Smart grid data analytics can involve massive utility IT integration and warehousing projects, or cloud computing infrastructures meant to churn through data records of millions of smart meters at a time.
They can also come in a more a la carte flavor, for the thousands of smaller utilities that can’t afford the biggest “big data” offerings out there.
That’s the approach startup Verdeeco has taken to grid analytics -- and the results it is getting for its growing roster of small utility clients has attracted some attention from the smart-grid big leagues. On Monday, big smart meter and grid networking vendor Sensus announced its acquisition of the Atlanta-based startup, with plans to incorporate its GridDNA analytics engine into its operations in short order.
Sensus president Randy Bays declined to disclose the purchase price in a Friday interview. He also denied the accuracy of the $5 million price reported by the Atlanta Business Chronicle, but wouldn’t say whether that publication's estimate was too low or too high.
That makes it hard to determine how Verdeeco’s venture capital investors made out on the deal. The startup has operated on a lean budget, with only $800,000 in disclosed funding from investors including the Atlanta Technology Angels, Auburn Angel Network and Upstate Carolina Angel Network.
“We’re going to make a significant investment in this company, so we can supercharge Verdeeco and our own internal efforts as well,” Bays said. When it comes to data analytics, “every single customer I’ve visited is talking about this, and they have strong needs,” he added.
This observation underscores the need for Sensus and its competitors to bring more flexibility to their data analytics offerings. We’ve seen significant announcements on this front from smart-meter makers like Itron, Landis+Gyr and General Electric, smart meter networking vendors such as Silver Spring Networks and Cisco, and meter data management vendors including Oracle and eMeter.
Sensus, which has more than 16 million electric, gas and water meters deployed worldwide, had been comparatively quiet on what it’s bringing to the big-data table. Like many of its competitors, it has established analytics partnerships, both on the large scale with IBM, and for the smaller municipal and co-op market with Harris Utilities. It’s also working with Navetas, a U.K. startup with energy disaggregation technology that can tease out individual customer loads from whole-premise energy data, through Sensus’ investment in the company and an exclusive North American partnership.
With Verdeeco, Sensus gains a cloud-based platform that now counts ten utilities as customers, but is built to scale to far larger numbers of users, according to Verdeeco CEO Brian Crow. The startup was one of the first to launch an “apps store” for customers that want access to the data analytics tools -- Hadoop, Cassandra, NoSQL database architectures and other distributed computing technologies -- but don’t have the deep pockets to build the technologies for themselves.
To get there, Verdeeco has been integrating its IT architecture with the sources of data it’s subjecting to analysis, including Sensus, which just happens to supply smart meters for half of the utilities it is working with today. That includes Verdeeco’s flagship customer, Wake Electric Membership Cooperative, a 36,500-customer, North Carolina-based electric co-op that’s been turning its smart meters into grid voltage optimization sensors and sources of transformer loading analysis, among other advanced features.
Verdeeco’s transformer monitoring will be the first application Sensus will be putting to broader use, Bays said. The idea is to comb through data from smart meters, grid sensors and SCADA systems to determine the ongoing health and status of transformers across the grid, whether it’s to find those about to fail and fix them, optimize replacement plans, or other such asset management tasks.
But Verdeeco now has a total of fourteen analytics “apps” now being used by customers in the field, and “we’ve got a roadmap to launch those as well,” Bays said. “It’s not just metrology -- we want to have the full package, front to back.”
Those analytics packages run the gamut, Crow said, from turning interval meter data into day-by-day revenue forecasts, to providing “what you’d call the traditional business intelligence part of analytics,” he said. Traditional business intelligence tools may be common among big investor-owned utilities, but there are thousands of smaller utilities behind the curve in deploying software of this type that are eager for a subscription-based version to try out.
“'Analytics' is a very nebulous term,” he said. “For some, it’s a dashboard and a spreadsheet. For others, it’s a mathematical algorithm that can take minutes or weeks to solve.” While a few vanguard utilities are investing in platforms like those on offer from C3 Energy to perform analytics across the enterprise, more are testing out parts and pieces of what’s available, to make sure they’re able to deliver their promised value before spending more.
Verdeeco’s approach fits into that model. As with all its data analytics competitors, the question is how it can convince an increasing number of utilities that it can deliver the right combination of revenue-enhancing and cost-reducing insights -- at the right price. Sensus is no doubt eager to incorporate these analytics tools into its business in order to gain market share and build ongoing service revenues into its business models. But so are all of its competitors.