On September 20, Silicon Valley-based innovation platform and incubator Plug and Play launched its first energy and sustainability project batch in China during its annual fall summit in Shanghai.

Prior to this debut in China, Plug and Play has accelerated over 50 energy projects from their Bay Area headquarters via cooperation and mentorship with industry leaders including ExxonMobil and Siemens. The entrance to China’s energy sector is largely due to China’s increasing emphasis on the environmentally friendly utilities and energy efficiency.

Plug and Play highlighted “supply-side reform,” a term Beijing adopted to refer to adjustment of economic growth structure which weighs quality more than speed and scale. The energy projects’ incubation models in China, as announced during the conference, is set as a tri-sector connection which connects startups with both government and commercial enterprises. The approach reflects global players’ increasing awareness of localization and subtle relationship with governance bodies.

“We hope, by cooperating with the government, to reach out to more promising local early-stage projects. The cooperation will also allow us to connect to big enterprises who have demand [for new energy projects]. [Such cooperative approach] would growth the scale of our innovation ecosystem [in China],” said Chen Zhixin, Plug and Play China’s vice present.

A strong signal of China’s determination in energy sector’s upgrade was sent in November 2017, during the 19th National Congress of CPC. President Xi labeled developing clean energy as a crucial mission to enhance energy structure and guarantee energy safety.

Plug and Play’s role in the game, as mentioned by the innovator’s state-backed partners including Tsinghua University’s Sichuan Energy Internet Research Institute, will be a connector that helps new energy demand holders interact with supply providers and innovators in the country’s energy ecosystem instead of any single energy aspects.

In addition to energy market leaders such as Panasonic, Shell, and the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, state-backed China National Offshore Oil Corporation and international conglomerate giant Fosun Group appeared at the event. Plug and Play’s global and local partners are hoping to grab a leading position in the country’s new strategic priority sector by acquiring the latest innovation in diverse possible sectors.

Nevertheless, at this stage, the major technological focus for the new energy incubation sector is the upgrade of technology and integration tailor to local needs. China’s large and diverse demands for alternative energy will provide massive markets and rich use cases for innovations to test their power.

The first batch of selected startups includes 6 players which mainly focus on energy’s internet infrastructure optimization, industrial automation components’ R&D and manufacturing, and industrial operation’s data management solution.

“A typical feature of traditional energy sector is the heavy capital injection. This usually prevents startups and small-scale companies from entering. A possibility [to bring the players to the field] is the chances available from two ends: the electricity network and grid end, and the user end. Bringing new energy possibilities to the network’s electricity supply and introducing new infrastructure or component services can be the chances the first end offers. Wireless charging, for instance, can be a chance the second end offers,” Pang Qingguo, Industry Director at Tsinghua University’s Sichuan Energy Internet Research Institute said.

Pang’s words match Plug and Play’s selection of the startups. Banhui, particularly, specializes in wireless charging. Allsense, EQuota, and ZiFiSense provide IoT and data solutions.

A project highlight is Jiaxing-based Isobar, an intelligent industrial solution provider for the photovoltaic industry. Though the country’s photovoltaic supply is often considered excessive, the photovoltaic industry plays a crucial role in reducing energy generation cost and stabilizing sizeable electricity demand.

Shanghai-based Shanutec, meanwhile, integrates electrical wiring into universal wall-attachment materials and furniture. The startup specializes in basic but easily-ignored essentials for device connection in both living and industrial conditions.

Plug and Play’s path in China also demonstrates a tight connection among various innovation and incubation sectors within the platform’s own ecosystem.

“Our transportation sector, IoT sector, and supply sector are all providing cross-disciplinary opportunities for innovation in the energy sector. Particularly, quite a few companies and startups in our transportation community are closely watching new energy vehicle’s charging technology and battery breakthroughs,” said Bella Zhang, Plug and Play’s person in charge of the energy sector in China.

“We want to build up a world-leading energy system in China,” Peter Xu, President and Managing Partner at Plug and Play China, said, signaling that the Silicon Valley company has more to come.

Runhua Zhao

Runhua Zhao is a technology reporter based in Beijing. Connect with her via email: runhuazhao@technode.com

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