Monday brings news of some big money for home security automation with energy management on the side. IControl, a startup backed by Comcast, General Electric, Cisco, Kleiner Perkins and others, has raised a $50 million series D round, bringing its total haul to more than $100 million. As I mentioned last week, iControl is one of the startups that’s tackling low-cost home automation from the home security front, while also allowing levels of energy management via thermostat, lighting and other electrical load controls. People have yet to have a chance to prove they’re willing to pay for cutting their energy use through technology, but home security is a proven, existing market. It’s also a market that’s being pushed by a whole host of big corporate backers, including Comcast’s new Xfinity Home Security service. I’m guessing iControl’s new $50 million will be supporting the startup’s leading role in Comcast’s rollout of that service. I’m curious to see to what extent energy savings plays a part in how the service is laid out to its customers, in terms of its emphasis on the dashboards that customers look at, and the reports they’re delivered at the end of the month.
Last month, the California Public Utility Commission published a proposed ruling on how utility customers’ energy data must be protected. The first deadline for interested parties to comment on the state’s new proposed rules has come, and, there’s still plenty of confusion over the fine print. A common theme is also emerging: The CPUC’s rules will need to change to avoid stifling the smart grid–home energy marketplace.
Can home energy management devices reach a level of penetration that makes them a real contender for reducing household energy waste? Tendril Networks thinks so. The Boulder, Colo.-based startup is poised to move from scores of pilot projects to real-world commercial deployments in the second half of 2011, some measuring in the millions of homes, CEO Adrian Tuck told a smart grid industry audience yesterday at Greentech Media’s Networked Grid event in San Francisco. At those levels, home energy dashboards and displays could really start to deliver some of the additional benefits that separate their efficiency returns from the lower, yet more widely spread, returns seen from OPower, a startup that uses data analysis and text, email and paper-mailed efficiency tip sheets to help about 10 million utility customers around the country shave 2 to 4 percent from their energy use. One big question about both approaches to home energy efficiency, however, is how long consumers will stick with their efficiency ways before getting bored or busy and letting their efforts slip. To lock in long-term efficiency gains, some form of automation of household energy loads might be needed — but that, of course, will require a whole new level of technology embedded in the home.
Scientific Conservation, the San Francisco-based startup with software to optimize the way building systems manage their energy use, has gotten two big investor-partners on board. Both General Electric and Intel said they would be putting money into SCI this morning, helping the startup complete a $19 million series B round it began raising in January. Beyond that, both announced plans to use the startup’s software in their own energy management plans. GE, which has already invested in SCI as one of its Ecomagination Challenge winners, said that SCI’s platform would be used by GE Capital Real Estate in several buildings in the U.S., U.K. and Canada. And Intel said it would work with SCI to “improve energy use in large campuses, optimize data center cooling, and collaborate on technologies to improve the energy efficiency of IT-intensive workspaces” — a set of functions that could bridge SCI’s software to the green data center field as well. We’ve seen a lot of building energy efficiency software startups moving into partnerships with corporate giants lately, whether on the commercial real estate or data center fronts — and a few have been acquired. I wonder if SCI is on anyone’s shopping list?
How are we going to get facilities guys and the IT guys to work together to save energy in data centers? Before facilities and IT can work together in data centers, both silos need to shore up their own integration foundations.
Where do the worlds of smart grid and smart buildings overlap? Last week saw two big deals — IBM’s purchase of Tririga, and Alstom’s acquisition of UISOL — that help show how muddy that line is becoming.
Last week, I attended Structure 09, the GigaOM Network’s second annual cloud computing and infrastructure conference, here in San Francisco, and I was struck by the increasing relevance of the space to the discussion around green and IT. As Katie has pointed out in the past, cloud computing’s “avoided costs” selling points map neatly to some green marketing messages that companies are beginning to leverage. But perhaps more notable to me was the expanding array of applications for which cloud computing is being used. In particularly, some of the coffee-break and cocktail-hour conversations floating around pointed to the increasingly “green” markets for cloud computing — the smart grid, in particular.
Today, much of the green data center work that’s been done has focused on reworking an existing facility — or building out new ones — with an eye on more efficient hardware, server virtualization, and reducing the power load from cooling. But as companies see environmental, not just cost, benefits as a driver of green IT efforts, they may be ready to turn increased attention to greening the buildings that house their IT gear.
I’m the first to admit it: When it comes to the intersection of green and IT, I’m often a little fixated on “smart technologies” that can help squeeze inefficiency out of our systems, whether we’re talking smart grid, smart appliances (coming by 2015!), virtualization and cloud computing, demand response or even smart trash. But this week, I started thinking about another role that IT plays in developing sustainable businesses — facilitating transparency.
There’s been an awful lot of hubbub about the smart grid lately. The stimulus bill may have allocated $4.5 billion to a dramatic expansion of the modernized, IT-enabled power grid, but it’s already keeping more than a handful of journalists and PR folks employed. One angle that seems to be getting a lot of play is the impact that smart grid technologies will have out at the ‘edge’ of the network — that is, in consumers’ homes. But how significant is that impact, really?