12 smart grid startups to watch in 2012

Written on:January 2, 2012
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We brought you some predictions about the smart grid market in 2012, but what are some of the startups you should be keeping an eye on next year? You know you were about to ask me that.

Here’s some of the ones that I think will be really interesting to watch in 2012. They might not be the biggest players, or the ones making the most money (some are), but these are companies that could be disruptive with their business models, concepts and leadership.

1). Ecologic Analytics: Now that Siemens snapped up smart meter data management system eMeter, all eyes will be on Ecologic Analytics, and where the company could land. The firm is not exactly a startup — having been around over a decade and with meter maker Landis + Gyr as a minority shareholder — but the company has been quietly cleaning up when it comes to the software link that connects smart meter data to a utilities’ back office (commonly called meter data management systems, or MDMS). Will 2012 see Ecologic Analytics officially land with Landis + Gyr or another large smart grid player?

2). Nest: Yes there’s been a lot of hype around Nest, the startup that’s making a learning thermostat and is backed by Kleiner Perkins, Google Ventures and Al Gore’s investment fund. But Nest is definitely a company you should keep an eye on in terms of the smart grid in 2012. If the startup can wade through its production backlog, and deliver a good user experience, then it could be a real game changer.

3). Opower: The next 18 months will be a very interesting time for Opower, says Opower’s Vice President of Strategy & Marketing Ogi Kavazovic. Opower will launch an app with Facebook next year and recently launched a connected thermostat with Honeywell. In addition the company hired a chief financial officer, Thomas Kramer, and is mulling over a potential IPO down the road. Kramer was previously the CFO at Cvent, and created the eCommerce strategy for Boston Consulting Group.

Opower develops software and analytics to enable utilities to connect with their customers and get them to reduce their energy consumption by around 2 percent. The initial product from Opower is software that creates detailed mailed energy bills that give feedback to utility customers, like if they used more energy than the average, and offers suggestions for how customers can change their energy consumption behavior. Opower now offers other digital ways for utilities to connect with consumers via email, text, utility websites, and soon Facebook and a connected thermostat.

4). Control4: Control4 is by no means a new player in the smart home energy space, but the company recently moved forward on some important pilot projects (PG&E and NV Energy), has a partnership with networking giant Silver Spring Networks, and raised money at the beginning of 2011 to ramp up, including funds from Cisco. Can Control4 crack the difficult home energy utility market?

5). Axeda: At first blush you might not consider Axeda a smart grid company, but the Foxboro, Mass.-based startup is creating the intelligence in the cloud that can monitor and manage sensors in real time. Sensors that are embedded in buildings, in factories, on the grid, etc. Axeda has been around since 2000 and has raised $ 16 million from JMI Equity and MMV Financial, for its software platform for sensor networks.

Joseph Biron, a senior director, product innovation at Axeda told us in an interview that the software crunches about 10,000 transactions per second, though he expects that number to quadruple in the next year as more and more devices are connected.

6). Tres Amigos: To put Tres Amigos in perspective, I first want to say that I’m not sure of the economic viability of its plan to build a massive $ 1.5 billion super grid hub. But 2012 will definitely be a year to watch the company as Tres Amigas plans to start construction of Phase I of the hub this year. Tres Amigas also received an investment and partnership from Japanese conglomerate Mitsui in December. Could this really work and kick off in 2012?

7). Aquion Energy: Oh energy storage, the grid needs you! And Valley-backed startup Aquion Energy has a plan to build a modular battery that uses basic, widely-available (and edible) materials, like sodium and water. In the Summer of 2011, the company raised $ 20 million from Foundation Capital and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers to build a 500 megawatt-hour factory.

Aquion Energy is four years old and says its bulk battery will be low cost compared to the current batteries that are being piloted on the power grid — supposedly as cheap as one-tenth the cost of the alternatives.

8). ArrayPower: We learned about this startup late in 2011, but the company says it has engineered a new way to convert solar power from direct current (DC) produced a solar panel into alternating current (AC) to be used by a home or to feed the grid. The design distributes the conversion between multiple solar panels, and the technology promises to deliver more power at the price of conventional power conversion electronics.

The technology makes use of pulse amplitude modulation, a concept that has been used in Ethernet equipment and in controlling LED lighting, but now is being applied to solar. ArrayPower, which is based in Sunnyvale, Calif. and founded in 2007, has also lined up $ 22 million in venture capital funding.

9). Enlighted: Enlighted Inc. says its lighting control tech can individually measure and manage lighting at each light fixture and can cut energy consumption from lighting in office and commercial buildings by 50 to 75 percent. The company launched in October, with $ 14.2 million from Intel Capital, Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

The lighting system uses sensors at each light fixture and the company’s first customer is green carpet company Interface Services, which used Enlighted Inc.’s tech for its 35,000 square foot facility located in Acworth, Ga.

10). First Fuel Software: FirstFuel Software is able to use analytics and big data to remotely determine energy information about a commercial building, like consumption habits, and give recommendations for how to make it run more energy efficiently. The company says it uses no onsite hardware or onsite energy audits, to get this data, and yet says its information is as accurate as information received through an onsite energy audit, which is far more costly. The company has raised $ 2.4 million from Battery Ventures and Nth Power, and rebranded itself (from iblogix).

11). Regen Energy: Regen Energy is one of those companies that just has a really cool concept. We’ll see in 2012 if they can start gaining traction in the smart grid market. The startup has developed “swarm logic” software, which can manage appliances in buildings and electric cars like a swarm of bees, and in 2011 Regen opened its first U.S. office in San Diego (they’re from Toronto).

Regen Energy says its wireless node, when coupled with its software, can reduce the energy consumption of commercial building systems like air conditioners and lighting. Its swarm logic software is based on the idea that each individual node makes a decision based on the actions of the group. HVAC systems and lights in buildings each get a node installed, which can control the appliances in response to demand response signals from utilities or control systems from business managers in an efficient and uniform way.

12): GridMobility: Another cool concept company. GridMobility has built software and connected hardware to enable utilities to use hot water heaters (and other energy-consuming appliances) as on-demand grid storage in conjunction with local clean power when it’s available. GridMobility chose hot water heaters as a main target for its technology because hot water heaters can be turned up and down slightly — commonly between 135 and 120 degrees — and consumers generally tend not to notice the change all that much.

Image courtesy of Patrick Hoesly

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