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Kleiner Perkins backs smart-grid firm Silver Spring

Venture capital firm digs into its Green Growth fund to lead a $75 million investment in a company that uses Internet Protocol-enabled devices to improve grid reliability.

The creaking electricity grid got a shot in the arm on Tuesday from venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which is leading a $75 million investment in smart-grid start-up Silver Spring Networks.

The money will fund the company's expansion globally, Kleiner Perkins partner John Doerr said in a statement. He called implementation of the smart grid "one of the most important clean-technology initiatives of the coming decade."

It's one of the first investments doled out from KPCB's $500 million Green Growth fund, established earlier this year with money earmarked for the costly task of making energy-related technologies commercial.

The "smart grid" is a catchall term to describe a number of products for adding automation to the electricity distribution system. For consumers, it can mean in-home energy displays or appliances that communicate back to utilities to save energy during peak demand times.

Silver Spring makes equipment and software for utilities to upgrade their grid. Its devices on utility poles can broker information over the Internet between a home's smart meter and a utility, to warn of an outage or to send energy usage information.

Smart grids comprise one of the most promising approaches to making the power grid more efficient. By curtailing demand at certain times, utilities can avoid building new power plants to meet growing electricity usage.

Kleiner Perkins' big bet on green technologies was the subject of an extensive profile in The New York Times Magazine on Sunday.

The article said that the storied venture capital firm, which was an early backer of Internet icons, Google, and others, has invested in about 40 green-tech start-ups but is still awaiting a successful financial "exit" of an initial public offering or acquisition.

Existing investors Foundation Capital, JVB Properties, and Northgate Capital will also participate in the Silver Spring Networks funding.