Cleantech Startup AutoGrid Tracks the Peaks of Austin’s Energy Use

8/12/13Follow @angelashah

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so demand has to always match the supply,” Narayan added.

Normally, when demand shoots up during peak events, Austin Energy switches on “peaker plants,” which taps into the city’s electricity grid, as well as that of the state’s, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT. And ERCOT charges a hefty premium for non-peak energy for “emergency” power. That’s a price utilities would like to avoid paying.

“The pilot can help in reducing our demand in order to reduce Austin’s contribution to the ERCOT grid,” says Austin Energy’s Shaver. “This reduces our costs.”

AutoGrid’s solution is “Demand Response Optimization and Management System,” or DROMS. Narayan says one advantage of AutoGrid is that it works with multiple thermostats and through a variety of reporting systems, whether over WIFI or through legacy thermostats that have only one-way communication. This makes AutoGrid attractive to smaller utilities, which usually can’t afford to purchase expensive hardware of their own, he added.

“It’s plug-and-click compatible,” he says.

The increasing adoption of smart meters, which can record and measure data as often as once a day or every hour, is making these programs more and more viable. Smart meters were used in about 23 percent of the U.S. market in 2011, more than double the amount in the year before, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s 2012 Demand Response and Advanced Metering Survey. In Texas, smart meters are used by more than 30 percent of the market population.

AutoGrid says that in addition to compiling energy usage data it can also help utilities analyze that data to find ways to make usage more efficient. 

For Austin Energy, better management of its power grid means it has to buy less energy during peak use times—energy that costs five times the price of off-peak power, Shaver says.

The Austin pilot is partly funded through a $3.5-million ARPA-E grant from the Department of Energy, as part of its Green Electricity Network program.

AutoGrid, which was founded in 2011, raised $9 million in venture capital in October from Foundation Capital, Voyager Capital, and Stanford University, where Narayan was director of Smart Grid Research in Modeling & Simulation. 

AutoGrid’s other clients are mainly in California—the City of Palo Alto Utilities and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District— though Narayan says the company has two additional Texas utility clients, which he declined to name.

Shaver says the utility and AutoGrid will continue to monitor energy usage through August and September, the final two months of the typical peak-demand season, which begins in June in Texas. He says he’s most curious about the usage of energy at the electric vehicle stations they are monitoring, something that hasn’t been done before.

“That can be like plugging in another AC or another house, depending on the car,” he says. “If adoption of electric vehicles really takes hold, this will be another planning issue for us. We’ve got to make sure we can handle the increased load.”

Angela Shah is the editor of Xconomy Texas. She can be reached at ashah@xconomy.com or (214) 793-5763. Follow @angelashah

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