Ocean power! Serial entrepreneur sets up shop in Boca to develop renewable energy startup

In 2019, only approximately 11% of the world’s energy came from renewable sources, according to researchers at Our World in Data. The domination of fossil fuels has major implications for the climate, as well as our health. Moving towards low-carbon energy sources is an important step forward in the quest to reduce CO2 emissions.

One engineer-turned-entrepreneur is working to help catalyze the renewable energy movement, right here in Boca Raton.

Meet Rodrigo Griesi, founder and CEO of startup NEPTUNYA Ocean Power. Griesi landed in South Florida in 2015, leaving his native Brazil to bring a previous venture stateside. The move would eventually pay off: the startup, a CGI platform for retailers, was acquired by Accenture. This was Griesi’s second major exit.

For his next venture, Griesi decided to hop on a passion project that had been stuck in his mind for the better part of a decade. The goal? To harness the power of the ocean to create clean, renewable energy.

“I decided to work on a project that unites my love for the ocean and my passion for technology development,” Griesi told Refresh Miami

It’s all about electricity, from generation to storage

NEPTUNYA Ocean Power was born in February 2020. Since then, Griesi and a California-based business partner – with the support of various willing and able friends and family members along the way – have been working to solve two main problems.

The first problem is electricity generation. Griesi hopes to develop a mixed mode energy conversion device. In layman’s terms, that’s a contraption for taking ocean phenomena like wind, waves, and currents and transforming them into electricity. The innovation comes from the mixed mode nature of the device, as well as the fact that it would be floating. 

The second problem is electricity storage. Griesi’s hope is to develop what’s called a sub-sea electrolyzer. He hopes to develop a machine that is capable of surviving the harsh sea environment. As Griesi simply put it: “It’s like a battery, but it’s not bad for the environment.”

The fuel at the center of all this is hydrogen, the world’s most abundant resource (think H2O), but one that is hard to isolate. “Hydrogen is the perfect fuel but today we don’t have a technology that can generate hydrogen in a cost effective and clean way,” explained Griesi. This hydrogen fuel could then be used in transportation contexts, like for ships and planes.

Acknowledging that trying to tackle both these problems is a bit too ambitious, Griesi said that he plans to choose one of the two routes within the next few weeks. 

Founder Rodrigo Griesi tests one of the NEPTUNYA prototypes.

Catalyzing renewable energy innovation in South Florida

Griesi spoke to Refresh Miami from the offices of Florida Power & Light, a subsidiary of Jupiter-based NextEra Energy. NEPTUNYA Ocean Power is part of the company’s 35 Mules innovation hub, which supports – and gives grants to – startups, with the goal of fostering economic development in our region. “At 35 Mules, I have learned so much about the energy industry,” said Griesi. “It has opened doors for us. I can’t thank them enough.”

The startup also has ties to Florida Atlantic University’s Tech Runway, where their prototypes are currently stored.

Next up for NEPTUNYA Ocean Power is to continue testing the early iterations of their product. Griesi expects to start applying to government funding opportunities next year in hopes of making a full-scale prototype. He said that they are looking to partner with the federal agencies like the Department of Energy, Department of Defense, and National Science Foundation because they “still need to validate some of the questions and hypotheses we have – and that requires academic research.”

Basing NEPTUNYA Ocean Power in South Florida was a strategic decision, Griesi explained: “It was a no-brainer to stay here.” He highlighted the community he has developed at West Palm Beach innovation ecosystem 1909, as well as the Miami-based ocean tech incubator Seaworthy Collective as two initiatives in particular that have enabled NEPTUNYA Ocean Power’s growth. 

Photo at top of the post shows the team, from left, Ashley Taylor, Flavia Griesi (Rodrigo’s wife), Rodrigo Griesi, Marco Griesi (Rodrigo’s son). All photos are from Neptunya.


Riley Kaminer