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The Bulletin

Using big data to give the smart grid a brain

Posting in Cities

A tsunami of data generated by an increasing number of connected devices like smart meters, building management systems and even thermostats is flowing toward utilities. But so far, utilities have failed to take full advantage of that valuable data.

Enter AutoGrid Systems, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup using big data analytics--similar to recommendation engines used on e-commerce sites like Amazon or algorithms for predicting weather--to help utilities, grid operators and consumers harness that data and put it to work.

The company, which launched in 2011, unveiled Monday an energy data software platform it says can help utilities and consumers track and curb power use, reduce waste, balance the grid, improve system operations and even predict future consumption.

In other words, AutoGrid has given the "smart grid" a brain.

The company's cloud-based Energy Data Platform uses petabytes of structured and unstructured data to create forecasts of future consumption under normal and event conditions--for instance, Frankenstorm--by examining trends, past consumption patterns and relationships between millions of variables. The software learns continuously and becomes more accurate over time, according to AutoGrid.

AutoGrid says the software is "hardware neutral," meaning it can be used in any system, doesn't require a lot of capital and can deployed in weeks--all attractive features to utilities.

Utilities have invested considerable funds into the installation of smart meters. But as AutoGrid notes, the two-way devices have been mostly used to ensure accurate billing, falling far short of their potential.

AutoGrid aims to turn that data into actionable intelligence through services like grid optimization and predictive applications.

The company's first such product tackles demand response--a program utilities use to manage customer consumption of energy at different peak times to better manage the grid. The software-as-a-service platform, called DROMS, essentially organizes and executes a utility's demand response program, including the actual shutdown of power loads. AutoGrid says DROMS will reduce the cost of implementing demand response by 90 percent, while increasing the response rates to these programs by 30 percent.

The city of Palo Alto and Sacramento Municipal Utilities District are both using the the demand response product. CPAU has been using DROMS in a program to help large, industrial customers. AutoGrid said the system allowed CPAU to cut an average of 1.2 megawatts of peak demand, saving 3.5 megawatt hours of electricity, per event.

The company also announced it has raised $9 million in venture funding from major investors in Silicon Valley including Foundation Capital, Voyager Capital and Stanford University. AutoGrid also received a $2.87 million grant last year from the U.S. Department of Energy's ARPA-E program.

Photo: Flickr user Trevor Stoddart, CC 2.0

— By on October 29, 2012, 4:15 AM PST

Kirsten Korosec

Contributing Editor

Kirsten Korosec has written for Technology Review, Marketing News, The Hill, BNET and Bloomberg News. She holds a degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She is based in Tucson, Arizona. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure