Joules Accelerator | November 3, 2023
Josh Mackanic was working as a solar developer at Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) when, in 2010, a 36” high pressure gas main erupted in a San Francisco suburb, San Bruno, resulting in eight fatalities and burning an entire neighborhood to ashes. It was an event that changed Josh’s career trajectory, and the soberness with which he viewed his responsibility as a utility operator.
In the wake of the tragedy, Josh jumped into the role of engineering and construction supervisor to support PG&E’s massive capital investments into its gas transmission system. To his surprise, the fragmented and siloed nature of construction site data meant it was incredibly time-consuming and challenging to find the data he needed to design and plan construction projects well. Given tight construction timelines and
budgets, this difficulty in data acquisition meant that Josh’s crews often found project-impacting surprises when they started digging.
“During those years of trenching through the streets of the San Francisco Bay Area, I saw firsthand the spaghetti mess of utilities we’ve buried underground, and experienced countless design and construction challenges, such as abandoned utilities, soil contamination, crowded infrastructure, interconnection delays, and dig-ins,” Josh explained. “These surprises increased safety risks for personnel, schedule delays, permit delays, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in change orders.”
So, after ten years at PG&E, Josh decided to explore the idea of starting his own company to address his past frustrations with construction inefficiency. While he was completing his MBA, Josh met his co-founder, Brandon Cohen, and the two launched CivilGrid in 2020 with the idea of building the “Google Maps of the underground.”
“As I thought back to my experiences running jobs at PG&E, I saw huge opportunities to work more efficiently,” Josh said.”I thought about the countless surprises my crews ran into that caused delays, design changes, and cost overruns–so many of those were avoidable. If we had advanced, real-time, accurate information about site conditions early in the job, we would have avoided most of these risks.”
CivilGrid’s software is designed to provide all the underground data engineers need to use before they set foot on a project site, Josh explained. The company consolidates “unprecedented amounts” of site-specific information, and then layers on a collaborative scoping and construction planning tool. You can read more about CivilGrid at their website.
“Our goal is for CivilGrid to be the first place that engineers go when starting a new construction project,” Josh said. “The data on CivilGrid enables engineers to proactively identify and plan around hazards and constraints that previously would have gone unidentified until they materialized in the form of weeks of schedule delays and thousands of dollars of change orders.”
CivilGrid launched in the summer of 2022, with PG&E as its key launch partner, along with 150+ other proprietary data providers. Since then, CivilGrid has supported over 1200 construction projects across all types of construction work–from real estate development, water and gas pipeline construction, transit alignment design, and electrical line undergrounding.
While CivilGrid is applicable to all types of construction work, Josh and the CivilGrid team believe that its greatest impact will be on the millions of individual construction projects that will be needed to push forward the energy transition and climate resilience.
“Every new EV charger, every electrical line undergrounded, every service line connection made, every solar panel built? All of these are construction projects that suffer from the same data problems in the design phase,” Josh said. “By making each of these projects more efficient and less risky, we at CivilGrid can accelerate the pace of utilities and energy infrastructure construction.”
CivilGrid participated in Joules Accelerator’s Cohort 11, and opportunities from the program have accelerated into partnership discussions that will enable CivilGrid’s future expansion into the Southeast, Josh explained.
“Ultimately, we aim to expand beyond California and provide CivilGrid to more civil engineers, developers, and construction firms across the country,” Josh said. The Joules team has been an incredible resource in introducing us to key stakeholders in the Carolinas, and their help has springboarded our expansion conversations in the region.”
You can reach out to the CivilGrid team at firstname.lastname@example.org or to the Joules Accelerator at joulesaccelerator.com/contact.