Much of the technology pushing utilities to adopt two-way, interconnected management of their grids is coming from beyond the meter. While energy savings are the main driver for consumer adoption of distributed technologies, they’re not the only reason people make the choice.
Take the internet-of-things space, where companies are raising hundreds of millions of dollars to build out an infrastructure for managing a world populated by “smart” parking meters, dishwashers, televisions, webcams, doorknobs, and other such wirelessly networked devices. The market potential is huge, and has drawn competitors ranging from global tech giants like Apple, Google and Cisco to Kickstarter-launched startups.
That brings us to the latest funding rounds compiled by GTM.
The universal smart home sensor
Notion announced last week that it has raised $10 million in Series A funding, led by Draper Nexus and TransLink Capital, and joined by existing investors XL Innovate, Mesh VC and others. The round brings total funding for the Denver-based company to about $15 million since its launch in 2013.
Notion makes a hockey-puck-sized sensor that sticks onto windows, doors, refrigerators or other places around the house, and senses and reports on temperature, motion, vibration, smoke, light and other features of its immediate environment. It’s tied into a Wi-Fi bridge unit that connects to a homeowners’s smartphone, allowing them to set alerts for anything from the garage door opening to the kids opening the liquor cabinet.
Notion pitches itself as a DIY home security system, which could justify the cost of its sensors, currently $129 apiece. Home security is one of the main drivers for smart device adoption, and longstanding players such as ADT are contending with smart home offerings from Xfinity, AT&T and Verizon.
There’s been a lot of acquisition activity of late in the smart home space, the largest being Google’s $3.2 billion purchase of Nest. But there’s also a lot of crossover between brands and technologies, as evidenced by the Comcast and Alarm.com agreement to acquire and divvy up long-time home automation platform startup iControl.
EV charging for apartments and condos
Plug-in electric vehicles are going to represent an important new grid edge asset -- if they can be turned into smart and responsive participants. But first, you’ve got to get the charging infrastructure in place -- and that’s been a real problem for people who don’t happen to own their own garage.
Multi-family housing in particular has been a challenging market for EV charging. One plugged-in car can represent up to half or more of a typical home’s electricity load, but 10, 20 or 50 of them plugged into an apartment garage could overload the unit’s circuits, or drive demand charges through the roof.
These are all risks that most property managers don’t even know how to calculate, let alone manage. Startup EverCharge promises to handle all of these complications, from initial assessment and installation to ongoing operation. Last week, the Oakland, California-based company raised $1.35 million from an undisclosed investor, according to this Securities and Exchange Commission filing.
EverCharge got noticed as one of 10 innovative startups at last year’s L.A. Auto Show and now operates in 28 cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Atlanta. Beyond getting chargers and supporting equipment in the ground, its “SmartPower” software can actively manage each vehicle’s state of charge, keeping building power loads within reasonable limits, while making sure that each vehicle is being charged according to the driver’s specifications.
It also manages a card-based tracking and billing system for users, adding to its store of knowledge about each driver’s charging habits and needs.
Pretty much all of today’s EV charging infrastructure can be managed to avoid charging during peak demand hours, or conversely, to charge when supplies are cheap and plentiful. But the technology to put those capabilities to use is still developing. California’s utilities are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on EV infrastructure investment, much of it aimed at multi-family housing, along with workplace charging to cover the 9-to-5 hours.
The DC-powered solar-battery energy island
Tesla’s sleek, stage-lit home batteries may get all the attention, but there are a bevy of competitors putting ever-cheaper lithium-ion batteries in pretty packages and selling them to homeowners as emergency backup power. One of the largest markets for behind-the-meter batteries consists of customers who are considering rooftop solar, or who already have it, and want to store some of that PV energy for emergency backup, peak shaving, or price arbitrage.
One of the big debates in this field is how to arrange the conversion of direct current to alternating current among the solar, batteries and inverters involved. Many companies out there, Tesla included, tend to convert solar and battery DC to AC separately, which makes sense when you’re adding a battery to an existing PV system. But there are benefits to putting everything behind a DC bus, since it saves on power conversion losses.
Startup Pika Energy has chosen the latter route for its all-DC solar-storage combination, which it has dubbed the REbus DC Nanogrid. Last week the Westbrook, Maine-based company raised $2 million, according to this SEC filing.
Pika Energy also announced a partnership with Panasonic last week, offering lithium-ion batteries with 10 or 15 kilowatt-hours of capacity and able to provide 6.7 kilowatts of power. That’s enough to power a typical home for two or more hours, backing up Pika’s concept of offering homeowners an “energy island” capability in the midst of outages. The two companies are also working with Xcel Energy on its grid edge projects near Denver’s airport.