Part of the growing trend for nearly every electronic device to be able to communicate with others, smart grid and advanced metering startup Trilliant has taken $40 million in its first official venture funding.
Trilliant, like competitors Ambient, Silver Spring Networks, SmartSynch and others, makes wireless communication devices for utility meters. When enough are present in an area, they can form a mesh network capable of communicating moment-to-moment use information back to utilities, and to the homes and businesses they’re installed within. (Some can also communicate via hardwired connections.)
The company is one of the oldest to try to tackle the problem. I covered it in more depth in June. The problem with looking at the field is that, at first glance, all the contenders seem to be pretty much identical; broadly speaking, each is approaching the same problem, that of trying to get more information about usage to consumers and utilities, in more or less the same way.
One of the new investors in Trilliant, MissionPoint Capital’s Mark Lewis, says that the key difference is in the quality of the technology being deployed. While the concept of a mesh network is simple — add together a bunch of low-power nodes to create a linked network that can pass information end-to-end — they’re not always easy to scale up, in practice.
Add in ideas that haven’t yet hit the market, like combining electrical metering info with the same from water and gas, and giving consumers the ability to remotely control devices and usage patterns, and it becomes even more difficult to make truly comprehensive chips (which are installed in existing meters by bigger manufacturers). Atop it all, the equipment has to be durable and long-lived, lasting for decades.
At the moment it’s difficult to tell who will come out on top, but Lewis says the goal is just to capture a significant segment of the market, as well as expand overseas. In North America, utilities are continuing to test equipment by multiple manufacturers, with few having settled on any one solution yet.
The $40 million investment in Trilliant was led by MissionPoint and Zouk Ventures, a European investment firm. Trilliant had previously taken strategic and internal funding. Only Silver Spring has taken more in one shot, with $59.3 million total split between an extended third round raised this year and last.