Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

Bill Gates invests in Varentec power grid start-up

Steve Rogerson
August 23, 2016
 
Bill Gates has invested in six-year-old California company Varentec to help develop its grid edge control devices. The Series C funding round also brought in money from 3M Ventures and Khosla Ventures.
 
Varentec provides grid edge volt VAR control systems, and says it will use the investment to expand activities internationally and to continue the development of the Gems software platform and Engo grid edge control devices for deployments across the USA.
 
The company helps utilities with advanced power electronics and software to improve grid efficiency, manage peak demand, reduce consumer electricity bills and host a large amount of renewable distributed energy resources.
 
Utilities invested a significant amount of capital in infrastructure, communications and software for the distribution grid from 2011 to 2015. Following the successful results of some of these programmes, volt VAR optimisation (VVO) is perceived as a value-creating tool for utilities and society. Utilities have included VVO and conservation voltage reduction programmes as part of their multi-year strategic grid modernisation plans, and are now filing for large-scale investments to start in 2017.
 
“With multiple successful substation-level pilots at investor owned utilities and public and cooperative power utilities, Varentec is now poised for production rollouts of Gems and Engo,” said Varentec CEO Guillaume Dufosse. “This Series C funding, with the backing of 3M Ventures, Bill Gates and Khosla Ventures, further demonstrates the engagement of our shareholders to bring a new concept of grid efficiency to market. With 3M global presence, and other partners, we will accelerate our international expansion in selected countries, and additional growth for our US sales.”
 
He said the company was “proud” that Gems and Engo, through low-voltage and real-time control, provide significant performance differentiation versus traditional slower, centralised software methods.
 
“It will be key to helping utilities achieve ambitious grid efficiency, peak demand reduction and energy savings targets,” he said.
 
Engo devices are deployed on the secondary side of the distribution grid to control voltage and reactive power in real time and eliminate grid edge voltage volatility, even when high numbers of distributed PV solar systems are deployed on a circuit.
 
Coupled with the Gems software platform, the devices provide a stand-alone system for distribution utilities. In deployments across the USA and Canada, the technology is said to be consistently achieving energy savings or peak demand reduction of five per cent or more through voltage reduction while reducing technical losses.