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

Big Data has come to thermostats in Austin.

Austin Energy, along with Palo Alto, CA-based AutoGrid, is analyzing when and how much electricity is used by the city’s homes, businesses, and industrial users in order to make the power grid more efficient.

“We are crunching all the data and how we can drive efficiently throughout the electricity supply chain from generation to consumption,” says Amit Narayan, AutoGrid’s founder and CEO.

The startup’s pilot program with the Austin utility started last week and is designed to measure energy usage at about 50 thermostats and 15 electric vehicle stations. That’s a fraction of the utility’s approximately 450,000 residential, commercial, and industrial customers, but still, a sample size that can provide valuable information, says Russell Shaver, a consulting engineer who specializes in electric vehicles and emerging technologies at Austin Energy, the city-owned utility.

Most of us are familiar with some sort of energy management. We set our home thermostats higher when we are away during the hot summer days, to save energy and money on air conditioning. In Texas, where this past weekend, the heat index climbed as high as 111, some downtown skyscrapers in Dallas dimmed the lights in their lobbies, a small measure to reduce pressure on the electricity grid.

Often, however, those measures are not enough. Heat waves send us to the thermostat punching the temperature down. Tornadoes and hurricanes take out power infrastructure. These and other events put excessive strain on power grids that are already maxing out their capacity in the hot months, resulting in brownouts, power cuts, or power loss.

Increasingly, utilities and cities are implementing more formal programs of energy management, which is creating an opportunity for cleantech startups. In May, bought New York-based EnergyHub for an undisclosed amount, and a few days earlier, Nest, a smart thermostat company designed by former Apple engineers, purchased MyEnergy, a Boston-based energy data company.

The idea behind programs such as the partnership between Austin and AutoGrid is to balance electricity demand and supply in real time by using technology to predict times of peak demand. Then, smart thermostats can automatically reduce power usage for non-essential uses during those peak times. 

“There is very little storage in the electricity grid, … Next Page »

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