Companies Vie to Define the New Grid

November 17, 2015 By Carl Weinschenk

internetAutoGrid says that it has struck a deal with Dutch power company Eneco Group. Eneco, which has more than 2 million customers, will use AutoGrid’s Predictive Controls and DROMS application to create a “software-defined power plant” that will enable Eneco’s customers to save, use, exchange or sell energy, according to AutoGrid.

The deal is illustrative of the emerging grid. It now is possible to gather extraordinarily granular data about the status of energy supplies, where they are being used and where they are needed or will be needed in the future. It also is possible to store and dispatch the energy on an agile and multidirectional basis. The business models are changing as well.

In response to questions from Energy Manager Today, AutoGrid Director of Product Marketing John McLean wrote that a “software-defined power plant” – his company’s marketing term for the concept — “enables utilities, energy service providers and other enterprises to integrate a large number of flexible distributed energy resources into a single, dispatch-grade resource that they can forecast, manage, optimize and dispatch.”

The assets that can be integrated into such a system include energy storage, solar, CHP and demand response programs, he wrote.

The broadest way to look at the category is as “the energy cloud,” a term used by Navigant Research. Noah Goldstein, the Research Director for the firm, defined the energy cloud last month during an Energy Manager Today Behind the Meter podcast as a totally new approach. “It is a construct that takes us from the traditional centralized hub and spoke one-way electrical grid to a much more decentralized network view of how energy is transported and moved to different elements of the power sector, which are also growing.”

Moving from the basic idea that there is an ongoing marriage of energy, information technology and telecommunications to commercialization is not easy. The category is broad and there are many other players from the energy, IT and telecommunications sectors. Some of the firms that are similar to AutoGrid are C3 Energy, Space-Time Insight and Bit Stew.

C3, for instance, defines itself as a company that provides “data aggregation, real-time analytics, business intelligence capabilities, and an intuitive, responsive user experience. The C3 Analytics Engine federates grid, operational, and customer data – at processing rates of up to 6.5 billion transactions per hour – in a fully provisioned, hosted, secure, grid analytic infrastructure.”

In other words, C3 is trying to marry big data analytics and the mechanisms that can control the intelligent flow of energy and establish the monetization processes that such services can support.

Much the same is true of Space-Time Insight. It describes itself as a company that provides a view of “the big picture” of anything being controlled by the system. It uses spatial, temporal and nodal analysis, which can be combined with the Internet of Things (IoT), to track “the what, where, when, why and how of every asset and situation.”

A final example of the new type of company springing up is Bit Stew. Its mission sounds similar. Bit Stew unites “centrally managed data sources with connected devices across a utility’s infrastructure” and “combine[s] real-time data management, analytics and rich visualizations. The goal is to “discover new business insights, improve operations and asset performance,” the company says.

There clearly are differences between what these four companies and others do, how they operate and their plans for monetization. However, the main goal – using emerging telecom and big data tools to revolutionize energy distribution – is the same.

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