GridNavigator crunches data to forecast energy use

The ability to predict energy use and do something about it will become more important as businesses look for ways to reduce costs and use energy more efficiently. A startup called GridNavigator is launching a software and cloud-based service on Monday that performs energy consumption forecasts throughout the day to help building managers manage their power consumption.
GridNavigator, founded in 2009 and based in Redmond, Wash., developed the beta version of the forecasting tool at the end of last year, and a few of its customers have been using it since February, said CEO Al Cabrini.
Forecasting software, whether it’s used to predict a building’s energy use or a solar or wind farm’s power output, provides a good way to help control costs or determine revenues and profits. It also can help utilities and electric grid operators to integrate the more intermittent sources of power and balance their supply and demand. Last month, the U.S. Department of Energy announced a $9 million fund to improve power generation forecasts at solar power plants.
Companies are increasingly looking to reduce their carbon footprints, which is making them more conscious of their energy consumption and the sources of their electricity and fuels. But cutting expenses can be a more powerful incentive for a company to act. Some utilities in the country reward conservation measures or charge businesses more for drawing electricity at faster rates. Aside from GridNavigator, other companies that develop energy forecasting software for commercial building owners include Itron (s ITRI).
Energy data
GridNavigator’s new software makes energy use predictions based on more recent and useful data, Cabrini said. Other forecasting software would provides far less frequent forecasts and use day-old data that may not reflect the weather conditions or the energy use patterns of a building during the following day. While building managers can simply look at real- or near-real time data to adjust their power use (instead of using consumption forecasts), they typically can’t dial up and down the power use as quickly or smoothly, Cabrini said.
“If you ever want to budget or cap your demand at a certain level, the only tool you have is by looking at what your current real time consumption is, and that’s a lot of manual work,” Cabrini said. “If you have a forecast for what could happen in the next few hours, then you have time to proactively react to that spike.”
Each day at 1 a.m., GridNavigator’s software takes historical energy consumption data and weather data from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to create a forecast for that day. Then it recalibrates the forecast every hour from 5:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. using actual energy use data from that day. Each forecast shows how much power and how fast a building is drawing that power from the electric grid. Energy management software that controls a building’s energy use can then use each forecast to reduce or maintain the amount of electricity that is being consumed.
Making accurate predictions is hard to do, and it may not justify the cost for some building owners. Cabrini said his software can be over 97 percent accurate in predicting the actual energy use. The startup makes money by licensing the software and collecting an annual maintenance fee.
Edmonds Community College in Washington and Trane Corp., a air conditioning and heating system seller are two firms that are using GridNavigator’s forecasting tool. Trane is also a partner of GridNavigator in marketing and selling a variety of building energy and efficiency equipment and services.
GridNavigator previously raised a seed round, and Cabrini declined to disclose the amount or the investors’ name. He’s looking at raising another round in 2013.