Updated: Jul 30, 2019
Jeff Bishop grew up on a small family farm in western Pennsylvania. It was a world where he learned early to work hard – his daily pre-dawn chores included feeding the family’s sheep and pigs – and to pursue new ideas. But much as he loved the tranquil and predictable nature of this rural existence, the adolescent Bishop was hungry to know how the rest of the world worked technologically, and how he could play a more active role in its evolution.
“My first lucky break came during my junior year of high school when the school superintendent, Dr. Ron Sofo, connected me with an internship at Fore Systems, an Internet start-up company in nearby Pittsburgh,” remembers Bishop, chief executive officer of Key Capture Energy (KCE), an Albany, N.Y.-based #energystorage company he co-founded in 2016. “It opened my eyes as to what the world could be and how I could shape it.”
Awakening to Clean Energy
That first exposure to tech, and recurring summer jobs with Fore Systems led Bishop to pursue a bachelor’s degree in electrical and computer engineering at Rice University in Houston.
It also led to what he calls his “second lucky break,” an opportunity to participate, through a Rice-sponsored leadership program, in a wind farm development program operated in Morocco by a Rice alumnus.
“The wind farm project in Casablanca changed everything for me,” recalls Bishop, who had earlier sworn off all things Internet after watching Fore Systems meteorically rise – and fail – all within three years.
“It helped me discover a new love for #cleanenergy I didn’t know I had. It also created within me an absolute desire to skip generations, from how things were at the time to how things could be, with no intermediate steps.”
Reshaping the Grid
Today, Bishop and his team at Key Capture are laser focused on the “#electricgrid of tomorrow,” a grid that is no longer unidirectional – i.e. one in which power flows strictly from power-generating companies to consumers – but rather omni-directional, in which diverse sources of energy, including #renewableenergy, #electricvehicles, and #microgrids, participate freely in the energy exchange market.
“Energy storage can start taking on the central power-generation role previously performed by fossil-fuel burning, greenhouse gas-emitting power plants."
-- Jeff Bishop, KCE
KCE's role on this brave new energy landscape is to develop, construct and operate utility-scale energy storage systems, and integrate them with the grid’s traditional mix of power generation, transmission, and distribution systems. According to Bishop, who also earned an MBA from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, the goal is to create a more resilient, efficient, sustainable and affordable grid.
“The missing piece in the power sector has always been instantaneous storage,” he explains. “Every other commodity – oil, milk, minerals – has some sort of storage up and down the supply chain. In the case of electricity, however, it’s a case of ‘use it or lose it.’”
As more and more large-scale renewable energy projects come on line, and more intermittent resources are added to the energy mix, Bishop continues, grid stability is also becoming an important issue. And that’s where energy storage can play an integral role.
Thinking Outside the Substation
As a case in point, Bishops cites a current KCE contract with a New York City-area utility that’s working to address growing electrical demand in its service area.
“Instead of pursuing a traditional ‘wired solution’, which would require an upgraded substation and more transmission lines, what the utility actually needed was to reduce the load on its transmission lines during periods of peak demand,” explained Bishop. “So rather than creating a lot of expensive infrastructure to meet this summer demand, they are adding battery storage to handle those periods of peak demand.”
Cycling Between Time Zones
True to his upbringing, Bishop still rises before dawn, but not because farm chores demand it. As KCE's CEO, he enjoys the unique benefit of living in Salt Lake City – a result of following a career move by his life partner to Utah last summer. When his partner heads to the gym at 5:30 a.m., Bishop also gets up, makes coffee, grabs a protein bar and hops on his bike for an 8-minute commute to his office.
“Working with an East Coast team, I like being in the office when they are,” Bishop explains. “I love having that 6:30 – 9:00 a.m. block where I can be responsive to them before the rest of the world has woken up. It’s definitely my most productive time of the day.”
About mid-afternoon, he knocks off work and heads to the gym for his own workout. Then it’s back to the office for another few hours of think time before heading home about 6:00 p.m. on his bike.
But Bishop is not an absentee boss. He travels to Albany or KCE’s field office in Houston every other week, and maintains offices in all three locations.
Grateful for Mentors
Bishop credits much of his success to serendipity … and to people he has met along the way. “I never grew up wanting to be an entrepreneur, and I never grew up wanting to be a CEO,” he said. “But there was a market niche that no one was doing, and that really bothered me.”
Among the people who shared and believed in his vision for clean energy was Michael Skelly, financial advisor for Lazard.
“Michael Skelly, in my opinion, is a legend in clean energy,” said Bishop. “At Clean Line Energy Partners, which he founded in Houston, he tackled the most complex problems on transmission lines. Anytime I run into a block today, I call Michael to see how he would approach certain situations.”
Poised for the Future
Bishop faces the future with a keen sense of history … and both eyes open.
“Every industry thinks that it is immune from the current convergence of technology, the environment and economics,” he reflects. “Leaders in every industry have to be alert for threats, for evolving trends, and for falsely believing that the next generation of technology won’t come as quickly as the last. Just ask taxi companies or cigarette makers.”
The electric grid, he continues, is in a similarly rapid state of change and innovation, with the explosive growth of solar power generation and electric vehicles changing the fundamental calculus about the marketplace.
In this environment, which is awash in new regulations and new technologies, says Bishop, “we have to balance between planning and keeping the lights on. It’s a really big and exciting challenge, and we're delighted to play the very small part that we do.”
# # #
If someone you know is doing innovative work modernizing the nation’s water, energy, transportation, or telecommunications #infrastructure, I’d love to profile that person on this blog. Please send your ideas to brooks @personsofinfrastructure.com. Thank you.