Like corporate financial accounting, the power grid never makes headlines when things are going well. No journalist discusses extensive work to maintain the grid. Instead, it takes a record-breaking ice wave for one of America’s largest states to knock on power, for it to start front-page coverage, or perhaps in California’s campfires like America in 2018 In the most populated forest of the world.
Power grids are coming into more and more news in the coming years as global climate change intensifies hurricane activity and grids are increasingly under harsh stress. As my colleague John Shibber wrote yesterday, “Whether it be heavily regulated markets like California or free markets like Texas, the current policy cannot stop the weather from wreaking havoc and putting people’s lives at risk.” The grid is one of the toughest challenges we face in this century.
Better sensors and technology are needed to identify the source of the outage – and also prevent them in the first place. With millions of electric poles and thousands of miles of transmission wires scattered throughout the United States, how can utilities reliably verify the quality of their systems? How can they do this in an efficient way to avoid rate increases on users?
Gridware, which is in the current batch of Y Combinators, is a company taking a shot at this critical requirement. Its approach is to use a small, sensor-filled box that can only be installed on an electric pole with four screws. Gridware’s package consists of microphones and other sensors to feel the ambient environment around an electrical pole, and it uses on-board AI / ML processing to listen for anomalies and report them to appropriate managers Can.
It is “like a guard standing next to the pole, listening to it, watching it”, said Tim Barat, CEO and co-founder, calling the box fitbit for a power pole. When a tree branch breaks and cuts through a line, there is “no way to detect them unless you are right next to the defect.” With Gridware, it’s “not the right place at the right time but the right place All Time, ”he said.
The founding team here is compelling, as is the background of some of the company’s founders. The procession itself worked as a power pole worker in the area, evaluating equipment and discovering problems. “Every time we climb a pole, we hit it with a hammer, which tells us what is termite damage, etc.” [… and] This is still how inspectors investigate a poll, ”he said.
The procession eventually moved to the University of California, Berkeley, where he was mentored by electrical engineering professor Prabal Dutta, who joined the company early as a co-founder. Dutta’s work has focused on “industrial cyber-physical systems”, and they continue to research industrial control systems through digital interfaces through the iCyPhy Center.
The procession also met Abdulrahman bin Omar, who had worked in the energy sector for many years, in a class that eventually had a one-week hiatus due to those living in the California wilderness. The two began working together in 2019, joining Berkeley’s startup incubator Citrus Foundry in 2020. The trio eventually established a relationship with co-founders Hall Chen and Riley Liman, and received a $ 150,000 state grant from the California Energy Commission through the CALCID program.
Today, the startup has seven employees, and it is currently in talks with utility grids of all sizes about deploying its product. Can be grid very Slow to adopt new technology with very long tests and sales cycles, but there may be an opportunity for the company to accelerate to the normal timelines that have seen widespread and visible power outages over the years. “We need to change our grid to meet the challenges of the new century,” said Baraat.