We caught up with Sandra Kwak, Director of Marketing and Ecosystem Partnerships at US-based Big Data startup Autogrid, to talk about their company and products. AutoGrid uses the power of big-data analytics to handle the exponentially expanding wave of information being generated by smart meters, building management systems, voltage regulators, thermostats and other equipment enabling utilities and consumers track and curb power use, reduce waste, balance the grid, improve system operations and even predict future consumption.
Could you tell us a little bit about Autogrid?
Autogrid is turning the world’s energy data into power. We are organizing the various streams of data collected from smart grids that in turn come from meters, connected devices, homes, businesses, and renewable energy. With this information we have built an energy data platform with powerful predictive analytics. Autogrid algorithms can forecast future supply and demands on the grid. On top of this energy data platform, we have built several apps for utilities, power providers and power users to better manage their electricity.
How did this idea come about?
Our founder Amit Narayan was on the team that designed eight of the 10 chips on the first iPhone. He wanted a harder problem so he started looking into smart grids. He became the Director of Smart Grid Research at Stanford and he realized that the grid is like a giant microchip. He figured that, in order to track all the power flow across the gigantic microchip, he needed to have accurate data. He then started to source all of this data from the grid, and he came across this big problem. We actually secured investment before the company was founded and we’re trying to tackle one of the biggest issues of our time, which is energy.
How do you compare what you do against the competition, if any?
In terms of analytics, most companies in the industry are looking at the retroactive data. They’re taking your historical information and telling you what you did in the past. Our algorithms forecast the future. Not only do we take into account your past behaviour and real-time information, we also look at future implications such as weather and voltage conditions on the grid. We can take in this information and predict what your future power usage is going to be, so that we can optimize and hedge against risk on the grid.
Is your product for businesses only or is it also for consumers?
Our apps are for power providers and power users. We just co–developed an app with NTT Data, which is the fifth largest IT company in the world. (This app is called the Energy Cost Optimizer, and it’s for facilities to manage their energy-remove). Our utility portals, in a lot of cases, are being branded by the utility or a third party provider like Silver Spring or Schneider Electric. In those cases it is presented to the end users as their apps but it is essentially Autogrid’s underlying platform that is supporting it. The app is also available for endusers, so we have several different versions of the app and different hierarchy for different user levels, ranging from the power provider (the top level) all the way down to the end user.
The second way in which we differentiate is that we have a complete open system of eco-vendors. Hardware providers can join the Autogrid ecosystem and we can send out signals to actually control devices in the field. That way we can communicate over all the different protocols and channels. Instead of the utility being locked into a single stack of hardware, they can continue to add new technology as it comes online. We can send out signals to control thermostats or lighting, built-in control systems, electric vehicle and battery backup systems. As utilities want to add new technology, we can continue to add those into the mix of devices that they can use to send signals and control.
How do you communicate with these devices? Are the devices in field 3G devices or GPRS? How do they connect to your platform?
We basically have protocols for every existing type of communication channel that is out there. We support open standards. We are board members of the OpenADR Alliance which stands for Open Automated Demand Response. It’s a global protocol and you can automatically communicate with anyone who is already integrated with OpenADR. However, we also support a number of proprietary and proprietary protocols and systems integrators.
What is your revenue model?
We operate it as Software As A Service, so we license our applications and platforms. We will sell our apps directly to the market, and then we are also working with a couple of select third-party providers who co-develop apps on our platforms right now. Eventually we will have APIs, so third-party providers can build their own apps on our platforms.
Moving forward, what does your company need most? Is it more investment, more talent, or more customers?
We need developers, and we will hire internationals. If you know of any brilliant computer scientist or data scientist, send them our way to auto-grid.com/careers. We have a pretty amazing team right now. We are based in Silicon Valley and we have programmers from Stanford, Berkeley and MIT. We will hire of 14-year-old if they’re a genius, so send them my way.
Where do you see Autogrid one year from now?
We have been doubling in size or more every year. We’re now moving into the European market. We just announced a major investment from E.ON as a strategic investor, and this will be a long-term plan for us to better understand the utility market from here on.
Image and video credit: Autogrid