First Up for Google Ventures: Silver Spring's Smart Grid

The news is out this morning that Google has officially announced its new venture capital arm (the venture fund has been reported over the last few months). Which sector is already hot on its radar? The smart grid, of course, just like that of every other investor in cleantech. According to the New York Times one of the first investments for Google Ventures, which plans to spend $100 million over the next 12 months, is Silver Spring Networks. We also confirmed the funding with the company.

Silver Spring is a mature company that develops Internet Protocol-based hardware and software to add intelligence to the power grid, helping utilities provide smart meter and demand response services to energy users. The company is a safe bet for Google, and it is already well funded with around $150 million led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Foundation Capital. Google Ventures says it plans to invest in everything from early-stage to later mezzanine rounds, but the Silver Spring investment definitely falls more into that latter category. Google didn’t disclose to the New York Times how much its investment in Silver Spring was, and Silver Spring also refused to give us more details on the size of the round.

Piling on funds for an already-established technology in an area that Google doesn’t particularly know that well is actually a good strategy. While the search engine giant can take more risks in web and mobile technologies, sticking to well-regarded firms in areas that cross over with IT — like smart grid — is smarter than investing tens of millions of dollars in experimental early-stage areas of renewable energy. Through its unit, Google has been pretty active at finding early-stage companies, like electric car maker Aptera, solar thermal company eSolar and geothermal firm AltaRock Energy, but it remains to be seen whether any of these companies will succeed.

Google has already announced it’s been focusing on the smart grid through its PowerMeter online tool for smart meter data, and has been working with GE on ways to make that commercially available. As we’ve said before, using its expertise to help manage the world’s energy data could be an area of cleantech in which Google can make a huge difference.

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