Can $275 million be wrong?
That is the question Silver Spring Networks will try to answer. The company, which specializes in networking equipment for connecting utilities to consumers and large industrial users, has raised another $100 million in a preferred equity round. The money will be used to build-out smart grid networks and applications, such as technology for accommodating electric-car charging, said CFO Warren Jenson. One can expect to see a push internationally and further acquisitions, like the earlier purchase this year of home automation software maker Greenbox, too.
"The smart grid opportunity is huge and it continues to get bigger," said Jenson.
The company previously raised $175 million in various funding rounds, bringing the total to $275 million, or over one quarter of a billion dollars. It has not directly received stimulus grants but customers have, Jenson noted, so the company will likely benefit indirect fromDOE stimulus dollars.
The latest round of funding further establishes the company as one of the best funded in smart grid. But more importantly, Silver Spring represents a vision for the smart grid that, in many ways, is at odds with competitors. Many of these technologies and different visions will no doubt coexist, but with billions funneling in from the Department of Energy and several utilities mapping out smart grid strategies now, the ultimate destiny of many companies could be decided over the next few months and years.
The Redwood City, Calif.-based company has created equipment that carries signals over a wireless mesh network in an unlicensed part of the spectrum. The underlying technology is partly proprietary but its devices connect to standards-based equipment and software.
Silver Spring's networking equipment is comparatively cheap and reliable and the technology can be deployed now, executives note. Mesh networking startups began to pop up at venture conferences in the early part of the decade, but a true killer app to propel demand didn't really exist until smart grid rolled around.
Competitors, such as GridNet and Cisco, however, assert that these types of mesh networks won't provide the bandwidth, performance or adaptability utilities will need in the future. GridNet instead promotes carrying smart grid traffic on WiMax broadband networks. SmartSynch, meanwhile, has begun to promote a piece of equipment, called a grid router, than can adapt to different networking protocols.
Silver Spring has a handy response. Pacific Gas & Electric has selected the company's technology to link up 5.5 million end points. Interestingly, some of the executives behind PG&E's smart grid initiatives, such as Andy Tang, worked in the WiMax group at Intel before coming to PG&E. Chris Knudsen, one of Intel's WiMax alums at PG&E, told us recently that that WiMax can leave blank spots in a coverage zone and covering them up becomes economically challenging.
Silver Spring has deals with other utilities such as Oklahoma Gas & Electric American Electric Power as well and the company is currently talking to and fielding requests for proposals from utilities in Latin America and Australia, said Jenson.
"The big picture is, there's a ton of stuff out there," Eric Dresselhuys told us a few weeks ago. "Will it take a bunch of carrier technologies? Absolutely. We don't do streaming video. We don't do voice," he said.