News Column

C3 Energy works to fulfill promise of smart grid

May 26, 2014

"C3 Energy was founded five years ago by Silicon Valley pioneer Thomas Siebel, with the aim of bringing a combination of emerging technologies in social networking, cloud computing, big data analytics - and apply that to the challenge of giving the smart grid a brain," Connaughton said. Five years and about $150 million in private investment later, "we have created an enterprise-software platform that allows us to bring advanced machine learning analytics to develop business sites that actually make the smart grid value proposition come alive."

The firm's platform appeals to utilities, their customers and anyone who has tried to put a new piece of hardware with sensors "into the smart grid equation. We are an essential component of deriving even greater value for that investment," he added.

Connaughton broke down the two major stages of implementing the firm's platform, with the first being installing it at the utility to integrate "all of their existing data systems, enriching that with third-party data sources and then creating user interaction tools, both for grid operators and for customers, that enable direct information to come into the system as well."

The second stage is adding "applications for large enterprise users where they can connect to the utility system and manage their on-premises systems in a more highly interactive way," he added. This is where the smart phone operating system analogy begins to emerge: "We are that middle layer of support on which you can build applications and on which other pieces of hardware can plug into to enhance their own business value," Connaughton said.

The C3 Energy product is made up of two core components, a data integrator and an analytics engine. "People tend to look at the smart grid from the perspective of a portal, which is information that comes to a consumer or a grid operator," he noted, and "while that is very important, a lot of people are in that space."

What really matters "is what lies behind the information you are providing to that operator or the consumers," thus the firm "built a data integrator that is able to read the data from multiple utility systems, normalize the data, federate it and put it into a single data image in a common language that any operator can access."

The analytics engine can process "this massive data set in real time. These are two very sophisticated pieces of technology innovation."

The system facilitates "creating user interfaces and portals, of which we provide many, and the process of creating business insights specifically tailored to the user - which could be a large industrial customer, small medium-sized business, residential customer, distribution operator, vendor or consultants trying to provide business advice and counseling to a utility in terms of improving their business processes. We have different portals designed to provide information that is relevant to each of those user groups."

Unified utility interface

"Utilities have a lot of independent systems that have a lot of differently configured user interfaces on only a piece of their system," Connaughton said. "We are coming in to provide a unified view of their system and provide a unified user interface experience that has a lot of economy of scale, extendibility and creates a foundation for innovation."

The "users can then design their own portals, analytics, business intelligence reports and other pieces of information they might need to make business decisions. To put it into proper perspective," he added, the C3 Energy system "is the first enterprise-wide data analytics that is available to utilities.

"We have embedded a set of designer tools into our software that allow users to design user interfaces and put them in the look and feel of their specific organizations. As such, if you are a utility in the Northeast of America, you may have a way that you present yourself to your customers," and the interface will match that look, said Connaughton.

"You might have a very special project going on in your utility that would affect the distribution operations and you want to present a particular view of data to a group of your workers. You can custom design what that view looks like in a way that would enable them to act on it easily," he added.

"The benefit of our approach is you are not given a fixed set of outcomes or a fixed look that you cannot change. We have put a lot of work into our portal interfaces but we also understand that is going to be an evolving art and different utilities across the country want to communicate things in different ways.

"We want to enable that flexibility where they can either use ours or design their own," Connaughton said.

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Source: Global Data Point

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