Katie Fehrenbacher, GigaOm
Summary: Startup Smart Wire Grid in Oakland is making transmission lines act more like the smart infrastructure of the Internet. Using its power flow control devices, utilities can prevent outages by routing power around the transmission grid when it’s needed.
Out of the hundreds of energy innovations on display this week at the annual ARPA-E Summit just outside of Washington D.C., it’s been rare to find a group actually selling and shipping products. But a startup out of Oakland, Calif. called Smart Wire Grid has quietly begun delivering devices that clamp onto transmission lines and control the flow of power, and it has scored some of the bigger names in the power company business. In a few weeks Smart Wire Grid plans to install its devices on the lines of power giant Southern Company, following a pilot installation of 99 of its devices on the lines of the federally-owned Tennessee Valley Authority.
Smart Wire Grid’s devices — called Distributed Series Reactors or DSRs — can be hooked onto transmission lines and signal to the electrons coming down the line to go elsewhere. It’s a similar concept to how internet infrastructure can allocate more bandwidth when needed or can smartly route around problem areas in the network.
For utilities, such technology can be a low cost way to push power to underutilized lines and to avoid over usage of certain lines that can lead to costly outages. The DSRs can also be networked with wireless technology to create a smart network of power flow and monitoring devices.
Smart Wire Grid’s Senior Engineer Andrija Sadikovic told me that while there are other ways for utilities to monitor and control the flow of power, the company’s devices are a super fast and super-low cost way to do it. It took less than four days to install the devices and fix TVA’s outage management problem, said Sadikovic. And after certain problems have been fixed for a section of the transmission line, utilities can move and reuse the devices on other lines. Smart Wire Grid founder Woody Gibson told a reporter last that year that the company was also having conversations with Bonneville Power Association for a pilot.
It’s probably not a shocker to anyone that it’s easier for startups selling smart-grid tech to reach commercialization, compared to the nuclear power projects or new battery makers hanging out at ARPA-E. While utilities aren’t the fastest moving customers, some of them are willing to test out and trial new IT-based software and hardware, particularly if it can reduce costs elsewhere and improve reliability.
Smart Wire Grid, which is utilizing technology developed at Georgia Tech, was able to score a $4 million grant from ARPA-E for the pilot project with TVA. The pilot also included partners Boeing, and Carnegie Mellon University. The company will monitor the devices for a year and collect data about how they perform.
Smart Wire Grid closed on a $10 million round of equity financing from investors including new investor 3×5 Fund, which is backed by Arnerich Massena and Rivervest, along with Jane Capital. The company plans to raise another round later this year.