National Grid, a big utility provider in the northeastern U.S., has launched a new venture capital arm to invest in startups bringing innovation to the energy industry. Lisa Lambert, a former Intel Capital executive, will lead the investment program from Silicon Valley.

Part of her job is to be the eyes and the ears of the publicly traded utility, which has 7 million customers but doesn’t want to get caught flat-footed by disruptive changes in the field.

“I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t hopeful,” Lambert said. “Cleantech 1.0 was about manufacturing, complex supply chains, and low-margin businesses in things like biofuels and solar. A lot of venture capital went into it. Today, a lot of the areas of Cleantech 2.0 are in software, blockchain, artificial intelligence, and security. I call this a renaissance in the utility sector.”

Lambert said in an interview with VentureBeat that the company has already invested $19 million in five tech startups.

The National Grid Partners division will focus on innovation, incubation, investment, and business development. Lambert said the company will lead investments or cooperate with other firms in co-investments, as needed.

NGP invests in energy startups that are building a smarter and more renewable energy future. With increased consumer expectations around energy, the firm is positioned to source, fund, and build companies that are addressing innovations in energy and information technology.

From artificial intelligence to smart assets to enterprise SaaS and distributed energy marketplaces, NGP’s launch companies reflect the group’s investment focus, ensuring that consumers enjoy a more seamless, reliable, efficient, and cleaner energy experience. NGP takes a multi-functional approach, and Lambert said she is enthused about blockchain’s potential in improving security.

“The vulnerabilities around cybersecurity are immense, especially for critical infrastructure,” she said. “I did a lot of investing in AI at Intel and the Westly Group. Everything is now generating data via the internet of things. That has dramatically increased the amount of data produced day by day. The utility sector needs efficiency of operations and AI that can predict maintenance.”

NGP’s new investments include:

  • AutoGrid leverages big data to analyze energy data and create real-time actionable information. It will help with predictive maintenance and commercial industrial demand response in the U.S.
  • ClimaCell is a next-generation weather forecasting company. It will provide by-the-minute demand response for the smart grid for business optimization, as well as asset-specific outage forecasts for storm response.
  • Leap offers a marketplace for distributed energy resources that enables a more effective monetization of grid services, enabling automated trading on energy markets.
  • Omnidian provides comprehensive protection plans for investments in residential and commercial solar energy systems. It will optimize and control distributed energy resources (DERs), data analytics, and predictive capability, as well as providing insight into the photovoltaic (PV) market.
  • Sitetracker is a SaaS platform that enables growth-focused innovators in critical infrastructure industries, such as utilities and telecom, to optimize their entire asset life cycle.
Young businessman on fixie bike outdoors.

Above: Under the solar cells.

Image Credit: National Grid

“National Grid continuously strives to exceed the expectations of its customers,” said AutoGrid Systems CEO Amit Narayan, in a statement. “We at AutoGrid share this vision, and we hope our state-of-the-art suite of energy internet applications allows National Grid and other energy and utility industry leaders to deliver clean, affordable, and reliable energy services in a distributed energy world.”

Lambert spent 19 years at Intel Capital, investing in a variety of software and other kinds of tech companies. She was a leader in the company’s investments in diversity and was directly involved in the creation of a $125 million diversity fund at Intel.

“Diversity starts at the top, and the more diverse the top of the company, the more diverse your team will be,” Lambert said.

Above: Lisa Lambert of National Grid.

Image Credit: Intel

Lambert left Intel in 2016 after a change in leadership at the chipmaker’s investment arm. She joined the Westly Group to help raise an investment fund and invest in software.

In January, she joined National Grid as its chief technology and innovation officer and as senior vice president of NGP.

Joining Lambert’s leadership team are Kareem Fahmy, Dillon McDonald, Brian Ryan, and Pradeep Tagare — all veterans in the technology sector. Lambert and the team will oversee innovation, incubation, corporate venture capital, business development, and the venture fellowship program.

Lambert said the company will invest $250 million over the next two to three years, making about 10 to 15 investments a year. It has invested $19 million so far in the first five companies, and it will spread investments across the U.S. and Europe. The focus will be in electric cars, residential solar, and energy.