The electricity grid has slowly been adopting some of the technologies that have been mainstays of the internet, like decentralized computing and smarter distributed systems. A step in that direction emerged on Tuesday from startup Gridco, which after four years has announced its first commercial product: new power electronics and a smart management system for the part of the grid that brings electricity to homes and buildings.
The idea is that Gridco’s gear and software — which includes digital control units, sensors, and algorithms — can help utilities tightly control the flow of power on that edge section of the grid. Utilities could also use it to better integrate solar and wind farms — that have fluctuating bursts of power at certain times of day — into their networks. (You can read all the technical details and jargon of the Gridco product here).
The notion behind the tech was formed out of Silicon Valley, from the brain of a serial entrepreneur and backed by long time venture capitalists. Gridco has raised $30 million from VCs General Catalyst, North Bridge venture partners, Lux Capital, and RockPort Capital, and the company was founded by Naimish Patel, who co-founded optical networking company Sycamore Networks.
While software and networks aren’t new to the power grid (Silver Spring Networks was founded in 2002) more and more sophisticated computing and algorithms are starting to be created by startups and tested out by grid operators. There are new data tools, like those from AutoGrid, and data visualization tools like those from Space Time Insight. It seems like now that the conversation about the power grid has moved beyond smart meters, there’s more and more smart grid products that utilities can actually test out.
Gridco will be showing off its new electronics product at the annual power grid conference Distributech next week, along with all the other large power grid vendors, and startups that will be highlighting their own digital grid technologies. A big topic of discussion around the floor of the show will no doubt be Google’s $3.2 billion acquisition of smart thermostat maker Nest. While Nest never had much of a presence (if any) at the show over the years, it’s always swung way above its weight in terms of attention and mindshare, and now has proven that bringing the thermostat into the iPhone age has become a huge business.
The world’s power grids will need all of the smart digital technologies of the internet to make sure they’re run as efficiently as possible, and also so that they can add more and more clean power. As the population explodes in the coming decades, and energy resources become restrained, careful management of energy use and a greater reliance on cleaner energy will be crucial. Making the power grid work more like the internet will be one way to get there.