Silver Spring to acquire energy data startup Detectent

Smart grid networking company Silver Spring Networks announced on Wednesday that it plans to acquire startup Detectent, which has developed data analytics for utilities. Utilities have slowly been adopting data tools over the years, from companies like Opower, C3, Silver Spring and others, to help manage their smart meter data, engagement with customers, energy efficiency programs, grid reliability and protection from theft.

Silver Spring Networks said it would spend $12 million in cash on the deal, which will close this quarter, and the acquisition is estimated to be neutral to earnings this year but accretive next year. Silver Spring has been working with Detectent as a partner since May 2014.

GreenNet 2011: Katie Fehrenbacher - Editor Earth2Tech, GigaOM; David Crane - CEO and President, NRG Energy; Eric Dresselhuys - EVP and CMO, Silver Spring Networks

A conversation with David Crane, CEO and President, NRG Energy and Eric Dresselhuys, EVP and CMO, Silver Spring Networks

Silver Spring’s stock dropped slightly on the news this morning and is down just under 1 percent at $7.28 per share. Silver Spring went public at $17 per share in 2013.

The company’s stock sank considerably over the past year due to issues like a delay in closing several big utility deals — the company is dependent on securing large many-year deals from utilities, and these deals can be difficult to get and close in a predictable manner. For the nine months ended September 30, 2014, Silver Spring generated revenue of $113.88 million, compared to $229.69 million for the same period in 2013. Net loss over the same period grew to $89.67 million in 2014, up from a loss of $67.17 million in 2013.

Companies selling smart grid services to utilities are racing to develop and acquire the best data analytics tools out there. Grid company EnerNOC acquired Pulse Energy last month. Data analytics company Tendril recently teamed up with solar giant SunPower as an investor and a partner. After a decade of discussion about the “smart grid,” energy companies are finally becoming data companies.

My 14 favorite energy stories of 2014

While the rest of the tech world focuses on things like Apple’s upcoming gadgets, which retailer is the latest to get hacked, or the ongoing drama around Uber, I’ve spent much of the past year (the past seven years, actually) looking at what’s going on at the forefront of energy innovation. Progress with energy — making it cleaner, more efficient and more accessible — can come in a variety of places, from university labs, within Silicon Valley startups, at big corporations, and even via government programs.

In 2014, there seemed to be resurgence of startups and entrepreneurs taking risks and daring to tackle the difficult world of energy. Perhaps they were inspired by the successes of Tesla CEO and SolarCity Chairman Elon Musk, or the Opower founders, who saw their energy data startup go public this year. Or maybe there was just a little bit more funding available to these types of strategic thinkers, after a couple years of political backlash in the U.S. and a backpedaling from energy investing by venture capitalists.

Looking back at the year, I think it’s one of the brightest ones we’ve had in awhile when it comes to the changing face of energy, using new technologies and new business models. Here were my favorite 14 stories, in chronological order, that I covered this year:

1. What 60 Minutes got right and wrong in its story on cleantech: The year kicked off with one of the most high profile — and most negative stories — to appear about the whole cleantech phenomenon in the long form television show 60 Minutes. While a lot of my peers rejected the coverage out right, I thought the producers got some things right (the VC cleantech crash angle), and some things pretty wrong (the politics and missing the solar panel boom).

Vinod Khosla – Founder, Khosla Ventures

Vinod Khosla – Founder, Khosla Ventures

2. The Hoover Dam of solar is now live in the desert of California, and why it’s important: The huge solar thermal plant Ivanpah was finally finished and started distributing electricity in early 2014. The project was one that highlighted the difficulties it takes to get a project like this built — it faced many delays, criticism from environmental groups (over desert tortoises), and also changing economics, as the cost of solar panels dropped dramatically as it was getting built (it doesn’t use panels, but mirrors to concentrate the sun). But the project also showed how the Department of Energy’s support of Ivanpah was crucial for it to get built, how a startup like BrightSource can innovate, and how companies like NRG and Google are eager to invest in clean energy.

A look at the heliostats and 2 of the 3 towers of Ivanpah. Taken from the 6th floor of the Unit 1 tower.

A look at the heliostats and 2 of the 3 towers of Ivanpah. Taken from the 6th floor of the Unit 1 tower.

3. The sheer size of Tesla’s massive battery factory could be a game-changer in many ways: One of the most interesting things to happen in energy in 2014 was the unfolding of Tesla’s plans for its battery factory, which is now planned for a spot just outside of Reno, Nevada. This is the article where I first started to realize how disruptive and unusual the idea was.

A recently raised spot of land in the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center.

A recently raised spot of land in the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center.

4. It’s easy to miss the meaningful parts of the Valley, if you ignore them: I went on a bit of a kick in the spring of this year, fighting back on the notion that the Valley doesn’t create anything meaningful anymore. Anyone who has followed the rise and fall of cleantech or is interested in energy innovation knows this isn’t true. A lot of times these Valley innovators are working on less sexy problems (so the media ignores them), and their innovations are taking longer to come to fruition.

Bloom Energy fuel cells.

Bloom Energy fuel cells.

5. As KiOR Crashes, it’s another cautionary tale for energy innovation: KiOR has always been a symbolic company for me when I think about some of the more unusual strategies that cleantech venture capitalists have taken around energy over the years. The company, which was largely owned by Khosla Ventures as well as Vinod Khosla personally, went public in the summer of 2011 at $15 per share, making Khosla Ventures’ share worth about $830 million at the time. But at the beginning of 2014 it was starting to falter, and by the end of the year it had filed for bankruptcy. I covered these guys from launch (first I heard of them was 2007) to the end.

One of Kior's facilities. Image courtesy of Kior.

One of Kior’s facilities. Image courtesy of Kior.

6. With Opower’s IPO, founders show meaningful tech can pay off: I was pretty excited to see Opower IPO in the Summer of 2014, and see that the company’s founders still held considerable equity at the time. Now Opower’s founders and longtime friends Alex Laskey and Dan Yates are the poster children for the growing meaningful tech movement.

Opower executives at the New York Stock Exchange ringing the closing bell.

Opower executives at the New York Stock Exchange ringing the closing bell.

7. As solar panels boom, it was the simple business model that the big energy players missed: While this wasn’t a huge story, I liked it because it shows that even in the difficult energy space there are things that entrepreneurs and innovators can do that big companies miss. Both NRG and GE lamented that they didn’t get in earlier into the solar-as-a-service financing business for rooftops that SunEdison started and companies like SolarCity are now dominating.

solar panels

8. An almond farm and a “big ass battery” show the future of energy in California: I visited the site of this flow battery in the little city of Turlock in the Spring of 2014. It stuck out in my mind because it shows how a really small company like EnerVault can use a tiny grant, and a lot of strategic thinking, to get entirely new energy technology built in very specific places for specific use cases. In this case, the battery is installed on an almond farm, and it bottles up energy from solar panels that help power an irrigation pump that waters about 300 acres of the farm.

EnerVault's battery on an almond farm in Turlock, California.

EnerVault’s battery on an almond farm in Turlock, California.

9. We don’t need solar roadways, we need to help unleash current solar panels: This story makes me laugh because there was SO much attention on it: 204 comments, some pretty interesting, some total garbage. Most of my peers in the energy tech sector (or covering it) I think agreed with my assessment, but didn’t want to come out and say it directly. After this was published, there were a variety of take-down articles written. Most people interested in sustainability are pretty nice and don’t want to come down on someone else’s project.

But a lot of readers out there across America did NOT like or agree with my opinion of solar roadways. Only time will really tell with these things, so I guess I’ll just have to review where the solar roadways project is in the spring.

solar panel

10. Behind the scenes with Tom Siebel, C3 and its data engine for the power grid: C3 has gotten a lot of flack over the years because it pivoted substantially early on away from carbon software and to energy data analytics for utilities. But I don’t think anyone should count C3 or Tom Siebel out just because their product has been a long time coming. Siebel is one of the world’s best salesmen, he’s all in on energy data, and the company has secured a large amount of customers in a short time frame. While this wasn’t one of the most popular articles, I thought it was a fun one.

Power grid

11. The Elon Musk playbook for disrupting energy: vertical integration and huge factories: I think it’s fascinating that SolarCity and Tesla are looking to disrupt energy and cars using similar businesses models. In this article, I tried to compare and contrast these methods and help entrepreneurs realize how Elon Musk is trying to scale these disruptions.

SolarCity panels on a Walmart, courtesy of SolarCity.

SolarCity panels on a Walmart, courtesy of SolarCity.

12. Behind the scenes of Aquion Energy’s battery factory & the future of solar storage: It’s exciting when startups that have been talking about a technology for years finally get to the point of commercially making and shipping it. I got a chance to check out Aquion Energy’s battery factory outside of Pittsburgh over the summer. It was still small, but represents a big leap for startups building the next-generation of grid batteries.

Battery stacks and modules in Aquion Energy's factory. Image courtesy of Katie Fehrenbacher, Gigaom.

Battery stacks and modules in Aquion Energy’s factory. Image courtesy of Katie Fehrenbacher, Gigaom.

13. The changing face of Reno: Why the ‘world’s biggest little city’ is attracting Apple & Tesla: Before Tesla announced that it planned to build its battery factory just outside of Reno, I took a trip up there and checked out the rumored Tesla factory site, as well as Apple’s yet-to-be-built-out solar farm up there. I also met with a variety of Reno officials as well as geothermal industry execs, who were in town for a conference. Reno, which has long been a gambling backwater, is slowly transforming into a high tech manufacturing hub, and Tesla’s factory will only accelerate that.

The Tahoe Reno Industrial Center. Photo by Katie Fehrenbacher/Gigaom

The Tahoe Reno Industrial Center. Photo by Katie Fehrenbacher/Gigaom

14. Lithium, the Salton Sea and a startup that’s trying to change the game: The Salton Sea is such a bizarre and fascinating place that any company trying to build something new out there would be interesting. But Simbol Materials turns heads because the startup is looking to recover lithium from geothermal plants, and it’s backed by Silicon Valley investors. I drove down to the Salton Sea in September and took a tour of Simbol’s demonstration plant in Calipatria, California.

Simbol Materials' VP of Business Development Tracy Sizemore stands in front of Simbol's demo plant that neighbors EnergySource's geothermal plant just below the Salton Sea. Image courtesy of Katie Fehrenbacher, Gigaom.

Simbol Materials’ VP of Business Development Tracy Sizemore stands in front of Simbol’s demo plant that neighbors EnergySource’s geothermal plant just below the Salton Sea. Image courtesy of Katie Fehrenbacher, Gigaom.

SunPower backs Tendril & plans to use its energy software

Decade-old energy company Tendril has struck an important deal with giant solar panel maker and project developer SunPower, the companies announced on Monday. SunPower has invested $20 million of growth capital into Tendril and has licensed Tendril’s energy software for solar data-related services.

Tendril started out life by building a platform to connect wireless sensors with an emphasis on ZigBee, and as the company grew it started to look for problems that its platform could solve, like building automation. Eventually it started focusing on smart meters and home energy management. For a long time, Tendril focused on utility customers and a few years ago bought Grounded Power, a startup that used behavioral science to create customer engagement for utilities (similar to what Opower’s original software does).

SunPower California solar ranch

In 2012, with a still early and pretty competitive market around home-energy software, Tendril went through a shakeup and did a substantial round of layoffs. But as Tendril stabilized, some like Smart Grid News’ Jesse Berst predicted that Tendril could now finally be positioned for substantial growth, as the market had been growing significantly for home energy software and Tendril has been an early mover in new ways to use energy data.

So it looks like the booming solar market could be part of that recovery, and Tendril’s new growth strategy. Both Tendril and Opower have recently expressed interest in teaming up with solar companies.

Solar was the second largest source of new electricity in the U.S. (behind natural gas) for the first three quarters of 2014, according to a recent report from SEIA. Tendril will be able to use SunPower’s solar data to develop its platform for solar-related services for utilities and other energy service providers, according to the release.

Austin's 's Pecan Street Project. Photo courtesy of Pecan Street Inc.

Austin’s ‘s Pecan Street Project. Photo courtesy of Pecan Street Inc.

Solar companies have been eager to both build and acquire energy data products to help manage solar panels on the grid, and to help solar customers engage with their solar systems more. SunPower makes its own panels, it manages large solar panel farms for utilities and commercial companies, and it also has a growing business around leasing solar panels for homes.

SunPower launched this residential solar leasing program in 2011 and it provided a bright spot of revenue for the company during the more difficult times in the manufacturing downturn. SunPower is now looking to grow that residential leasing program substantially and recently has started to focus on owning the relationship directly with the residential customer. SunPower has said it wants to be sort-of a Dell of solar, and the company is working on launching a new online retail portal and a new consumer marketing strategy.

I would guess that it’s SunPower’s new residential consumer solar strategy that is at the heart of the partnership with Tendril. With the funding from SunPower, Tendril has raised over $100 million, and other investors include Siemens Venture Capital, GE, VantagePoint Venture Partners, Good Energies, and RRE Ventures.

Mind you, Tendril does have a long history of announcing partnerships with big companies, like BMW, that tend not to move beyond a demonstration project. But this partnership involves a substantial investment as well as a licensing deal, so it sounds pretty significant. Competitors with Tendril include Opower, C3, Silver Spring Networks, Aclara and others.

Apple mapping a future without Google in iOS 6?

A new report indicates Apple is on the verge of replacing the Google Maps app altogether in the next version of iOS. Considering Apple’s history of buying up mapping technologies and its preference of using its own technology rather than third-party solutions, the report makes sense.