Enbridge Funding Extends Series C Round to $31M for On-Ramp Wireless

It took longer than expected, but On-Ramp Wireless says today it has raised an additional $15 million in an expansion of the Series C funding round the San Diego company began last year.

Much of the new capital came from Enbridge, the pipeline transport company based in Calgary, Alberta, and reflects the pipeline industry’s growing interest in On-Ramp’s machine-to-machine (M2M) technology. Two existing investors, Third Wave Ventures and Energy Technology Ventures (a joint venture of GE Ventures, NRG Energy, and Conoco-Phillips), also joined in the additional funding, which brings On-Ramp’s Series C round to a total of $31 million.

The company had previously raided $37 million since it was founded in 2008, and had expected to raise $30 million for its C round before the end of 2012.  It now has about 85 employees.

On-Ramp has been developing low-power, wireless networking technology that transmits data at a very low rate, for use in monitoring electric utility grids, pipelines, and irrigation systems that extend over thousands of square miles. Its competitors include Silver Spring Networks and Itron’s Cellular Solutions business (formerly SmartSynch).

Enbridge, Canada’s largest transporter of crude oil, plans to use On-Ramp’s wireless networking technology for long-range monitoring of its pipelines, according to Joaquin Silva, a co-founder who handed off his CEO duties last October to Kevin Hell, a computer industry executive and the former CEO of San Diego’s DivX. Silva is now On-Ramp’s executive vice president of corporate development.

“Enbridge really saw the potential of our technology at a cost point that enables them to move to real-time monitoring, rather than monitoring through physical inspections,” Silva said in a phone call.

In recent years, Enbridge and its U.S. company have come under fire from environmentalists and others over a 2010 pipeline rupture near Marshall, MI, that spilled an estimated 843,000 gallons of diluted bitumen, a tar-like heavy crude diluted with benzene and other chemicals. The tarry sludge spilled into the Kalamazoo River, where cleanup efforts are still underway.

The global oil and gas industry represents On-Ramp’s fastest growing market, according to the company’s statement today.

Despite industry claims about state-of-the-art pipeline sensors and monitoring technology, remote sensors detected just 5 percent of the nation’s pipeline spills between 2002 and 2012, according to a Pulitzer-prize winning report published last year by InsideClimate News, a nonprofit news organization covering energy and the environment. Most pipeline spills (62 percent) were reported by pipeline employees at the site of an accident, according to a review of data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

“We are seeing significant growth opportunities from enterprises that want to monitor, control, and manage their hardest-to-reach assets, irrespective of location,” says On-Ramp’s Hell in the statement. “Our technology can easily connect assets that have previously been unreachable, from oil and gas pipelines spanning hundreds of miles of harsh terrain to electrical transmission and distribution assets, both above and below ground.”

On-Ramp’s statement also quotes Chuck Szmurlo, a vice president of alternative and emerging technology at Enbridge: “On-Ramp’s technology addresses a current and future need for our operations, enabling us to better connect with and monitor assets, such as transmission pipelines, in a more economical and reliable manner than conventional wireless technologies currently allow. By automating the monitoring of these assets we are able to improve operational efficiencies and know, within seconds, valuable information that can help us reduce risk and save costs versus manual inspection processes.”

Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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