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Energy storage company thrives on disaster prep

James Brainard, co-founder and CTO of Pocatello’s Inergy Power Solutions, discusses the portable and rechargeable lithium batteries he invented. The batteries can be solar-powered. Photo by John O’Connell. 

Many customers are living off the grid in tiny homes thanks to James Brainard’s innovation – an 1,100-watt, rechargeable lithium battery that’s lightweight and can store power generated from portable solar panels.

Brainard, co-founder of the Pocatello-based startup technology company Inergy Power Solutions, said consumers have been quick to embrace his 19.5-pound Kodiak battery, finding creative uses that have driven Inergy’s sales from tens of thousands of dollars to millions in just a few years.

The company now employs 20 full-time workers from a new headquarters near Pocatello City Hall – expecting to reach 50 employees by the year’s end – making annual sales of about 5,000 units, priced at about $1,900 each. Brainard and his fellow cofounder, Brad Barrott, see “massive upside” for their future growth.

Kodiaks are also popular among owners of small motorhomes, and people who buy them for emergency preparedness. Sales have been strongest in Florida and other coastal states, where homeowners want backup power in case of a hurricane.

But Brainard and Barrott believe their product will make its greatest mark in the Third World, where it’s seeing increasing use in humanitarian aid. Kodiaks power a medical aid station in Haiti and an orphanage in Ghana. After the April 2015 earthquake in Nepal, a medical team from Pocatello used donated Kodiaks to power lights, communications devices and medical tools in triage tents. The team plans to return to Nepal this fall, with more Kodiaks to power a planned rural hospital.

“The greater footprint we create, the more we can do in those parts of the world,” said Barrott, Inergy’s chairman of the board. “Here it makes life better, but in those countries it is life changing.”

Samaritan’s Purse, the late Rev. Billy Graham’s philanthropic organization, bought 100 Kodiaks to distribute in Puerto Rico to victims of Hurricane Maria, which struck last September. Inergy launched a new promotion July 1, #empowerpuertorico, to continue its aid efforts in Puerto Rico. Kodiak’s will be sold at a $300 discount  during a two-week period, and for every unit sold, the company will donate a unit for Samaritan’s Purse to distribute in Puerto Rico.

Chelsea Beaman, an engineering technician with Inergy Power Solutions, repairs Kodiak battery units at the company’s headquarters
in Pocatello. Photo by John O’Connell.

“There’s a lot of people who died as a result of not having power,” Brainard said.

Brainard estimates Kodiaks have a battery life of at least a decade. He got the idea for the Kodiak after examining a battery pack used for jumpstarting dead car batteries.

Barrott, who is also founder of Big Dog Satellite and its solar energy division, employed Brainard at the time. Barrott needed little convincing before agreeing to fund research and development efforts.

About four years ago, Brainard unveiled a prototype of the Kodiak, shaving more than 80 pounds from the leading competitor’s unit.

“The market has just taken this product like crazy,” Barrott said. “We hit a sweet spot.”

Kodiaks can power a typical refrigerator for up to 30 hours on a charge, and can also plug into conventional outlets or automobile lighters.

The company plans to release a new version of the product with a standalone power inverter, enabling users to simultaneously charge a stack of batteries.

Inergy has benefited from a couple of grants but hasn’t sought the level of subsidies and tax assistance common among clean energy companies. Idaho Commerce awarded Inergy a $200,000 grant, through its Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission program, to partner with University of Idaho on developing the next generation of batteries.
They run on gallium nitride to be 10 percent more efficient. Production should commence in a few weeks.

Inergy has also worked closely with Bannock Development Corp. in the past three years and accepted a $25,000 grant from Pocatello Development Authority to remodel its new building. Inergy must add at least 10 new full time workers to keep the grant. The staff develops products, oversees customer service, repairs damaged units and makes
custom cables at the Pocatello headquarters. The Kodiaks are manufactured in China.

“They’re already selling systems while they’re incubating this expansion – this next generation of technology,” said John Regetz,  president and CEO of Bannock Development. “They already have product advantages, and that gives them a good market position.”

Jan Rogers, CEO of Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho, has been working to market all of Eastern Idaho as a technology corridor to prospective businesses.

“We use Inergy as an example a lot when we’re doing our public relations,” Rogers said. “This is one of the home runs for Eastern Idaho, from my prospective.”

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