Uncharted Power CEO Explains The Biggest Problem In Energy And Why Magic Johnson Is Helping Her Company Solve It
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Uncharted Power CEO Explains The Biggest Problem In Energy And Why Magic Johnson Is Helping Her Company Solve It

Uncharted Power CEO Explains The Biggest Problem In Energy And Why Magic Johnson Is Helping Her Company Solve It

This conversation, between theRising’s Emily Dao and Uncharted Power CEO Jessica O. Matthews, has been edited for length and clarity.

Uncharted Power has raised $7 million from investors like Kapor Capital and Magic Johnson to democratize energy access globally.

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DAO: It’s crazy that 840 million people around the world don’t have access to electricity—which is so fundamental to what we do everyday. What would you say is the biggest problem in energy that contributes to that problem?

MATTHEWS: Globally, infrastructure development has not kept up with the innovation age. In the developing world, energy infrastructure is not operationalized. In the developed world, infrastructure is aging and failing. It is estimated to cost $5 trillion to fully replace this infrastructure which is only worth $2 trillion.

Moreover, we continue to build based on centralized power, which is typified by distributing high voltages across long distances. This is both inefficient and costly. We need to instead invest in smart, cost-effective and decentralized infrastructure. Shifting away from outdated power systems, giving us the ability to utilize technology that is more resilient, modular and multi-functional.

DAO: It seems like the people being impacted most by these inefficiencies are those belonging to underserved communities. How do you think about and account for these populations while building your company?

MATTHEWS: We’ve found that the best way to design is to build for those in the most extreme situations. Infrastructure is something that is so incredibly necessary, but when people are comfortable, they’re less likely to want to change something that is already “working.”

People in underserved communities are currently dealing with failing or nonexistent infrastructure and it’s impacting their lives in dire ways. Underserved communities need and deserve to have the same access to power as any other community.

DAO: But how do we actually make progress on energy infrastructure and make sure that our directional shift to smarter power is done smoothly? How does this progress relate to tackling climate change?

MATTHEWS: Increased smart power research and funding is crucial in combating climate change. There is a common narrative about the future effects of climate change, but we are in fact already seeing such effects today.

The severe weather events that are supposed to happen every hundred years are present every season. Even worse, individuals in low-income communities carry the burden of a disproportionate impact based on resource allocation.

Current power access systems were built for what the world was like centuries ago. In order to meet the needs of current populations without compromising the needs of future generations, we need to generate, consume and access power more sustainably. This can only be done by rebuilding our infrastructure.

DAO: With all the different ways through which could tackle the climate crisis, what motivated Uncharted Power’s belief that smart power is the way to go?

MATTHEWS: The current state of energy infrastructure is not conducive to a sustainable world. In 2018, U.S. energy consumption hit an all-time high as 80 percent of this energy was supplied by fossil fuels and natural gas and petroleum consumption grew by 4 percent.

While tragic ramifications of climate change are often glaring, the increase in energy consumption represents an insidious side: the more severe weather events, the higher energy consumption.

If we’re getting energy from nonrenewable sources, this will only continue a dangerous feedback loop. Smart power systems minimize energy usage by only distributing power when it’s needed, offering data analytics tools to help policy-makers make data-driven and climate-friendly decisions and integrating high-resolution monitoring to decrease downtime and outages.

DAO: What would you say is the greatest challenge that stands in the way of realizing this vision of a smart energy future?

MATTHEWS: The greatest challenge of smart power is that implementing it universally requires a significant overhaul of current infrastructure, underlining the need for the urgent deployment of novel power access technology. 

DAO: It seems like you believe that future relies on at least some level of decentralization of the power grid. Why would you say so?

MATTHEWS: When infrastructure is decentralized, it offers increased sustainability, reliability, and cost-efficiency. If energy is generated closer to where it is eventually used, there is a reduction in transmission losses, ultimately preserving energy.

Moreover, decentralized energy is less susceptible to natural disaster destructions and security threats. Combining all these aspects makes decentralization key in actualizing a future where everyone has reliable access to clean power.

DAO: What is Uncharted Power’s role in creating a more accessible, sustainable, and smart power network?

MATTHEWS: We’re spending time on the development, certification and testing of our system, focusing acutely on one pilot to start. It’s critical to showcase our system in one place, to not only show what the technology can do but also to model a sustainable partnership with a city.

By accomplishing this over the next two years, we then will have a proofed model that we can use as a basis for expanding into new projects. Secondly, what is “smart” today, won’t necessarily be “smart” tomorrow.

One of the most critical features of our system is the fact that it is upgradable and accessible, featuring embedded technology that can be upgraded and improved at any point to keep up with global innovation.

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DAO: It seems like Uncharted Power’s solution is a mix of software and hardware. Can you talk more about what your company’s product is and how it contributes to a smarter power network?

MATTHEWS: The Uncharted Power system has three core parts: an accessible conduit, high-resolution power distribution and monitoring, and edge colocation. Our accessible conduit is a protective encasement that acts as a power and fiber conduit, which is a scalable, modular and upgradable paver system.

The high-resolution power distribution and monitoring includes a robust sensor board coupled with voltage monitoring and power distribution that enables data collection at one square meter resolution.

The edge colocation is a secure, embedded space with localized power and data input/output capable of hosting technology applications such as IoT and edge compute devices.

EMILY DAO: We heard that basketball legend Magic Johnson joined your Board of Directors. Why Magic?

JESSICA O. MATTHEWS: In the early days of Uncharted Power, Magic was a key investor in our Series A. Since then, he’s seen the growth of our company and stayed in tune with our direction and goals.

With this keen insight, we knew he would be an essential asset in helping us drive our company mission forward. Beyond this, Magic has an extensive track record in infrastructure development.

Specifically, his firm, JLC Infrastructure, focuses on transportation, communications, energy, utilities and social infrastructure in the United States. Magic also prioritizes working with underserved communities, a value shared with Uncharted Power. In consideration of his vast experience and trusted partnership, we’re excited to have Magic on board as an advisor and partner.

DAO: What is Magic’s role in pushing Uncharted Power’s mission of democratizing power accessibility?

MATTHEWS: Magic is uniquely suited to help us develop and execute municipality-related strategies. Magic has quite a bit of reach that’ll enable us to spark conversations with potential governmental partners that many startups aren’t able to have.

DAO: Can you walk us through a high-level roadmap of where you’d want Uncharted Power to be by 2025?

MATTHEWS: By 2021 it’s our goal to have successfully demonstrated an alternative standard for power and data infrastructure. Then in 2022 and 2023, we’re going to look at scaling within our pilot city and domestically. By 2025, we’ll look at taking that model internationally.

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