Smart grid startups have gotten more investment commitments this week than they have over the entire first quarter of this year. Earlier this week it was the $200 million smart grid pledge from GE and the group of venture capitalists, and on Thursday smart grid network firm Trilliant announced that it has raised a massive $106 million from power gear companies ABB and GE, and investors Investor Growth Capital, and VantagePoint Venture Partners.
That is a lot of money from some very well-known names, and suddenly boosts the sometimes overlooked Trilliant into a prime position. Redwood City, Calif.–based Trilliant has been around since 1985, but refocused on the smart grid about six years ago, and raised a $40 million VC financing round in 2008. Its biggest (publicly announced) client is Ontario, Canada, utility Hydro One, which is using Trilliant to create a neighborhood area-network for some 800,000 meters installed out of an estimated 1.1 million due by the end of next year.
But to compete with well-funded companies like Silver Spring Networks — which raised $100 million in equity funding in December ($275 million in total) and is expected to IPO this year — Trilliant had to get some big guns in its corner. Trilliant’s SVP, Solutions, Eric Miller told me in an interview that while ABB and GE are investors they are also partners. ABB has certified its grid operations equipment with Trilliant’s network products a year ago and GE has been bidding on several utility contracts with Trilliant.
While Trilliant was rumored to be on the greentech IPO short list this year, which would have been an alternative to raising funds from the private market, Miller told me that raising money from venture and private equity investors has always been the plan. The company has currently raised a total of $146 million.
One of the major differences between Trilliant and some of its competitors like Silver Spring is that Trilliant utilizes the 2.4-gigahertz wireless band and its wireless gear is based on the 802.15.4 protocol underlying ZigBee, but with a modified IP-based networking architecture. Silver Spring uses 900-megahertz for its radios and Internet protocol for networking.
But Trilliant’s network can offer a lot higher bandwidth at 256 kilobits per home and up to 54 megabits at the wide area network level. That’s fast enough to run the hardware of the grid itself (all that mission critical gear that ensures the grid doesn’t blow up), and could be one of the reasons why ABB and GE (which sells this gear) are interested in Trilliant.
Another selling point is that Trilliant offers an all-in-one system. Smart grid analyst Jesse Berst explained it this way: “A company that can offer a single console and guaranteed plug-and-play integration would have an advantage in convenience and speed of installation.” Last year Trilliant bought long-range wireless provider SkyPilot Networks with the goal to bring an end-to-end network in house.
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