By William Sposato
The vital power grids that supply electricity to power the Internet age are today at risk. With a delivery model little changed from the days of Thomas Edison, they are increasingly vulnerable to natural disasters, high-tech sabotage or just breakdowns due to old age. For some entrepreneurs these risks are actually opportunities to use today’s technology for a much-needed re-engineering of the entire system.
One force in this new world is GridMarket LLC, a 2014 startup that has built a powerful online platform for the new world of distributed energy, where consumers are no longer passive receivers of electricity but now active partners.
“When we talk about distributed energy technologies, we are really talking about a more efficient and more resilient way to control grid infrastructure, a world in which customers become producers and regulators of their own energy management systems, allowing them to take a stronger role in their own energy future,” says GridMarket co-founder and CEO Nicholas Davis.
The GridMarket platform includes an extensive database made up of billions of data points on more than 360 million global properties. Its data offers a pathway to help customers, solution providers, governments, and utilities in harnessing distributed energy, including solar, fuel cells and storage. For each property, the key attributes, along with the predictive analysis, are organized into a property profile that helps define a building’s unique energy opportunity.
The Marcus Garvey Apartments, a low-income housing complex in Brooklyn that was a pioneer in urban design of the 1970s, is today a model of how this can work in practice. The complex covering six city blocks was the first in New York launched by GridMarket employing solar panels, fuel cell technology and high-powered battery storage to help ensure a consistent supply, even in natural disasters.
“Marcus Garvey was the first major proof point for GridMarket and for the industry,” says Davis. “Today, this it benefits from a diversified platform that allows the property to save substantial costs, to keep the lights on when storms hit and also to offer environmental benefits.”
DER Can Help Save Costs, Energy and Even Lives
For Davis, the need for a new approach to electricity was clear as far back as 2003 when the city and much of the Northeast U.S. was hit by a major power blackout caused by a sudden grid overload. This was brought home again in 2012, when Hurricane Sandy hit the city head-on, leaving some parts of the city without power for two weeks and critical facilities such as hospitals unable to keep vital life-saving equipment running.
“Electricity has taken a fundamental role in all of our lives. Right now, we are incredibly device dependent. Every efficiency that we take for granted in our digital lives and all of our data is all electricity dependent,” Davis notes.
The GridMarket platform is able to leverage data and employ proprietary algorithms to produce solutions for distributed energy technology that is suitable to a specific building. It can also predict the detailed project value, including the anticipated economic and environmental benefits of each potential project. All of this intelligence is used to model optimized solutions for customers.
“We do the calculations and then can show the savings to a building owner. You can see the potentials of the whole world, you can apply different layers so you can see temperature, wind data, a heat map to show where opportunities are,” explains Robert Gottsegen, senior project analyst at GridMarket.
Openness is a key feature of the GridMarket application. Instead of expensive consultants and the need for complex contracts, anyone can see the possible savings for their buildings just by signing up for membership.
The GridMarket platform also takes the customer beyond the initial stages of a project. After seeing the potential savings for their site, clients can post their project on the site, where it can be viewed by a range of approved vendors who then compete to offer the best possible terms. The platform also assists with contracts and can then analyze the results to make sure they lived up to their promise. All of that is then fed back into the database to provide more knowledge for future users.
A Mutually Beneficial Partnership
Marubeni Corporation, one of Japan’s leading trading companies and an active player in the global energy business, saw the strong potential of GridMarket, forming a partnership that has since grown into an equity stake. For Marubeni, the wealth of data provided by GridMarket is a great calling card when talking with clients on its broad range of energy products and services.
“Working with GridMarket, we can help building owners understand the benefits of a new approach to their energy needs. That’s why we have decided to become a partner,” says Masashi Nagai, Department Manager at Marubeni America Corporation, who played a central role in bringing the two companies together.
From GridMarket’s perspective, Marubeni’s support has been a boost at multiple levels, ranging from key data to client relationships around the world. “Marubeni has been an incredible partner,” says Davis. “With Marubeni’s global support we are able to move much faster.”
Speed and simplicity are two key features for potential clients. That’s exactly what Alexis Geller, vice president of Finance at New York Health and Racquet Club, was seeking when he saw that his utility bills were “exorbitant.” For any fitness facility, heat, air conditioning, lighting and hot water represent a major cost area, second only to salaries. But navigating the myriad of regulations, potential tax incentives and other rules can be a nightmare.
“We ran our energy bills through the GridMarket algorithm and it surprised me to see what the savings could be,” he said. “My experience so far has been terrific, so much so that I’ve passed on their name to other companies and colleagues.”
Customers range far from Manhattan. GridMarket is also working with the Pacific nations of Samoa and Tonga to help them build diversified grids. Samoa is taking bids on infrastructure to be 100% energy sustainable. “The prime minister asked for a global bid process to take months, not years,” Davis noted.
Capturing the Potential of the Future of Energy
For both GridMarket and Marubeni, the need for urgent action to create a new energy infrastructure while reducing carbon-based emissions is clear, as are the potential benefits to the environment, energy consumers and both companies.
“Our team at Marubeni sees great opportunities in this area. When the world of distributed energy becomes a reality, the leaders in this new DER-driven society will need deep technological knowledge, access to big data and an ability to manage large-scale projects that bring together experts in each area,” notes Marubeni’s Nagai.
“The partnership with Gridmarket is just one of the strategic investments we have made to be able to deliver this broad range of expertise. We believe that Marubeni is today in a strong position to help participants in the distributed energy market to create something that doesn’t exist today,” he says.
Traditional utilities are also starting to realize that the world of diversified energy is an opportunity, not a threat. Consolidated Edison, the supplier of electricity for New York City, provided incentives for the Marcus Garvey project. Its goal wasn’t just philanthropic. By spending around $250 million in diversified energy systems in the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, it has been able to put off $1.2 billion in infrastructure upgrades to its local grid. That makes the investment a sound business decision and one that fits perfectly with GridMarket’s own vision for the future.
“This is a very complicated area. The purposed of our platform is to take all of the factors that make this complicated and compress it into simple answers and a simple solution,” says Davis.