Schneider Electric has invested in Silicon Valley startup AutoGrid, with plans to put its data analytics and machine learning to use in managing distributed energy resources and microgrids for industrial and commercial customers.
Wednesday's investment led by Schneider Electric Ventures will give it roughly a 10 percent stake in AutoGrid, Heriberto Diarte, executive vice president of the venture arm of the French electrical equipment and grid technology giant, said in an interview. The Redwood City, Calif.-based AutoGrid has raised more than $75 million in funding.
Schneider is also launching a “co-innovation partnership” with AutoGrid, focused on using its Energy Internet and Flex platforms to plan, implement and manage distributed energy projects.
Schneider is a major player in the microgrid space, from islands and remote operations, to utility-integrated systems like its showcase projects with Duke Energy and Texas utility Oncor. It's also working on microgrid-as-a-service, both on its own and through financing partnerships like the one it launched with the Carlyle Group to develop a solar-powered microgrid for JFK Airport and other sites.
Schneider has been working with AutoGrid since a 2013 partnership to optimize its Wiser brand of smart thermostats and home energy management devices, using the startup’s first product, its demand response optimization and management system. The two companies share several common utility clients, and have begun to integrate their respective software platforms, although they "are at the very beginning" of that process, Diarte said.
Most of AutoGrid's utility customers — a list that includes Sacramento Municipal Utility District, Oklahoma Gas & Electric, Austin Energy, Florida Power & Light and Hawaiian Electric — have focused on demand response and customer demand-side management applications optimization.
But a growing number are using the startup’s Flex application for “integrated flexibility management” of DERs. Projects using Flex are now underway in North America, Europe and Asia, at scales ranging from industrial cooling and heating systems to behind-the-meter batteries.
Among these projects, "we have been working on optimization of microgrids as well," AutoGrid CEO Amit Narayan said in a Wednesday interview.
AutoGrid’s system is also designed to incorporate a multitude of possible sources of flexibility, a useful trait for utilities or big C&I customers that want to combine multiple technologies and business practices to optimize the cost-benefit ratio of their DER investments.
For example, utility National Grid is working with AutoGrid to manage about 400 megawatts of demand resources in New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, ranging from old-school emergency commercial and industrial load control, to aggregated DERs as alternatives to traditional grid investment.
Schneider plans to incorporate the full range of AutoGrid's capabilities into its microgrids business, Diarte said.
The startup's data and insight into behind-the-meter assets will be an important complement to Schneider's existing microgrid design and operational advisory software, he noted. And beyond the site-by-site microgrid controls, Schneider "wants to offer value for the things that happen beyond the microgrid," through integrating multiple sites into virtual power plants, he said.
Its backers represent a who’s-who of energy technology investors, and include Dutch oil giant Shell’s VC arm Shell Ventures, Hong Kong-based CLP, Germany’s Innogy, Danish renewables giant Ørsted (formerly Dong Energy), U.S. power generator Tenaska, German energy giant E.ON, Total Energy Ventures, ClearSky Power & Technology Fund, Foundation Capital, and Energy Impact Partners, the 14-utility partnership that’s raised more than $600 million to invest in energy technology startups across multiple areas of utility interest.
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