started Ampd Energy with co-founder Luca Valente, said the inspiration for using lithium-ion batteries as a source of backup power came from their previous start-up, ElectroForce Motors, which made high-performance electric motorcycles.

“We were having a dinner meeting with a partner in Sumatra and the power cut out,” Ng said. “We thought that it would be great if we could take the batteries from our motorcycles to power the building. That’s when we had our light-bulb moment – during a blackout.”

“We realised that there are a ton of people around the world that don’t have steady electricity, and that was the problem we set out to address,” Ng said.

The Ampd Silo works for buildings in the same way that a powerbank works for mobile phones – electricity can be stored and then used whenever required. It also did not pollute the environment by emitting fumes, Ng added.

Ampd is targeting the Southeast Asian market as well as India, as these regions are prone to frequent blackouts. Ampd Energy hopes to find its customers in mission-critical facilities such as hospitals, data centres and airports that require absolute uninterrupted power supply.

A report released last year by PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated that blackouts cost the Indonesian manufacturing sector about US$415 million every year.

“The Ampd Silo would also be very helpful in industries that deal with the pasteurisation process, for example. If there is even a one-second cut in power, anything in that process has to be thrown out,” Ng said.

Ng said the Ampd Silo, which starts from US$8,800 per unit, is only slightly more expensive than a typical diesel generator in Indonesia which usually cost more than US$7,000. But he emphasised that the Ampd Silo was far more reliable than a diesel generator since it required almost no maintenance, and represented a cleaner alternative for the environment compared with traditional generators.

“When you get the Ampd Silo, what you pay for is the cost of the electricity to charge it,” Ng said, adding that the company was working on an update that let owners configure the Ampd Silo to charge itself only when the cost of electricity was at its lowest, during non-peak hours.

With future software updates, Ampd Silo owners could even make money by buying and selling clean energy to the electricity grid, the start-up said.

Currently, trials for the Ampd Silo were under way with an Indonesian hospital group and a telecommunications company, Ng said. In Hong Kong, Ampd Energy was also testing the Ampd Silo in a company’s server room.

Ampd Energy is currently working with Indonesian distributor Praptadaya Sumber Perkasa and Hong Kong partner Yau Lee Construction Company to bring the Ampd Silo to the respective markets. The start-up will start selling Ampd Silo units next month and targets deliveries in April this year.

So far, Ampd Energy has raised US$3.7 million in seed funding, making it one of the largest seed rounds for a Hong Kong start-up.

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