Tendril Networks Demand Response Solution for the Smart Grid


By Matthew Madden

By definition, disruptive technology usually results in a variety of unintended consequences. When considering the ancillary effects that would result from the widespread adoption of electric vehicles, the road taxes currently embedded in the purchase of a gallon of gasoline are generally an afterthought. Of course, TriplePundit’s coverage is the exception.

While the conversation focuses on exactly how sustainable electric vehicles are compared to gasoline-powered vehicles or what the impact their adoption will be on the electricity grid, Tendril Networks is developing a platform designed to answer such granular questions as how to account for the taxes that maintain our road infrastructure when the highly touted adoption of electric vehicle is realized.

In a recent conversation with Mak Tarnoff, Tendril Networks’ Senior Director of Segment Marketing, Mak described the Tendril Connect platform as an open standards, hardware agnostic and scalable solution that utilities can deploy to monitor and manage demand response, energy efficiency and distributed generation activities. Tendril does have an impressive list of customers for their smart grid solutions but has not released a solution developed specifically for the electric vehicle infrastructure market (they have developed a proof of concept and are working with undisclosed utility customers to further define and develop this solution).

Given the early stage of the developing electric vehicle infrastructure market, it’s probably not fair to hold Tenril’s lack of utilities customers in the electric vehicle sector against them. That said, they should be given credit for their strategic insight. The company has gleaned lessons from previous technology booms – particularly relevant are the networking and telecom markets – and is attempting to leverage these lessons to become the utility sector’s software vendor of choice for consumer-based demand response, energy efficiency and distributed generation.

To date, the company has closed $73M in investment funding but the smart grid market is certainly still in its earliest stages and it will be years before we sort out the winners and losers. Despite the infancy of the market, the requirements are starting to be better understood. Utilities will require smart grid hardware and software vendors to deliver solutions in a similar fashion to the requirements service providers demanded of their hardware and software vendors during the heady days of the telecom boom in the late 1990s.

That means standards-based solutions. The Zigbee Smart Energy 2.0 standard is a perfect example – it’s even based on the ubiquitous IP protocol that supported much of the growth in the networking market (Mak Tarnoff from Tendril Networks assured me his company contributed to the creation of this standard). It means interoperable solutions that allow utilities the flexibility to partner with a variety of hardware and software vendors as innovative technology continues to be introduced. And, lastly, it means solutions that scale to meet the needs of a growing market – a market that is certainly garnering plenty of media attention but, in reality, is still in its earliest stages.

Once an industry begins to coalesce behind a vision, the challenge becomes execution. That’s when details become critical.  What’s the best way to manage load balancing and load control? What’s the most elegant solution to managing the distributed grid that comes along with the adoption of electric vehicles? How do you manage rate programs to encourage off-peak charging of electric vehicles? Those are the obvious questions, but the future winners in this space may be the vendors providing answers to the less obvious questions. Questions like how can you provide the information and facilitate the collection of taxes to support the road infrastructure when more and more consumers are buying gasoline? The companies able to provide actionable information for such unexpected problems are the companies that may be positioned for success in the emerging smart grid market.

Or, put another way, the future winners in this market will be companies that offer information and the ability to take action, a compelling vision but – most importantly – the ability to convert that vision to reality.

Matthew Madden has 15 years of sales and business development experience including nearly a decade selling communications networks to the largest utilities in the country. He can be reached at matthew.madden@presidiomba.org

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