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Smart grid outfit GridPoint fills coffers, sharpens utility focus

Electric cars will stress utilities' grids. GridPoint raises $48.5 million and adds power industry executives to its board.

GridPoint, which makes software for managing electricity grids, said on Wednesday that it has raised $48.5 million in its fourth round of funding and added board members that reflect its shifting focus on utility sales.

The round was led by existing investors Goldman Sachs and Susquehanna Private Equity investments. Altogether the company has raised $88 million.

In tandem with the funding announcement, GridPoint is gaining board members who participate in different steps of the electricity grid industry.

The chief technology officer of Duke Energy, David Mohler, and the CEO of US Power Generating Co., Jacob Worenklein, are now on the board. Duke Energy is a utility that sells energy to consumers, while US Power Power Generating Co. owns and operates power plants; it specializes in selling "peak" power to utilities during periods of high demand.

The new board members reflect a shift in the company's strategy to sell more aggressively to utilities, said Karl Lewis, GridPoint's chief operating officer.

The company continues to sell its battery and energy management appliance to consumers who are looking for a combined residential solar power and storage system.

But the company's information systems platform, which is designed to help utilities smooth out the load on the power grid, will increasingly be in high demand, Lewis said.

Utilities are trying to even out the demand on their electricity grids over the course of a day to avoid having to build new power plants to meet peak times, he said. Demand-response systems, which allow utilities to regulate appliances in homes or businesses, allow them to better manage that.

GridPoint has built applications tuned specifically for managing residential solar installations and for hybrid-electric cars--a looming problem for utilities, according to Lewis.

If people charge their car batteries at night--when demand in general is high--that could cause peak loads that utilities could have trouble meeting.

"If suddenly you have 20,000 or 30,000 rechargeable cars with maybe 50,000 in a few years plugging into the grid at night, utilities have to react to that or you'll have serious problems," Lewis said. "You see plug-in hybrids becoming a big issue--it's a tidal wave coming at utilities."

So far, there have not been any commercial rollouts of GridPoint's demand management applications for utilities. About a dozen unnamed utilities are running pilot projects.