Copper Labs sparks joy for utility companies by making their meters smarter – TechCrunch

Utilities have a problem: their “smart grids” were created to solve billing problems of a decade ago, not the needs and expectations of consumers of 2022 with electric cars, solar panels, and an obsession with real-time data. copper labs just raised $5.5 million to help them solve this problem with a sleek little hardware device that acts as a bridge between the low-resolution smart meters and the consumer’s internet connection.

“The problem is that even the most sophisticated electrical smart grid implementations currently only tell utilities what happened yesterday, and only at 15-minute intervals,” said Dan Forman, CEO of Copper Labs. “Many of them only get this data once every 30 days. If you go beyond electricity to gas and water, most of these guys still access data once every 30 days. The pace of disruption on the web is not matched by the pace of innovation. We help utility companies find more cost-effective ways to deliver the solutions they need.”

The company raised $5.5 million, led by Clean Energy Ventures (CEV)a venture capital firm that finances early-stage climate technology innovations, with follow-up participation from National network partners and Capital of the Blue Bear. With the new round of funding, Copper Labs plans to expand its sales, engineering and marketing teams over the next year to accelerate nationwide rollout in all service areas. In addition to funding, Copper Labs welcomes Nora Mead BrownellVenture Partner of Clean Energy Ventures and former FERC Officer, to its Board of Directors.

“The Copper Labs team is dedicated to helping utilities plan for a future of strained and limited resources while recreating fit-for-purpose delivery systems,” said Brownell. “I look forward to helping the team empower clients and partner with mature industries that are adapting to rapidly changing external factors for a more sustainable future.”

Copper Labs is essentially unlocking a treasure trove of data that utilities haven’t had access to before — especially important in a world where real-time data is a potential driver of behavior change. For example, it’s not good to tell a consumer that they charged their Tesla 11 days ago during rush hour – at that point, the end-user can’t remember why they plugged in their car. Their electric bill – and the environment – already is completed.

“In the past, demand management programs on the residential side have primarily targeted connected smart thermostats to make this possible [them] to reduce the load at peak times. In this way, utilities reduce dependence on expensive and dirty gas Peaker plants. The challenge here is that less than 20% of US homes have connected smart thermostats installed, and perhaps half of those individuals enroll in these control programs,” explains Forman. “It doesn’t cover all the other issues that will come up in the future – for example, EV chargers. Not only do you need real-time grid-edge intelligence, you also need a channel to target targeted users. So, for example, if we can see who is charging an electric vehicle charger during peak hours, this is valuable information for a utility company. You can then approach that person with an incentive to reduce the load.”

Copper Labs mobile app gives homeowners an up-to-date view of their electricity consumption and provides actionable insights and incentives to save electricity/water/gas. Photo credit: copper labs

The company has a few different solutions; an in-home bridge that connects existing smart meters to an internet connection, and a neighborhood-level solution that can do the same for tens to thousands of homes.

“Some smart grid meters have an embedded ZigBee Home Area Network. We can do a secure handshake and get that data back at about 30 second intervals instead of waiting until the next day. To install it, the utility would send a device in the mail. They would install the Copper mobile app and connect everything,” explains Forman, holding up a laptop charger-sized brick that plugs into an outlet. “You just plug this thing into the wall and everything it does is wireless.”

The neighborhood solution does the same and requires its own internet connection, either wired or via existing wireless networks. It can be installed on a utility pole and power a larger number of homes.

“Our neighborhood-level device will receive data from hundreds of homes from a single device at about a minute intervals,” says Forman. “TThe value obviously lies in a dramatic reduction in home hardware costs. You don’t have to ask the consumer for anything, and you don’t have to rely on the consumer’s Wi-Fi because you have a dedicated broadband or wireless network.”

What’s cool is that Copper’s device can also track solar production meters to show what electricity is being generated and fed into the grid. The company claims this is a unique view that’s particularly interesting for utility companies who don’t have visibility into distributed rooftop solar arrays. The app also enables anomaly detection, usage data and additional insights.

“With or without a smart meter, Copper Labs gives consumers, utilities and smart home providers a high-frequency data source to enable faster decision-making,” said Dr. Carolin Funk, Partner at Blue Bear Capital.

In short, the problem the company is solving is how to make legacy grids smarter than even the most modern smart grids, bypassing meter vendors’ slower innovation cycles. Additionally, Copper’s solution is much cheaper, quicker and more environmentally responsible to install on a utility pole than replacing a hundred healthy and serviceable electricity meters at home.

If this sounds like something the utilities could have solved themselves, you’re right – but it’s interesting to highlight the challenge being solved here. The number of radios and wireless connections that need to be in place for a solution like this to work is overwhelming.

“We are focused on solving really tough RF problems where the same device can handle power, gas and water. And if you look back at the new neighborhood-level thing I mentioned, gas and water utilities don’t have an effective way to get down to traditional advanced metering infrastructure,” Forman explains.

Copper Labs sparks joy for utility companies by making their meters smarter – TechCrunch Source link Copper Labs sparks joy for utility companies by making their meters smarter – TechCrunch

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