There’s Big Money In Energy Big Data

May 24, 2016, 7:01 PM UTC
Apple solar site California
The power grid that leads into the site of the California solar farm that will provide Apple with electricity.
Photograph by Katie Fehrenbacher

Some day the power grid may operate a lot more intelligently, using data sources like the Internet does. But until then, there will be a growing need for new technology to create, crunch, and analyze energy data.

On Tuesday, startup AutoGrid, which has developed data analytics for utilities, announced that it’s raised another round of $20 million. It is just one example of the heightened interest by investors and entrepreneurs in new data tools for the energy industry.

The funding was led by Energy Impact Partners, an investment group that raised money from power companies like Southern Company (SO), National Grid (NGG), and Xcel Energy (XEL). Additional investors in AutoGrid’s round include venture capitalists Foundation Capital, Voyager Capital, and Envision Ventures, as well as E.ON Venture Partners, the investing arm of German energy company E.ON.

For more on what the energy grid could look like in the future watch our video.

AutoGrid, founded in 2011, has built software that can suck in large amounts of energy data, like data about the amount of electricity used in homes and buildings, data from smart devices on the grid like transformers and generators, and data about grid problems like outages. The company’s algorithms can ingest and analyze the information and provide services to utilities and power companies, like sending automated predictions, optimizing the performance of grid devices, and charting energy usage trends.

The company was founded by Amit Narayan, who was previously the director of Smart Grid Simulation Research at Stanford University, and is now AutoGrid’s CEO. AutoGrid’s customers include some of the biggest power companies like E.ON, Southern California Edison, SMUD, Florida Power & Light, Austin Energy, and Oklahoma Gas & Electric, along with the city of Palo Alto, Calif.

For example, Florida Power & Light is using AutoGrid’s software to predict when trees growing around the power grid need to be maintained. Smarter predictions like these mean Florida Power & Light can save money by avoiding outages from trees falling on power lines.

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AutoGrid plans to use the newly-raised funds to expand its sales and develop new applications for its energy software. The company previously raised at least another $20 million from investors.

Energy data has been a hot area for startups and investors, despite the difficulties that companies have faced building businesses in cleantech. Last month software giant Oracle (ORCL) announced that it planned to buy Opower, one of the first energy data startups that makes software to reduce utility customers’ energy use. Other energy data startups like eMeter, which makes analytics that crunch smart meter data, have been acquired by power companies like Siemens at high prices.

At the same time, big data startups that make tools for companies across many industries, like Palantir, are finding customers in energy. And power companies are starting to adopt technologies that were developed for the Internet, like blockchain, which is a coding system that is the foundation of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.

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