Smart grid hasn’t gotten any sexier as a target of venture capital investment so far this year, despite the long-awaited IPO of smart grid networking startup Silver Spring Networks. That’s the upshot of Mercom Capital Group’s first quarter 2013 smart grid VC report released Monday, which found a global total of $62 million in nine venture investment deals.
That’s pretty much flat in both dollar and deal-count terms from the previous quarter, and almost exactly matches the $62 million in ten deals from the first quarter of 2012. Deal size has also shrunk considerably from the industry’s VC peak of mid-2010, with only a handful of big deals in tangential industries, such as Alarm.com’s $136 million raise last year, to break the monotony.
Still, 2013 has seen some interesting smart grid investments, including a previously unreported $15 million round for grid sensor startup Sentient Energy, Mercom reported. The Burlingame, Calif.-based startup previously raised an unspecified amount from Foundation Capital Partners and General Electric as part of GE’s Ecomagination program, which split $55 million amongst twelve companies in 2010.
Sentient is working with Silver Spring to add its self-powered powerline sensors to Silver Spring’s mesh-plus-cellular smart grid network, and shares an investor in Foundation. Grid sensors are an important part of the distribution automation (DA) landscape, with plenty of startups and niche players contending against grid giants like GE, Siemens, ABB, Toshiba and Schneider Electric. GE actually bought FMC-Tech, a grid sensor maker and Ecomagination investment winner, back in 2011.
The other top investment for the first quarter went to cybersecurity startup Cylance, which raised $15 million in February from Khosla Ventures and Fairhaven Capital. Securing the grid from cyber-intrusion or sabotage is going to be a focus of the industry this year, with the Obama administration issuing an executive order on the subject, and a “critical infrastructure” protection bill making its way through Congress.
Other first-quarter rounds of note included £7.5 million ($11.3 million) for Utility Funding, a U.K.-based company working on integrating the country’s smart electric, gas and water meters to come; £3 million ($4.8 million) raised by Smarter Grid Solutions, a company that makes software to integrate existing grid assets with new, more unstable resources like wind farms and demand response-enabled buildings; and $5.7 million raised by Xtreme Power, the advanced lead-acid battery startup that is now selling off its battery factory to concentrate on the software and systems to integrated energy storage into the grid.
On the mergers and acquisitions front, Mercom reported four deals, including only one with a valuation attached. That’s Toshiba’s acquisition of home energy controls startup Consert, which Mercom reported at $11 million -- a figure that the companies have said is inaccurate, though they’ve declined to correct it with a true purchase price. That leaves little to measure the first quarter’s M&A tally against, in terms of the $22 million in four deals reported in the same quarter of 2012.