Alex Bazvhinov is like a Russian Tony Stark.
With no formal training in electrical engineering and while still attending the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, the Russian-born Bazvhinov constructed a revolutionary renewable energy device in his garage. And much like a Marvel superhero, Bazvhinov believes his technology could save the world — from out-of-control energy consumption or out-of-control utility bills, depending on your point of view.
Not long after obtaining his MBA from Darden, Bazvhinov founded Lumin in Charlottesville to bring his device to market. He had debated a move to California’s Silicon Valley, but he decided to stay put. He attributes this decision to Charlottesville’s support for clean energy, early-stage investment and easy access to a pool of educated and eager minds at UVa.
At Lumin, he assembled a team of professional engineers who took the model he had created in his garage using personal research, online engineering manuals and YouTube videos to build the Lumin Smart Panel: a device that monitors and controls the entire electrical load of a house customized to fit any circuit breaker panel and designed to allow users to customize how much energy their house uses and from where that energy is derived.
“Our system installed in the home can intelligently control your overall home electrical load and ensure that it stays within the existing infrastructure throughput capabilities,” Bazvhinov told The Daily Progress. “Our system will manage your consumption based on what you’re doing and on your preferences based on the time of the day and so on.”
Today, Lumin employs 56 people, half of which are based in Charlottesville and the other half of which are working remotely across the country. Lumin spokesman Kenny Gayles estimates about 20% of Lumin staff is UVa graduates.
Since its founding, Central Virginia has never been one of Lumin’s core markets, but the company has remained, quietly expanding just a few blocks away from the city’s Downtown Mall in a Locust Avenue office park.
The Daily Progress requested the company’s annual financial growth since its founding, but Lumin would not disclose the information. Various online sources, which The Daily Progress was not able to fully verify, estimate the business has an annual revenue of anywhere from $8 million to $12.9 million.
Whatever the number, Bazvhinov has positioned Lumin to be a vanguard heralding a new smart energy era, during which there will be plenty of money to be made improving the world’s energy consumption.
Since the day Neanderthals discovered how to build a fire, successive generations have been defined by their age’s primary energy source or fuel. The transition from wood to coal brought about the Industrial Revolution. Today’s economy remains shaped by the discovery of oil and derivative products.
But those resources are finite, and Bazvhinov said he believes the world is hungry for cleaner and cheaper energy now.
“The drive towards clean energy is key for our development as a civilization,” he said.
Inside the Lumin Smart Panel
The Lumin Smart Panel has several different capabilities, all of which are focused on accomplishing Lumin’s motto: “Control what matters.”
The panel allows customers to live with the electricity already running through their house. This has environmental benefits, but also means homeowners don’t have to invest in whole-home electrification. The National Association of Home Builders estimates that for mild to colder climates it can cost upwards of $12,000 to transition a home to run solely on electricity.
Purchasing and installing the Lumin Smart Panel costs customers $3,000 to $4,000. The as-yet-unreleased Lumin Edge, a smaller appliance but with similar capabilities as its larger siblings, is predicted to be less than $1,000, according to Bazvhinov. Depending on the state, expenses may be entirely covered as the panel is eligible for state and federal tax credits as well as rebates from the Inflation Reduction Act, according to Lumin.
“You don’t need to upgrade your utility line to add 100 or 200 amps of electricity into your house,” explained Bazvhinov. “You can live with what you already had.”
In some states, such as California where new laws are beginning to ban all-natural gas appliances, the panel enables customers to make money off of the device.
Beginning in July, Lumin partnered with energy access provider Leap to create Lumin Response. The program allows eligible customers in California to receive monetary compensation for using the Lumin Smart Panel to power off certain appliances when the electrical grid is strained.
“Users of Lumin Response will receive an in-app message or email notifying them they are eligible for financial incentives,” according to a Lumin statement announcing the program. “Once they provide a simple set of preferences for when and how long their appliances can be turned off, participation is seamless and Lumin will automate the entire process.”
Bazvhinov’s brainchild allows homeowners or entire utility grids to move away from natural gas and rely entirely on electricity. In a house, individuals can customize their panel to redirect the electrical flow to power whatever appliance is needed at a given time.
“You really want to charge your car and leave, so we’ll turn other large things off, but will charge your vehicle,” said Bazvhinov. “That flexibility is the key value proposition for that market.”
Electric vehicles are another key component of Lumin’s success.
A report conducted in May 2023 found that 1 in 7 cars sold in 2022 was electric and that the electric vehicle market is projected to grow by $693.7 billion by 2030. Lumin wants to ride this electrical wave.
Bazvhinov pointed to research indicating that as more people purchase electric vehicles, more than 80% of owners prefer to charge their cars either at home or at their place of work. The Lumin Smart Panel is equipped to support new owners and home transition to electric.
“The number of electrical vehicles that’s going into the market is absolutely staggering,” said Bazvhinov. “There’s another data point from research that about 50 million homes in the U.S. don’t have sufficient electrical infrastructure to install chargers. We see a lot of demand and a lot of growth in that market. Our system, through intelligent energy management, ensures that the loads that are running in a house do not exceed the amount that the battery can provide.”
Since the company’s inception in 2016, the Smart Panel has been installed in more than 45 states and territories through contracts with more than 400 installers. And Lumin continues to grow.
In the coming weeks, the Charlottesville startup plans to officially unveil the Lumin Edge.
The company has even more plans for the first quarter of 2024. Lumin recently announced new partnerships with global energy corporations ABB and Sunnova Energy International. Those partnerships will greatly expand the reach of the Charlottesville startup, Bazvhinov said.
Houston-based Sunnova, an adaptive energy services company, plans to incorporate the Lumin Smart Panel into its “Adaptive Home” plan. Sunnova will add the panel to the collection of services and technologies it offers clients focused on increasing clean energy sources and electrical load management.
The relationship with ABB, a Swedish-Swiss electrification and automation provider, will boost Lumin’s manufacturing and supply chain capabilities, according to Bazvhinov.
“They are really excited to see technology such as ours,” said Bazvhinov. “That gave the spark to this partnership and led them to investing in Lumin.”
The man behind the panel
The power and future of Lumin might sound inconceivable. Almost as inconceivable as how someone who grew up in the Soviet Union dreaming of becoming a cosmonaut wound up founding a clean energy startup in Virginia.
Bazvhinov was raised in Korolyov, a smaller city outside of Moscow where the Soviet, now-Russian, space exploration agency known as Roscosmos is headquartered. His physicist father, like most of the city’s highly educated population, worked at the facility. According to Bazvhinov, his father was a part of the research team behind the first ever space rendezvous of Soyuz 11 in June 1971. (For the uninitiated, a space rendezvous is when a spacecraft successfully makes contact with a station in orbit to transfer crew members or supplies.)
Bazvhinov received a master’s degree from the Higher School of Economics at Russia’s State University. He spent over six years serving in senior financial positions for Norilsk Nickel, the world’s largest nickel and palladium producer, before he was named chief financial officer of global manufacturing firm Sandvik Mining and Construction.
Despite the financial benefits and security the jobs in the mining sector provided him and his pregnant wife, it was his unborn child that caused him to rethink his career.
From his office in Moscow, Bazvhinov could sense that renewable energy was the future.
“To me, it was obvious the way things were trending,” said Bazvhinov. “I could see that, in mining, we are running out of resources. I believe clean energy is the key for our continued development as a civilization.”
Bazvhinov thought about the world his firstborn son would grow up in and his role in preserving that world for generations to come. Would his son turn to him in 20 or 30 years and ask him “What were you doing?” or, worse, “Why didn’t you fix this?”
So, he and his wife moved to America.
After touring business programs across the country, the Bazvhinov family landed in Charlottesville, which Bazvhinov said is similar to Korolyov in terms of size, topography and proximity to a major state institution that attracts a highly educated population. Aside from the strange familiarity, it was a program at UVa’s Darden School of Business that won over Bazvhinov and his wife, who later gave birth to their second child during Bazvhinov’s garage-tinkering days.
Now a father of three, Bazvhinov said if someone had told him in his days as a Russian mining executive that life would take him to Charlottesville to found his own clean energy startup, he would have laughed in their face.
“That would have been too big a change,” said Bazvhinov. “But you can build something that cool in Charlottesville.”
Only in Charlottesville.