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Startup Gridco wants to build a next-gen power grid that looks like the Internet

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Will tomorrow’s power grid look much more like the Internet than it does today with decentralized and distributed networking? That’s the idea behind Gridco Systems, a startup founded by Naimish Patel, a serial entrepreneur who previously was the co-founding CTO of optical networking company Sycamore Networks. Patel and his team are using digital solid state transformers and software that ingests data in real time to create a new type of distributed control and power electronics networking product for utilities that looks far more like an Internet network product than a utility tool.

Three-year-old Gridco is selling this networking gear and software to utilities to enable them to have greater control over their networks and to be able to maintain a greater degree of reliability, more similar to the reliability that Internet companies currently have, and utilities rarely have. The promise is that potential utility customers can have self-healing, and smarter grids, so when one section of a grid goes down, other areas of the grid can route around that section and the overall system can maintain function.

With old-school electromechanical grid equipment, which is the dominant form of grid power electronics today,  it’s hard to create this type a resilient grid. The sector needs digital control systems, says Patel, to enable the installation of widespread solar panels and wind turbines. These type of new solid state transformers are new, and so is the combo of using them with more sophisticated digital networking tools.

Gridco has raised a little over $20 million so far, from investors including General Catalyst, North Bridge venture partners, Lux Capital, and RockPort Capital. This is a Series A round, so you can imagine that the company might raise quite a few more rounds before it matures.

Patel tells me he wanted to create a product in the power grid industry because of the “massive opportunity” for “an industry that sorely needs it.” He likes “solving big problems,” says Patel, as does his investors. The team is still a small group, though Patel wouldn’t name how many employees the company has. The company also was mum on all details of its technology.

“The network could embody the best of telco networks, delivering higher degrees of reliability to the distribution network,” says Patel. Patel wouldn’t tell me which utilities were trialling its technology, but said the company is engaged in talks around pilots for a variety of vendors.

The clear draw back of this technology is that because it’s a replacement product, meant to replace the current old mechanical transformers, utilities — and their rate approval boards — might take awhile to justify the investment.

3 Responses to “Startup Gridco wants to build a next-gen power grid that looks like the Internet”

  1. One major problem with developing diverse routes for electricity is that you lose energy. Bits going through diverse routes are repeated by switches in the route, you really can’t do that with electricity, no matter what kind of transformer you are using. Eventually you run out of energy.

    The other problem is that the margins on grid operators are extremely low, and adding renewables at “net metering” (IE retail) rates just compound the problem. Capital outlays for redundant paths aren’t a big priority when uptime is already in the 99.9% range, and most people aren’t willing to pay for that extra .099%