Technology Merit: Smart Grid & Energy Management


ENBALA Power Networks (Toronto) for developing and commercializing demand-side storage network technology that uses advanced controls and sophisticated software to aggregate large-scale commercial, industrial and institutional electricity users into a network to provide demand side management services to power grids. ENBALA calls its clients' flexibility, "demand-side storage" because they utilize available storage within their processes, such as water pumping at a water and wastewater treatment plant or chilling at a refrigerated warehouse. ENBALA then captures and intelligently aggregates available process storage to deliver real-time flexibility back to the grid.

ENBALA's networked loads provide grid operators with the vital regulation service, (also known as frequency regulation) they need to constantly match generation with load. ENBALA has branded its regulation service as Grid Balance. While it would be extremely difficult for any single load to respond on its own to the four-second regulation signal, by networking facilities together, ENBALA creates the agility and responsiveness needed to provide regulation. "The idea is that water plant A has a bit of flexibility, water plant B has some flexibility and a cold storage plant has some flexibility. We aggregate that flexibility together," said CEO Ron Dizy. "No single device responds to the signal, the network responds."

Since rolling out Grid Balance in 2011, ENBALA has added other applications for wind integration and generator efficiency-which also aggregate networked demand-side loads' inherent storage. ENBALA has won several "best of" and "companies to watch" shout-outs from electricity trade media, including being named one of Canada's Top 10 Most Promising Cleantech Companies in December 2012 by the ethical business outfit Corporate Knights.

Like curtailment service providers (CSPs) such as EnerNOC, ENBALA is paid by the electric utility or grid operator, sharing the payment with the supplier-clients. But ENBALA is unique in providing its Grid Balance regulation service to a market that independent power producer AES estimated at between 8 and 10 GW in the United States in 2011. The firm is also unique in its networking of demand side loads, not just for control, visibility and accounting, but in order to respond as an orchestrated group.

Since November, 2011, ENBALA, which has 50 employees, has been selling Grid Balance to the PJM Interconnection region (13 states including Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland) and has recently been awarded a contract for Grid Balance from the Independent Electricity System Operator in Ontario. In addition to water treatment and wastewater treatment plants, ENBALA is prioritizing chillers in cold storage facilities, HVAC systems at auto assembly plants, hospitals and universities, among other types of industrial and commercial organizations.

Tendril (Boulder, Colo.) for pioneering technology for the emerging home energy management (HEM) market, through which residents will be able to monitor their energy consumption and manage their usage for greater efficiency and to participate in residential demand response (DR) programs.

Named in March 2012 as one of the to 10 New Energy Pioneers by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, Tendril has alliances with heavy hitters in the energy world: GE and Siemens are investors; Tendril systems have been integrated with the infrastructure and networks of Elster, Itron, Landis + Gyr, Sensus, Silver Spring Networks and Trilliant.

Like Silver Spring, EnergyHub and other players in this space, Tendril developed a cloud-based platform which third-party developers use to create apps for end-users to slice, dice and shape their electricity usage-from smartphones, computers and tablets, or even old-school paper reports. Tendril interfaces with the Department of Energy's Green Button, where consumers can upload electricity data and find user-friendly apps to translate data into actionable information. And it has its own app, Tendril Energize that "leverages proven behavioral models" to make it easier for electric utilities, energy marketers and others to engage customers in demand response, load control and energy efficiency, according to the firm. Tendril also sells in-home displays, smart thermostats, smart outlets, a load control switch and other devices.

The company deploys its software and devices in contracts with utilities and power marketers, including Duke Energy, NStar, Kansas City Power & Light, San Diego Gas & Electric and Origin Energy in Australia.

Tendril has less than 100 employees and more than 500 third-party app developers using its platform. As a privately held firm, Tendril does not disclose other metrics. But a December 2012 blog post reveals that the company is falling short of its growth expectations-no surprise for a startup in an emerging segment from which both Google and Microsoft exited in 2011, citing poor consumer adoption.

The bracingly honest post, written in the first person, presumably by CEO Adrian Tuck, indicates that the firm miscalculated how quickly its most important customer segment, electric power utilities, would adopt HEM systems to engage customers in energy management and demand response.

"We believed that technology trends, policy, and consumer sentiment would usher in a new era of energy management," the post states. With funding from the 2009 Recovery Act, "almost every utility in America began issuing requests for proposals for smart grid projects aimed at updating their infrastructure and delivering new energy management options."

While growing its business to "$100 million invested, 40+ clients on three continents, almost 4 million households on our platform, and over 500 third-party developers … we were reminded of one key lesson we sometimes forgot in our passion for our mission: the utility industry moves slowly."

"[Entering 2013 we have learned that] many utilities don't have the economic path to justify the investment in consumer energy engagement in the short term. Utilities are businesses too and have responsibilities to shareholders. If they can't prove out the short-term ROI, then they will wait until they can or until regulations change." So rather than marketing to a broad base of utility customers, Tendril will focus on executing well with "a handful of top-tier customers. … This is the new race-to win the meaningful deals with the most innovative and progressive utilities who are ready to go to scale [and to be well] positioned to capture major market share when the rest of the industry is ready."

For investors, Tuck promises that "A more laser-focused Tendril will be profitable. Tendril has made the important step to wean ourselves off venture capital. Our great syndicate of deep-pocket investors has just given us growth capital to give the management team options for growth, but 2013 will be our first profitable year-utterly liberating in these lean venture capital times."