Wind Startup Evokes Puerto Rico’s Plight, Wins EvoNexus Pitch Event

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San Diego’s Uprise Energy won the audience vote for best presentation at EvoNexus Demo Day, with a pitch that highlighted how its mobile wind turbines could help alleviate the plight of Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria’s apocalyptic devastation. The startup event drew more than 400 people to Qualcomm’s San Diego headquarters late Thursday.

The renewable energy startup, founded by CEO Jonathan Knight and his father, former Knight & Carver boatyard partner John Knight, has developed a 10-kilowatt mobile wind turbine as an alternative to emergency diesel-fueled generators and other power sources. Uprise Energy’s wind turbine is designed “to make good power at low wind speeds,” generating enough electricity to power 10 to 15 homes, or 100 villagers in a remote area.

While the company has only developed a prototype so far, the wind turbine can be “easily shipped anywhere in the world” and one person can set it up in one hour, Jonathan Knight told the crowd. The turbine, mounted on a trailer that can be towed by a pickup truck, is about 60-feet tall when erected. The five blades are each 10 feet long.

Uprise Energy mobile power station

After his presentation, Knight said he and his father developed expertise in designing, repairing, and manufacturing wind turbine blades at the now-closed Knight & Carver Yacht Center near San Diego. The boatyard had experience in repairing and building fiberglass and composite boat hulls, and developed a separate wind turbine business from a $3 million R&D grant from the U.S. Department of Energy more than a decade ago.

Knight said he and his father have continued in recent years to optimize their turbine blade designs, and Uprise evolved from those efforts. They wrote their own software to manage the load on the system that controls the rotor speed, he said. The ultimate goal there is to maintain optimum tip speed ratio as the wind changes.

In his EvoNexus presentation, Knight noted that 97 percent of Puerto Rico was still without electricity more than a week after Hurricane Maria destroyed much of the power grid. Shattered utility poles still litter the island. Critically ill patients have died in hospitals that were unable to obtain diesel fuel for their backup power generators, he said.

“Portability and performance are our two main differentiators,” Knight said afterward. “This is a perfect product for FEMA [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] and a perfect product for the military.”

Uprise Energy CEO Jonathan Knight reacts to audience vote at EvoNexus Demo Day

EvoNexus, which operates as a free incubator (with “no strings attached”) for tech startups in San Diego and Orange County, hosts the Demo Day event twice a year.