AutoGrid Systems has spent the past four years putting its big-data software platform and applications to use for a widening set of energy industry needs, from optimizing demand response programs for U.S. utilities, to enabling virtual power plants in Europe.
On Tuesday, the Redwood City, Calif.-based startup announced a $20 million financing round, co-led by two new investors with connections to more potential customers for software that can make sense of data coming from millions of devices.
The first is Energy Impact Partners, an investment firm created in October with funding from U.S. utilities Southern Company, Xcel Energy and Oncor and U.K.-based energy company National Grid.
The second is Envision Ventures, the Silicon Valley-based fund created last year by Chinese wind turbine maker and renewable energy developer Envision Energy, which also joined the new round.
The new round brings AutoGrid’s total funding to date to just over $40 million, and it was also joined by previous AutoGrid investors. Those include German utility E.ON, which led a $12.5 million investment in 2014, as well as Foundation Capital and Voyager Capital, which participated in a $9 million Series B round in 2012.
The new funding will go toward expanding the “Energy Internet” suite of applications built on AutoGrid’s underlying software, as well as to expand sales and marketing in North America, Europe and Asia. And according to AutoGrid CEO Amit Narayan, many of those new applications will be developed in close consultation with the companies funding its new growth round.
The startup’s first application, its Demand Response Optimization and Management System, has been deployed by U.S. utilities including Palo Alto’s municipal utility, Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), Oklahoma Gas & Electric, Austin Energy, Florida Power & Light, Hawaiian Electric, and most recently, the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative.
But “we have a lot of customers using us outside the traditional regulated utilities,” Narayan said. The federal Bonneville Power Administration has been using AutoGrid’s software since November 2014 to manage its multi-party demand response efforts, for example. And late last year, Dutch energy company Eneco Group started using its software to operate a 100-megawatt “virtual power plant,” tapping customer-sited combined-heat-and-power systems and industrial demand response.
Narayan classified these new applications under two main categories. The first is as a distributed energy resource management system platform -- a broad classification for software designed to integrated distributed, largely customer-sited energy resources. “It does demand-charge management, voltage optimization, volt/VAR and smart inverters -- and it’s a very targeted type of program, dispatchable at the feeder and substation level,” as AutoGrid is demonstrating with its New Hampshire project, he said.
AutoGrid doesn’t build the hardware or networking infrastructure to connect individual energy assets -- it's more focused on taking the massive amounts of data coming from disparate devices and systems and making sense of it. So it’s integrating with advanced distribution management system (ADMS) software from partners like Schneider Electric to put its software capabilities into action, he said. At the same time, ADMS vendors are interested in tapping AutoGrid’s reach beyond the meter into customer-side energy assets, Narayan added.
The second category is “the wholesale market side of the program -- we call it a VPP, or virtual power plant,” he said. Integrating with the energy management system (EMS) software used by utilities and grid operators makes it “very easy for the control-center folks to use this to dispatch resources, with APIs that can create forecasts to feed into any EMS system, to allow the EMS to create events and drive outcomes -- and we can do that in very short timescales.”
Looking beyond the utility and grid operator realms, the company is “also working with what I’d call new energy project developers, that are putting in solar, storage, demand response and energy services,” Narayan said. “These have been traditionally siloed services in the past, and they're looking to become more integrated.”
That’s one area where new investor Envision Energy could open up new doors for the startup, he said. With a significant share of wind power markets in China and globally, along with its renewable power development and energy management businesses, “Through our relationship with them, we get to expand beyond utilities into these deregulated markets and into the supply side, as well as the ability to go into a big region like China, which is hard to penetrate.”
Narayan declined to comment on what applications Energy Impact Partners’ funding utilities might be exploring. Neither would Hans Kobler, EIP’s CEO and managing partner, who formerly led General Electric’s strategic investment efforts in power and industrial systems.
But Kobler did note that “several of our partners are in discussions with AutoGrid right now across the spectrum of their offerings, from the DER side to the demand side. As you know, their business is transforming at a pace they’ve not seen before. They’re focused on energy storage, on distributed generation, on renewable integration, and on the integration of those emerging trends.”
AutoGrid, which was named one of Greentech Media's Grid Edge Award winners this year, "has the ability to manage enormous amounts of data in real time with its platform. That could be very interesting both from the demand side and the supply side,” he said.