On Tuesday, Toshiba’s Landis+Gyr announced plans to acquire GRIDiant, a Los Altos, California-based startup with distribution grid modeling and analytics technology in use by some of the biggest utilities in the country. Corporate giants on the hunt for technology to make sense of the distributed, interactive grid edge now have one less startup to target.

Landis+Gyr, the Swiss communications and metering giant acquired by Toshiba in 2010, has been working with GRIDiant via partnership agreements for years now, Prasanna Venkatesan, Landis+Gyr's executive vice president for the Americas region, said in a Wednesday interview. Now the company is eager to integrate its grid connectivity technology into its advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), distribution grid management and distributed energy generation and battery management platforms, he said.

Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed. GRIDiant, formerly known as Optimal Technologies, was founded in 2000 and raised $25 million from Goldman Sachs in 2007, only to disband and transition its key technology to GRIDiant in 2010.

“We recognized earlier on, even when they were Optimal Technologies, that they had one of the best connectivity models in the industry,” Venkatesan said. “Along with our MDMS offering, this will be the next stage of enhancing and optimizing our data platform, so that our customers can have what we call a 'situational awareness' of the grid.”

To be sure, this “situational awareness” goal is shared by many in the smart grid industry. Advanced distribution management systems vendors like Siemens, General Electric, Alstom, ABB and Schneider Electric are promising to extend more real-time visibility and control into the low-voltage, customer-facing portion of the grid. Advanced mathematical modeling techniques and algorithms are emerging from startups like Gridquant or research efforts out of the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E program.

For its part, GRIDiant claims to have the “first true real-time, nonlinear, multi-objective, optimization and resource ranking engine for grid planning and operations,” according to its website. The core of the startup’s technology is the math from founder and CTO Soorya Kuloor, which has been applied to cleaning up a utility’s GIS grid data, adding what AMI, grid device and other data that’s flowing in, and creating a power flow model that can closely match what’s really happening out there in the field.  

While big transmission grids are modeled in this way today, distribution grids are far less well defined, with equipment constantly being upgraded or replaced in ways that make a hash of paper or software records. But the rise of distributed energy, and the need for cost-effective distribution grid equipment to manage it, are pushing utilities to get a much better grasp on how the edges of their grids are operating, he said.

Kent Hedrick, Landis+Gyr’s director of distribution grid management, described how the system then layers benefits onto that model through analytics. First, GRIDiant can take an entire grid and highlight just which feeders, circuits and substations will provide the greatest return in value from investment, whether in strengthening core infrastructure or adding new technology, he said.

Second, GRIDiant’s real-time data and power flows can help inform grid operators of what’s really happening out on the distribution circuits, he said. “GRIDiant has some excellent analytics that can tell a utility down to the feeder, down to the premise, how that grid is performing, how it meets that criteria, how resilient is it. But in addition, it gives you the tools to optimize that performance,” he said. 

Various GRIDiant customers are using different aspects of the company’s software suite. For example, mid-Atlantic utility Pepco is using GRIDiant’s software for grid reliability planning, and Baltimore Gas & Electric is using it to help optimize its conservation voltage reduction planning.

In California, GRIDiant’s software has been used by Southern California Edison, Silicon Valley Power, the California Energy Commission, Pacific Gas & Electric and Sacramento Municipal Utility District for various purposes (some of those projects date back to the startup’s Optimal days). SMUD is using the technology to figure out how solar panels, batteries, plug-in electric vehicles and demand response can be most cost-effectively deployed. Other California customers are using it with an eye toward satisfying upcoming regulations that will force state utilities to create distribution grid plans that take solar panels, energy storage, and real-time demand management into account, he said.

That can include hard-to-model factors like how two-way power flows from rooftop solar are affecting the grid, and how energy storage, load control and grid voltage balancing equipment can help mitigate those impacts, he noted. While most of the company’s work is on the planning and optimization scale, “we also are continuing to support day-to-day grid operations, and there is further development we’re working on right now that’s driven by customers,” including one unnamed East Coast utility that wants to look at dispatching renewable energy systems in an optimal way, he said.

In fact, the acquisition highlights how Landis+Gyr is building out its distribution management system, Venkatesan said. While the Swiss telecommunications and metering conglomerate doesn't have a DMS product per se, it does have its GridStream communications and software platform, and parent Toshiba’s volt/VAR optimization, energy storage management and virtual power plant control technology, he said. With GRIDiant in the mix, “every intelligent piece of equipment out there that’s been enabled, they have a connectivity model that tells what we at Landis+Gyr call the DNA of the infrastructure,” he said. Engineering this DNA could yield some fruitful grid-edge business cases down the road -- just the kind of thing we'll be talking about at our Grid Edge Live 2014 conference in San Diego this month.