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Zome Energy Networks: The Google for the grid?

Updated: Startup Zome Energy Networks spoke for the first time at AlwaysOn GoingGreen on Wednesday about its software that can help utilities balance energy supply and demand in real time. Zome CEO Brad Kayton, who co-founded digital home company 4Home (bought by Motorola) (s mmi) and broadband video company 2Wire (bought by Pace), said that he thinks Zome’s algorithms will “revolutionize the smart grid” and that the company’s software can do for the power grid what Google’s algorithms did for the web in the ’90s.

The algorithms have been under development since 2005, at MIT, and focus on a smarter way to link home and building devices and utility power generation. The algorithms use a framework called engineered “self-organization” where components on the network interact amongst themselves in real time and can adapt to information, in contrast to a more traditional method of a central server connecting with each component individually on the network. The concept kind of reminded me of the way that Regen Energy is using software based on swarm logic to manage appliances in buildings and electric cars like a swarm of bees or a flock of fish.

Kayton calls Zome’s technology the first type of “demand supplyide optimization,” and the company plans to launch its first software product in the fourth quarter of 2011. That first tool will offer utilities analytics to take a deep dive into not-yet-deployed demand supply projects smart meter networks. Next year, the company will start selling its “demand supply management” server to utilities that links with home and building devices that use Zome’s smart device software.

The idea is that utilities can use the Zome server and home devices to manage home and building energy usage in real time, and shave off up to 20 percent of energy demand from customers without them necessarily being aware of the curtailment. Demand can also be more finely tuned with supply, particularly from clean power sources, which fluctuate the amount of power they produce at any one time (the sun shines and the wind blows only at certain times of day). Zome says its system can aggregate those tiny shaved off loads from home devices, which is similar to what EcoFactor is looking to do with connected thermostats.

Zome is looking to use the emerging standard U-SNAP (Utility Smart Network Access Port) for its home and building devices, and U-SNAP wants to be a USB-like standard for switching different communications modules – such as ZigBee, Wi-Fi, Z-Wave and FM radio – in and out of mass-market gear like smart appliances and home energy dashboards. Zome Co-Founder Jon Rappaport also co-founded the U-SNAP Alliance, whose members include Google(s GOOG), General Electric(s GE), Comverge, Trilliant, 4Home and smart meter maker Sensus.

One of the big barriers to the idea is the slow movement of connected home energy devices. This market has been particularly slow-moving, with utility trials taking many months if not years, and consumers not being all that interested in energy-saving products. U-SNAP is also somewhat new. Zome says it has a dozen utility trials (but declined to disclose the utilities) several of which are in Ontario, a couple in the U.S. and a couple in India. (Update: Zome clarified that these are letters of intent for trials). Zome has raised $500,000 in investment and plans to raise a $1.2 million round in the fourth quarter of 2011.

One Response to “Zome Energy Networks: The Google for the grid?”

  1. This is an interesting technology. But I think the cleantech space suffers from no one yet attacking the “hearts and minds” problem. Much like the military in Afghanistan discovered, great capable solutions are not enough. Unless you also address peoples attitudes you cannot change behaviors.