Despite the buzz surrounding the smart grid, to date it has consisted of technologies or services geared toward utilities, helping them save money, smooth out supply-and-demand curves, and use energy more efficiently.
Now, with a clear soft spot from the federal government for all things smart grid, investors and start-ups are turning to new opportunities in the market, namely products and services focused on consumers and corporate clients.
While energy management and demand response systems are already beginning to reap rewards for companies with large office buildings and data centers, the consumer market has remained largely untapped, save a few pilot studies.
Matt Denesuk, partner with IBM Venture Capital Group, sees that changing in the year ahead.
Denesuk's group partners with venture capitalists to offer expertise and product partnerships to start-ups seen as key to IBM's business; companies picked by the group typically wind up either being acquired by IBM or developing long-term partnerships with the tech giant.
We spoke with Denesuk to find out which companies and technologies we might see Big Blue championing in the not-so-distant future. Here's who he named:
Offering both hardware (smart meters) and energy monitoring software, Menlo Park, Calif.-based Agilewaves is targeting small businesses that find its easy-to-read dashboard and automated alerts a simple way to monitor and control energy consumption.
2. Demi Energy
The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company has partnered with ESCOs (companies that conduct energy retrofits for business clients and share the financial savings that result) to get its Internet-based energy optimization system into offices and hotels.
As a sample use-case, Denesuk points to a hotel, where typically a service worker would turn on the lights and air conditioning in the morning, not knowing when the guest might check in. With Demi Energy's software, the front-desk clerk can switch lights and thermal controls on as they're checking the guest in, avoiding hours of wasted energy.
"It's a very simple technology, which is what we're seeing a lot of in this area," says Denesuk. "Rather than developing a break-through technology, they've found a new market for a simple technology, and been innovative about their business model."
3. Energy Hub
Like Agilewaves, EnergyHub is offering both hardware and software in what Denesuk describes as "a user-friendly, entry-level system with an interesting approach: you can buy the baseline system and then purchase add-ons as you need them or as they become available."
Focused on software only, Greenbox is targeting both utilities and consumers with its web-based energy-monitoring tool and partnering with smart grid infrastructure giant Silver Spring Networks for the hardware.
In addition to providing an in-depth look at how much energy your home uses and for what, the tool allows you to compare your home's energy usage with that of the average home in your community.
5. Google PowerMeter
Any product or service focused on smart grid for the home will be getting some stiff competition from Google once its PowerMeter offering moves from pilot testing to a full release.
Currently partnering with utilities and device-makers, PowerMeter will provide a free web-based software component to existing systems that users can access from their iGoogle homepage.What this spells for other residential smart grid companies remains to be seen, but Denesuk marks Google's entry to the space as clear sign that things are moving quickly and it's anyone's guess how things will shake down in the next year.
"Here's a company that's not in this space at all and yet they've made credible offering and announced partnerships with device makers and utilities," he says. "It's a clear indication that this is no longer a linear space gated by one industry."