SANTA CLARA, Calif. --- Could Siemens buy SmartSynch?
That’s one of the theories I heard in the hallways at ConnectivityWeek, a week-long smart grid event taking place in Santa Clara. There’s no solid evidence whatsoever to support this -- let me be clear about that -- but the theory is interesting.
Siemens Venture Capital is one of the older and more prominent investors in the company, which specializes in smart grid equipment that leverages public cellular networks. Siemens has marketed modules for residential meters based around SmartSynch’s technology.
The outlook for cellular has also seemingly begun to improve as utilities get used to the idea that they don’t have to own all of the elements of their smart grid networks. Duke Energy recently released a white paper that outlines a commitment to leverage public networks. (The historical skepticism of exploiting public networks has mystified IT professionals for years, but it has to do with how PUCs treat capital expenses versus operating expenses, as well as with industry culture.)
Just as important: Siemens has been noticeably silent during the smart grid buying spree. Rivals ABB and Schneider Electric have been snapping up companies like Lindsay Lohan on a shopping spree during a furlough release. General Electric too has bought two companies -- Lineage Power Holdings and FMC-Tech -- to beef up its grid portfolio.
Siemens was active in 2009. It bought solar thermal specialist Solel for $418 million and vowed to become a top-three player in wind. The euro has dipped in recent days, but you can still buy a lot of goods in America.
We shall see. Again, the above is pure speculation, but crazier things have happened.
--The Department of Energy is considering a proposal to give consumers a 5 percent credit/rebate for “smart” appliances, according to Chris King, Chief Regulatory Officer of eMeter. Smarter appliances, of course, can cut home energy consumption and may help pave the way for home automation. The problem has been turnover: people buy refrigerators only once every few decades. A little discount might help.
But the DOE may have to improve marketing. Ellen Luttrell, a former PR exec that worked at the DOE and is now at Serious Materials, said that the department conducted a consumer survey that found that 75 percent of consumers didn’t like the “smart” appellation.
--In lighting, keep your eye on OnChip Power, a spinout originally from MIT, which has created a power supply for solid state lighting. Getting power to LEDs efficiently is a key problem: the less waste heat the chips generate, the more light they can generate, the fewer components they need and the less power they will use. Although only founded this year, the science behind the company has been tinkered with for 20 years.
Venrock is an investor and OnChip has the obligatory mysterious web page.
--How many home networking startups have received VC funding? 108, according to a count conducted by Venrock, said partner Steve Goldberg.
“Not too many of them have made a lot of traction,” he said.
--In other startup news, Foundation Capital’s Warren Weiss said the firm has invested in Transphorm, which makes gallium arsenide AC-DC converters that are more efficient than silicon converters. Didn’t know Foundation invested.
Foundation has also invested in Sentient Energy, which makes a technology that senses sag and obstruction in power lines. Voltage regulation will be a big business, according to Elster and many others. Both Weiss and Battery’s Mike Dauber noted that diagnostics and applications for sensing and controlling power consumption will be growth markets for startups.
While these sorts of applications don’t necessarily have to be sold to utilities -- markets will exist to sell such technology to industrial manufacturers and commercial building owners -- utilities are nonetheless interested. An exec from Portland General Electric (a utility) said that any technology -- like distribution automation equipment -- that helps reduce their operating expense is something utilities will examine.
--Finally, Nat Goldhaber at Claremont Creek Ventures said that market forces on their own may not operate in a way that will create demand for efficiency, particularly in buildings. Landlords generally just pass the cost of utilities to their tenants and tenants aren’t in a position to make capital improvements.
“The only solution is a regulatory change,” he said.
Goldhaber further added that the U.S. may not have to worry about China taking over our market like China did in solar.
“Our stuff is so old-fashioned that we have an opportunity to do a leapfrog ourselves,” he said.