Green building and energy efficiency company Serious Energy has acquired building energy management startup Agilewaves. Is the building energy shopping spree starting up again?
GridPoint has replaced founding CEO Peter Corsell with a veteran of the software and communications industries. The thrice-reincarnated smart grid startup has $220 million, tons of acquisitions and a lot to prove.
Smart meters have been undergoing a bit of a consumer backlash lately — and that could open the door for alternative ways to bring energy data to homeowners. Certainly the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the federal entity setting smart grid standards, seems to want to look for ways outside the smart meter to bring consumers and the smart grid closer together.
NIST is launching a new blog to open an industry dialogue around the “customer interface to the Smart Grid.” According to an opening post by George Arnold, NIST’s national coordinator for smart grid interoperability, one major question is whether the smart meter should be the primary gateway for home energy data, or whether the smart grid industry should be looking at a separate energy gateway for some or all of the home energy data that’s out there. Arnold dubs this the “Energy Services Interface,” but doesn’t get into more detail — though he does note that he’s interested in learning of “alternative architectures involving real-time (or near-real-time) electricity usage and price data” that could fit the bill.
Read More about Count the Ways to Connect Consumers to the Smart Grid
It’s officially a trend: smart grid companies building or buying software that will manage energy consumption within the home. This morning smart grid networking company Silver Spring Networks announced that it plans to buy Greenbox Technology, a 2-year-old startup founded by the creators of the well-known interactive web technology Flash, which has built software to measure a home’s energy consumption. The companies wouldn’t disclose the price of the acquisition agreement.
The news comes on the heels of a stream of announcements from smart grid companies both building and buying home energy management software. In June, GridPoint announced that it had bought up the energy business of a quiet Canadian company called Lixar SRS. Smart meter software firm eMeter put its efforts into building its home energy management tool, as has Microsoft (s msft) (with Hohm) and Google (s goog) (with PowerMeter).
Read More about Smart Grid Shopping: Silver Spring Snaps Up Greenbox
Wireless networking gets all the love in today’s mobile world, but inside the home, wires will still play a key role in delivering entertainment and other content. Your set-top box may sport an Ethernet port, but it still connects to the wall via coaxial cable. Wires are a secure, fast, cheap and existing network inside most homes. The main links around the home are power lines, coaxial cable, copper phone wires or some mix of the three, depending on where in the world a person lives. But the three standards vying for dominance today could gradually give ground to an emerging standard for delivering IP-based services called G.hn. Read More about Chipmakers Get Tied Up in Home Networking
The massive market opportunity of the smart grid, invigorated by stimulus funds and new energy efficiency rules, is clear — but how are venture capitalists deciding which early stage smart grid startups to back? Well, one way would be for a VC to look into which firms have done a deal with a utility, which would give the startup its first revenue and could indicate a market leader. Problem is, a lot of utilities are in the process of “sampling” right now, doing several small pilot deals with a lot of experimental companies. As a result, venture capitalists are struggling to see past the initial lure of the utility smart grid sample to the true leaders.
This challenge was brought up last week at the Fortune Brainstorm Green conference, where venture capitalists in a smart grid discussion said that many of the smart grid firms looking for investment are all at the same level: $1 million to $3 million in revenue from a small-scale utility pilot deal. Just look at the landscape of some of the smart grid startups out there: Greenbox, which makes software to manage home energy use, has a deal to oufit a small percentage of Oklahoma Gas and Electric’s 765,000 customers with energy management tools and has been looking to raise its Series A. EnergyHub, which makes a sort of ultra-mobile PC for energy management, says it is launching a 50-home pilot trial in an East Coast city with a yet-to-be-named utility, and recently raised its first series A round.
So what’s a VC, who’s desperate to make a smart grid play, to do in an environment when the playing field is populated by companies with similar-looking wins? An easy answer is to fall back on traditional investing guidelines: invest in “the team,” figure out how valuable the intellectual property is, and crunch the numbers behind the business model. But if you’re an investor that’s still set on using the utility deal as the guide, look at the deal and the scale. Is it a major millions-of-meters utility or a small rural coop? Is there room for the deal to turn commercial and scale out? And does the firm have the money in the bank yet, or will they talk publicly about the partnership? Good news for investors, the current funding environment means you have the advantage at the negotiating table — so do the legwork.
Thanks to funds from the stimulus package and renewed attention to energy savings, 2009 is the year companies are planning to launch wireless energy dashboards that will sit in your home, monitor energy data from your electricity meter and let you know if you’re being an energy hog. While tech firms have been trying to sell you on the “digital home” for years — complete with wireless networks that can do everything from control your entertainment equipment to operate high-tech security systems to roast a chicken — the new energy management firms are keeping it simple by using low-cost hardware and open standards to monitor energy data.
This year is particularly important to these mostly young companies, as President Obama has pledged to help utilities install 40 million more smart meters (basically digital meters that create a 2-way connection with the power grid and the utility). Smart meters installed at homes can unleash data about the fluctuating price of electricity throughout the day, enabling consumers that have energy management tools to shift energy consumption to the time of day when power is cheapest. For utilities, that can mean better management of the power grid and eliminate the need to build out expensive power generating systems.
A half-dozen companies are launching their first energy dashboards this year, and a few others are starting to gain traction with already available online tools. One of the biggest differences between these firms is whether companies will sell directly to the consumer or to utility partners for upcoming smart meter rollouts. Several of the already-available options for consumers bypass smart meters and utilities and just help the interested consumer with a standard electricity meter. They’re cheap and available online, but they provide less detailed data.
Read More about 10 Monitoring Tools Bringing Smart Energy Home
For years, energy-management technologies have played second fiddle to energy-generation technologies such as solar power, wind power and biofuels. But in an economic downturn, the so-called “smart grid” sector, which often has been labeled “not sexy” by investors and analysts, is becoming ever more attractive.
On Monday, eMeter announced that Texas utility CenterPoint will use its meter-data-management system for a rollout of 2 million smart meters starting in March and finishing up in 2013. The system, called EnergyIP, will help CenterPoint’s Houston-area customers monitor and manage their electricity use and cost, as well as provide outage, restoration and connection and disconnection services for the company. While he didn’t say how much eMeter will earn from the contract, Chris King, chief strategy officer for the San Mateo, Calif.-based company, said that the IT system will make up less than 5 percent, or $32 million, of the cost of the $640 million program.
eMeter’s software essentially helps the utility’s older systems, like billing, work together with the new smart-grid systems, King says. The network includes automated controls for different appliances, and it will keep track of the appliances and report power outages. The software — and the smart meters it works with — enable peak-pricing and time-of-use programs, in which utilities charge more for electricity used during times of high demand, as well as demand-response programs, in which utilities ask a group of customers to reduce their usage during critical periods to avoid outages, in exchange for lower electricity bills.
Read More about What’s Sexy In the Downturn: Smart Grid Software
Greenbox Technology, a startup with a web-based platform that monitors home energy use, told us recently it hopes to close its first round of funding by June. Matthew Smith, the company’s vice president of marketing, said the company is talking to potential investors now. The round could be as high as $20 million, he said, but suggested the amount will most likely fall between $3 million and $5 million.
“We aren’t announcing [the amount] publicly, but we’re looking at a pretty typical, standard A round,” he said, adding that the company has several alternate plans, depending on its investors and “how aggressive we want to get.” Most of the money will go toward hiring, he said.
Founded in 2007 by the creators and designers of Flash, Greenbox has developed software that monitors and analyzes a home’s energy use and displays the data –- including information about the time of day, usage by appliances, and comparisons to other homes in the community and different electricity-rate plans –- in the form of charts and graphs on a web dashboard.
Read More about Greenbox Looking to Raise Series A Round
President Obama has called for the installation of 40 million smart meters and 3,000 miles of transmission lines. That means 2009 could be the year that we finally start seeing real attention being paid to “Power Grid 2.0” — basically turning the electrical grid of the 60s and 70s into a modern network that uses microprocessors and software to work efficiently and to connect to renewable energy generation.
A build-out of the smart grid could also be one of the largest creators of wealth in the decade. As smart grid analyst Jesse Berst said recently, the smart grid will “spawn new Googles and Microsofts,” and is “akin to the transcontinental railroad, the phone system, the interstate highway system and the Internet.” Still confused? Here are the key players, the background and the latest innovative technology:
What is smart grid technology?:
As Foundation Capital put it recently in a note on the market: “A true Smart Grid enables multiple applications to operate over a shared, interoperable network, similar in concept to the way the Internet works today.” That means turning the current electrical network that has 14,000 transmission substations, 4,500 large substations for distribution, and 3,000 public and private owners into a network that communicates intelligently and works efficiently.
Read More about FAQ: Smart Grid