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Windmills and grid optimization are focus areas for Qubit Engineering Inc. Three years later, a start-up that originally drew skepticism is now a strong voice for quantum technologies within the energy space.
“When we started our journey in 2018, what we were trying to accomplish was very clear to us but not to others,” says Marouane Salhi, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Qubit Engineering Inc. “In the last two years, we’ve gained good traction.”
Today, the start-up that we first spotlighted a little more than three years ago in this August 2020 teknovation.biz article has just started as a member of Cohort 7 of the “Innovation Crossroads” program operated by Oak Ridge National Laboratory. In addition, its initial focus on using quantum computing to optimize the siting and operation of both onshore and offshore wind farms has spawned a second potential line of business – optimizing the electric grid.
For Salhi and Qubit Engineering, the phrase, “What a difference a few years can make,” truly resonates. He recalls a 2020 presentation that felt weird. “People did not take us seriously,” he says. By 2021 when Salhi spoke during IEEE Quantum Week, the tide was turning, and things have changed even more since then.
“We are very connected within the quantum community globally,” he says, adding that the Qubit Engineering team has become a voice for quantum technologies within the energy space. “Where we are today is very exciting; we’re getting the support we need.”
That is best underscored by Qubit Engineering being sponsored as a member of Cohort 7 by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), a longtime financial supporter of “Innovation Crossroads,” and the Office of Science in the Department of Energy, which was added as a sponsor for the first time this year.
Salhi explains that going back to 2017-18, the interest in quantum technologies was mostly on the hardware side. Now, it has shifted to software.
“The added value for the industry will not come from hardware but software,” he believes.
Noting that Qubit Engineering has established its reputation as being an expert in the wind farm space, it is now using the TVA sponsorship to further develop its expertise and reputation in grid optimization.
“You must understand the use case as an expert,” Salhi explains. “The way the grid is built makes it an ideal application for quantum optimization.”
So, what is grid optimization? It involves everything from effectively and efficiently managing multiple power sources (nuclear, renewables, hydro, and gas) to quickly analyzing outages, when they occur, and reacting with similar speed. That’s where algorithms like those developed for wind farm operations can perform.
There’s also the matter of achieving the balance among reliability, availability, efficiency, and cost.
In other words, there’s a lot to consider for both entities like TVA and local utility companies.
Over the two years of “Innovation Crossroads,” Salhi has several goals:
- He wants to show that grid optimization is a viable option for Qubit Engineering’s technology, and it can make a difference in helping TVA optimize its grid;
- The company can achieve its technical milestones; and
- Qubit Engineering continues to grow its customer base.
“We will also start fundraising to hire two teams,” he adds. One will be focused on wind, the other on the grid.