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Span snags $96M to become a Swiss Army knife’ for electric homes

The smart-electric-panel startup aims to electrify a million homes with its new funding, tapping partnerships with vendors of solar, batteries and electric appliances.
By Jeff St. John

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William Agundes, owner of Texas-based Electrical Panel Xperts, stands next to an installed Span smart electrical panel.
William Agundes, owner of Texas-based Electrical Panel Xperts, stands next to a Span smart electrical panel installed at a Dallas home. (Span)

With interest in home electrification surging across the U.S., there’s a clear market for companies that can help consumers manage the tricky task of ditching fossil fuels. 

That’s why smart-electric-panel startup Span is looking to move beyond its roots as a tool for managing rooftop solar to become more of a Swiss Army knife” for home electrification. On Monday, the San Francisco–based company announced $96 million in fresh funding to help realize that vision.

Our North Star, from when I started the company, is how do we rapidly decarbonize our lives,” CEO Arch Rao told Canary Media. The most impactful way to do that is to electrify our homes.”

Span’s new fundraising round was led by Wellington Management and included existing investors Congruent Ventures, Capricorn Investment Group and Alexa Fund. The new round brings Span’s total funding to $231 million since its 2019 founding and follows a $90 million raise last year. It also comes as venture investment in climatetech startups has slowed significantly due to economic headwinds.

Span competes with global electrical-equipment manufacturers such as Schneider Electric and Eaton and startups such as Lumin and Koben in the relatively new field of home electrical panels that can digitally monitor and control the flow of electricity through circuit breakers and household wiring.

These devices cost several thousands of dollars more than the traditional mechanical electrical panels that they replace. But smart panels can make up for their expense by reducing the technical complexity and electrical barriers for homeowners who want to install solar panels and backup batteries, charge electric vehicles at home, or switch from fossil-fueled furnaces and water heaters to electric heat pumps.

Smart electric panels like Span’s can also help with grid management as power demand rises. Residential fossil-fuel use accounts for about 13 percent of U.S. carbon emissions, so home electrification is necessary for climate goals. But being able to actively control and schedule how and when those homes use electricity could spell the difference between overloading the grid and helping to decarbonize it.

With state and federal policies offering lucrative incentives and tax credits for home electrification — and utilities struggling to manage the new power demand that comes along with it — these capabilities are in increasing demand, Rao said. Span hasn’t disclosed how many smart panels it has sold to date, but the company has customers in 47 states and Puerto Rico, he said.

How Span will expand

The new funding will go toward three primary areas of development, according to Rao, who was formerly the head of product for Tesla. 

First will be to expand the categories of products that we can address in the home,” he said. Second will be to enable as many homes as possible to electrify” by broadening beyond its main electrical-panel form factor and into subpanels and electrical meter-mounted panels that can serve multifamily buildings. And third will be making it easier for customers to have access to the product” through new partnerships.

To date, Span has largely sold its panels through solar installers such as leading U.S. residential installer Sunrun and a host of regional providers, as well as through battery vendors including Tesla, LG, SolarEdge and Enphase. It has also struck partnerships with wholesale electrical-equipment distributors to expand its channels to market, including BayWa r.e., Greentech Renewables and Rexel, he said. 

Span has branched out into other technologies, starting with its 2021 launch of a Span-branded EV charger.

A Span smart electrical panel and a Span Level 2 EV charger against a dark gray background
Span has added EV chargers to its core smart-electric-panel product and is eyeing broader home-electrification opportunities. (Span)

In February, Span made a significant move into the new market of electric home appliances with its partnership with appliance-maker Kenmore, aimed at simplifying the installation and maintenance of induction stoves, refrigerators, dishwashers, clothes dryers and other appliances. 

Kenmore and Span have set a target of electrifying 1 million homes together over the next decade, which they say could deliver $1 billion in energy savings and reduce carbon emissions by nearly 7 million tons. That’s a big target, but it’s aligned with a significant national policy push aimed at boosting home electrification to combat climate change and help homeowners save money.

Last year’s Inflation Reduction Act is expected to be a major spur to home electrification, with tens of billions of dollars in tax credits and incentives for solar panels, batteries, electric vehicles, heat pumps and the electrical panels that often need to be upgraded to support these new electrical loads.

These incentives give appliance makers the ability to take bundles of electric appliances and deliver and install them in people’s homes,” Kenmore CEO Sridhar Solur said in a February interview. 

The problem with installing a bunch of electric appliances in homes built in the 1960s and 1970s” or earlier, when household electricity use wasn’t as high as it is today, is not enough amperage into the home,” he said. Span solves that problem.” 

Contractors can always choose to simply replace smaller panels with higher-amperage versions of the same electromechanical technology that’s been in use for decades. But smart panels like Span’s allow more complex electrification jobs to eliminate some expensive ancillary equipment, such as automated transfer switches and isolation transformers, helping offset the higher costs of the smart panels.

Rao described Kenmore as both a demand partner and a fulfillment partner.” In other words, it not only opens new pathways for Span to bring its smart panels to market, but it also provides tens of thousands of contractor partners” across the country to support installation and ongoing maintenance, he said. 

Span’s smartphone app can be used by contractors and appliance manufacturers as well as by homeowners, Solur noted. That can provide useful data to troubleshoot problems with installations and maintenance, he said. It can also inform Kenmore’s customer-service call center when appliances are performing poorly, which can be a predictor of when they’re nearing failure, he noted.

The same data can eventually allow homes to play in the value-added field of demand response,” Solur added. Demand response” is an energy industry term for programs that pay customers willing to allow their home appliances, heating, air conditioning and other devices to be turned off or strategically scheduled to avoid using power at times when grids are under stress.

Span has also been working on pilot projects with utilities including Vermont’s Green Mountain Power and California community choice aggregator Silicon Valley Clean Energy. These projects are aimed first at using Span panels to better manage the process of installing and monitoring EV chargers, heat pumps and other electric appliances, but they could expand to more active demand-response activities. 

Rao also noted that many of the company’s more than 200 employees are working on research and development of software that can tap its electric panels as an interface for these kinds of grid services. Span is also developing software to offer more fine-tuned control over heat pumps, electric water heaters and other large power-consuming loads in homes, he said.

We’ve been piloting it for over a year, allowing some partners to have access to a subset of Span homes,” he said. We’re investing more in making it more universally available.” 

Jeff St. John is director of news and special projects at Canary Media. He covers innovative grid technologies, rooftop solar and batteries, clean hydrogen, EV charging and more.