With access to zero-emission energy and building solutions, the proliferation of electric vehicle charging ports, and rise in distributed energy resources the shift to a low carbon economy creates both enormous opportunities and challenges. Smart cities are seeing major disruptions in areas like energy, transportation, buildings, and services. Utilities have a key role to play in these future services driven by changing customer needs, and an appetite for new revenue opportunities while at the same time making cities more resilient and livable.
We will state by providing insights into the state of emerging tech startups in the smart cities space that utilities of the future should pay attention to. These technologies address issues in electric vehicle charging, customer engagement, and smart building space.
Electric Mobility and Vehicle to Grid Solutions
The number of electric vehicles is expected to grow from 5M to 125M in 2030. We all know that if all of them charge at the same time, it will literally break the grid. The construction and operation of all these charging stations are also capital intensive (transformers and gridlines) and incredibly slow-moving. However, the sustainable grid of the future is here with vehicle to grid storage solutions making your electric car act as storage sites and give flexibility to the grid. Vehicle-to-grid technologies can be used to help to manage grid peak loads, make it more resilient, and help to meet aggressive renewable-energy goals.
Ampcontrol provides software to optimize the charging of electric vehicles, by running AI-based optimizations to reduce peak loads in the charging network. European largest charging network (18 000 chargers) is already using Ampcontrol solution to reduce costs.
Similarly, Bovlabs has created a system that uses edge computing to optimize every charging cycle. Cars are parked 95% of the time so there is a lot of room for optimization. Their first project was deployed with SNCF train stations (one of the largest train stations in the world). Imagining charging your car at the train station, while you take the train work. You are offered to park free, in exchange for telling the system when you plan on returning. With that info, Bovlabs starts to optimize and track down the best possible profile to charge that car.
Electric Fish, on the other hand, is planning to retrofit existing infrastructure, such as gas stations and assemble energy storage units with XFC outlet ports, with an initial focus on mobile-deployable units. Collaborating with community choice aggregators (CCAs), these mobile units will help make better selections for the infrastructure upgrades, to deploy large scale distributed urban energy storage.
Customer Engagement Solutions
Utility companies aren’t usually known for providing amazing customer experiences. At the same time, customer choices for energy providers have changed as well as their needs for new services and products. There are several startups moving into the energy space that enable large enterprises to increase customer engagement, increase energy efficiency, and sell new products and services.
Relativity6, a startup out of MIT is building a machine learning/AI platform which enables large enterprises to accurately predict when their customers are most likely to churn (2-3 months in advance!), and whose behavior has the highest to change, or who is looking for new products and services (offering cross-sell opportunities). The company is able to reduce monthly churn by 1% on average. Relativity6 has already seen a lot of traction in the competitive insurance space, working with General, Citibank, and Willis Towers Watson helping them to predict clients most likely to churn, recommend additional products.
During the time of crisis, knowing who are your most vulnerable utility customers, makes it easier to proactively help them during the global crisis. BlastPointenables utilities to get actionable insights that drive adoption for customer services programs by integrating corporate internal insights with external data sources by creating customer personas. Founded at Carnegie Mellon University, BlastPoint helped Peoples Natural Gas, the largest natural gas provider in PA to drive adoption for their E-Billing program. That helped the utility to increase in historical e-billing numbers by 5% in under 1 quarter.
Copper Labs has developed an easy-to-set-up device for customers, that helps utilities take control of energy demand by engaging consumers with real-time meter data. This startup has developed a device that wirelessly collects data from electric gas- and water meters. This creates a channel for utilities to engage the right users when it matters most to the grid. According to their CEO Dan Forman, Copper helps them engage consumers in real-time in a mobile app to reduce peak load, accelerate energy efficiency, and drive customer engagement.
Smart Building Solutions
Many regions including California have set high standards for new and existing buildings including rooftop solar, energy efficiency solutions, and more. With increasing data becoming available from different smart devices at home, we can optimize when and how we use the energy in buildings to best fit our needs while minimizing our carbon emissions. We have seen emerging startups that use AI & ML solutions to optimize buildings' electricity consumption as well as EV charging as buildings go fully electric.
There are thousands of solutions out there addressing buildings targetting a majority of their consumption, focusing on areas such as HVAC and lighting. however, about ⅓ of their consumption remains untapped areas like devices plugged into outlets. “There is a lot of wasted energy. But more importantly, there is a lot of information here about the way the building is being used”, says Sam Parks, CEO of Sapient Industries. Sapient Industries develops an innovative plug load management system that deploys smart outlet devices and uses machine learning to optimize buildings' electricity consumption. Sapient can reduce the operating expenses for an entire building by 30%.
The building sector is also moving fast from a centralized to decentralized energy systems, using distributed energy resources such as solar, storage and charging stations, not able to communicate to each other or the broader grid. To increase efficiency, it’s important to integrate every single device into one platform. Fast-growing startup GridX, that works already with European giants like Innogy and E.ON, connects and controls energy generation and storage systems to form a decentral, virtual power plant. Their grid box is a manufacturer-independent communication gateway, that collects 2.5M data points per day. With the grid box, all energy flows in the household can be displayed and controlled (like all charging stations behind the meter). Benefits include more charging points on existing infrastructure, saving operations cost, and protecting your system from overloading.
Fuergy has developed its own proprietary software that helps commercial premises and residential homes to optimize their energy consumption by managing their charging and discharging sources. FUERGY customers can increase the energy efficiency of the household and enjoy economical benefits during green energy generation. Fuergy Home enables customers to save 30% on energy bills, with a 3 year payback period.
Plug and Play Energy recently hosted a webinar for our corporate partners, showcasing these 9 startups. Check out their 4 minute pitches here.