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5 Startups Putting Wireless To Work for Energy

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GigaOM readers are well-versed in both the wireless broadband networks that carriers are building and the Wi-Fi gear that we use in our homes, but what about the wireless technology that is starting to manage energy for the power grid as well as energy use within our homes? Sensor technology and wireless networks can provide disruptive innovations and increased transparency for the energy industry, enabling utilities to make the grid smarter and help consumers slash energy use.

Here’s our pick of five startups that are using wireless in innovative ways to change the energy landscape.

Eka Wireless: Eka is an eight-year-old company that develops wireless mesh networks to help utilities deliver energy conservation services. Eka’s wireless mesh networks use open, non-licensed spectrum and supply embedded nodes for so-called smart meters, digital two-way electricity meters that help utilities share price information with energy customers. The company is based in Maryland, has more than 65 employees and has raised $40 million in total from investors, FlyBridge Capital Partners, Angeleno Group, RockPort Capital Partners and The Westly Group.

EnOcean: This German company that was spun out of Siemens (s SI) in 2001 makes “battery-free” wireless sensor networks that use energy-harvesting technology and low-power radios to cut down energy use in buildings and homes. Sensors can do everything from detecting presence in rooms (i.e., shut off lights when not in use), to transmitting data about temperature, lighting and individual appliances throughout a building. EnOcean’s energy-harvesting technology turns tiny amounts of energy — from pressure, vibration and changes in temperature — into useable electricity for the network. The company has raised €20 million in funding from Wellington Partners, 3i Group, Emerald Technology Ventures, Siemens Venture Capital, Siemens Technology Accelerator, BayTech Venture Capital and ATMOS.

Ember: Ember, a company founded in 2001 and backed by Ethernet inventor Bob Metcalfe, makes the building blocks — chips, gear and software — of ZigBee-based wireless networks. ZigBee is a wireless standard that has gained a lot of traction for use in energy monitoring networks because the technology is low power, low bandwidth and low cost. Based in Boston, Ember has raised $81 million raised from Polaris Venture Partners, GrandBanks Capital, RRE Ventures, Vulcan Capital, DFJ ePlanet Ventures, DFJ New England, WestLB Mellon Asset Management (formerly West AM), ChevronTexaco Technology Ventures, Hitachi Corporation, Stata Venture Partners and MIT. Based in Germantown, Mnd., Ember has reportedly raised $40 million from the Angeleno Group, Rockport Capital Partners, Flybridge Capital Partners and The Westly Group.

SmartSynch: Smart meters are the connection between the utility and the power user. SmartSynch‘s technology uses makes current wireless networks, like cellular and Wi-Fi, to connect the utility to the smart meter. Using those networks is cheaper and faster to deploy smart-meter services, explains SmartSynch. The company has raised $80 million from Credit Suisse, Southern Farm Bureau Life, Battelle Ventures, Beacon Group, Endeavor Capital Management, GulfSouth Capital, Innovation Valley Partners, Kinetic Ventures, OPG Ventures, Nth Power, JP Morgan Partners, Siemens Venture Capital and Duke Ventures.

MMB Research: This small, young team of developers found they were consulting so much on ZigBee wireless networks and applications that they decided to create a company to sell ZigBee development software and services. As ZigBee has become the leading standard for home energy monitoring systems, more companies will have to learn how to develop for it. Why not get some help? The Toronto-based company is bootstrapped but says it could start looking for funding sometime next year.

Interested in knowing more? Check out the first Earth2Tech Briefing on “The Smart Energy Home,” 23-pages of detailed information about up and coming players that are using information technology to deliver the next-generation smart.

7 Responses to “5 Startups Putting Wireless To Work for Energy”

  1. Robert Poor


    Great article, but there seems to be a cut-and-paste error in the last sentence of the paragraph on Ember.

    To set the record straight: Ember is located in Boston, MA and has raised $81M in venture funding from Polaris, DFJ New England, GrandBanks, RRE, Vulcan Capital, Chevron Texaco Technology Ventures, Hitachi Ltd. and WestAM and others.

    – rdp

  2. It’s OK to put GPRS/3G modems in meters but it would be expensive for a thermostat. And a lot of thermostats don’t have mains wiring. So wireless is the option for demand response.

  3. My employer in the UK happens to be doing a variant of what Eric (commenter #1) suggests. All of our deployed electric meters (and soon the gas ones) have GSM/GPRS devices installed, and communicate directly with the central servers to report meter data. Readings are saved every 30 minutes, uploaded once a day. Customers get a load profile that shows this half-hour usage, so they can adapt their usage into the cheaper-rate tariff. For places like apartment blocks, the meters talk over power-line carrier to a concentrator, which then chats to us. No humans need to check the meter unless there’s a problem with it.

    Slow isn’t an issue either, meter readings can be compressed, and an entire day’s worth of data is (afaik) less than 100 bytes.

    We’re also, again afaik, the first electricity supplier in the UK offering this kind of metering to the general public.

  4. Lots of reasons not to use ‘broadband over power lines’ but here are the two most significant:
    – it costs a lot of money to put the equipment throughout the electric grid to propagate the signal, and it is much cheaper to use other network infrastructure
    – if the power line goes down, the communications goes down – a single point of complete failure for both tasks is not a good thing
    Those two reasons and many more are why BPL companies like Ambient and Current have been unable to get any traction in that market.

  5. why not just use ip over power…. granted the throughput is slow, but there have been great improvements in the last few years. Ive wondered for years why electric companies haven’t installed power meters that report back to the company instead of hiring people to walk the beat. They could also devices at switching stations/hubs to better control fluctuation in power requirements as well as reroute power if necessary REMOTELY AND INSTANTANEOUSLY. Why go wireless when the wires are already there.