Monitoring solutions developed by the energy startup AdvanGrid allow reducing electricity bills for business customers by up to 30%. The company also helps diagnose and fix problems in power grids for distribution network operators. For the time being, it is still gathering speed, but in the future, it is aiming to be a global player in the energy technology sector.
“What can’t be measured, can’t be managed. We measure, save and manage,” says Oskars Gūtmanis, Managing Director of AdvanGrid. How did the company decide to operate in such a specific industry? Oskars says that 16 years ago the founders of AdvanGrid visited an exhibition where telemetry equipment attracted their interest. They asked many questions only to receive the answer: it is not possible. Both realized that they could be able to do what they intended – that’s how Intelligent Systems was created. Despite the fact that at the beginning the company mainly developed fleet monitoring solutions, more companies have gradually evolved from it: CheckGPS, Asigny, Aerones, and also AdvanGrid. Read more about Aerones here.
Helping Distribution Networks
The idea of solutions for electricity was born in 2013. At the time, many were talking about smart street lighting. “We already had technologies that, with a little adaptation, could be used to create such a tool needed for the market. We started working towards it. We also started communicating with AS Sadales tīkls, which told us about the problems of the industry, and we saw great potential in this area. Thus, the focus shifted from smart street lighting to energy,” O. Gūtmanis says.
Intelligent Systems focused on creating solutions to solve various problems of companies in the energy industry. One of the first products was a solution for remote monitoring of transformers for the distribution network operator. At that time, smart meters were not yet so common and there were problems with remote monitoring of transformers.
In 2015, a separate company AdvanGrid was founded, focusing specifically on energy. Today, at the core of the company is a team of seven people. Much of the services, such as IT and equipment development, as well as finances are common to the companies of the group.
A few years ago, AdvanGrid attracted a number of investors whose financing allowed it to develop faster. The amount of attracted investments is not disclosed by O. Gūtmanis.
Virtual Power Engineers
When asked if AdvanGrid is a startup or a consulting company, O. Gūtmanis says that it primarily wants to be a technology company. So far, customers still lack the knowledge to operate independently with the solutions offered by the company. Therefore, it spends a large part of its time consulting customers. Many manufacturing companies for which AdvanGrid services are particularly important are located in the regions. They’re always desperately looking for new powerengineers.
“We call ourselves virtual power engineers and can offer remote control of what is happening at the facility,” O. Gūtmanis says.
The AdvanGrid analytics platform integrates artificial intelligence algorithms that analyze data, show which stages are ineffective, where improvements are possible. If there are any problems, the virtual assistant sends an e-mail or text message to the responsible person, saying that something is wrong. “Even if the company does not have its own internal specialist, the manager will receive information about the issue. Then everyone can choose themselves how to deal with it – to use our services or those of any other company,” he says.
Heavy Industry for Startups
“We have a number of serious projects in Switzerland, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Belgium, and even Saudi Arabia, where we are helping one of the world’s largest oil companies to become more efficient. We are far from where we want to be, but energy sector technologies are not born overnight,” O. Gūtmanis emphasizes.
The biggest challenges for energy startups are people with specific knowledge, resources, and time. It takes time to create a technological solution in this industry. Since we are dealing with technological equipment, it must initially be installed in a real working environment, tested, and improved. “You have to be able to prove yourself as a reliable technology partner because no one wants a technology that only works for a year or two. Customers are interested in equipment that will work for 20 years, thus it has a long testing time. The process is long and there must be a clear vision and confidence in what you are doing. Energy is a heavy industry, not the most attractive segment for startups. In many other areas, the business can be developed faster. A large number of startups prefer to develop financial technologies or various web applications. I can’t say these directions are easier, but more popular though,” he says.
Assisting With Electricity Management
By equipping the company with AdvanGrid monitoring solutions, electricity bills can be reduced by up to 30%.
“We can save 10% for almost anyone. On average, there are 10 to 20% savings. However, there are also companies whom we have helped to reduce the bills by as much as 40%,” O. Gūtmanis says.
Explaining how to arrive at such a large reduction, he says that the situations with the existing energy efficiency of companies are different: some have already done a lot themselves, others still have a lot ahead of them. The electricity bill consists not only of the charge for the electricity consumed. For example, if a company decides to build a plant, it must apply for a specific connection capacity at Sadales tīkls. The company pays for what it has booked, even if it is not used. “We help analyze the actual connection capacity needed and often find ways to reduce it. Theoretically, such optimization of the input capacity can be performed on the basis of the information provided by Sadales tīkls. However, average hourly data are often not enough. We provide much more detailed information,” he says.
Different tariff plans are also available to legal persons. Not everyone knows that they can be changed every month. This is especially important if the company’s performance is not very steady, and the consumption varies. When analyzing consumption data, the AdvanGrid solution automatically finds the most suitable tariff plan. “There is also reactive energy, phase loads, and other essential elements that allow us to bring order into the electricity management and to save resources,” O. Gūtmanis adds.
Although electricity prices fluctuate all the time, large consumers conclude several-year contracts, including at fixed prices. AdvanGrid consults companies on this as well. Sometimes it is more profitable to pay a fine and terminate an existing contract than to continue to overpay in the long term. “We help bring order into the electricity management of companies, resulting in significant savings,” he says.
Knows How to Find Losses
AdvanGrid also carries out a detailed analysis of electricity consumption. For example, a relatively large company manufacturing plastic products did not know what the consumption is of different production equipment. By equipping the plant with a monitoring solution, the customer immediately discovered what generates 60% of the electricity consumption and saw an opportunity to optimize the operation. However, the remaining 40% per month costs 15 thousand euros to the company. Work is therefore continuing to install more monitoring tools in order to fully understand the consumption.
The examples can be quite simple: both the conditioner and the heater are running at the same time, or the employee leaves the machine on while having a smoke. In one case, a creative employee at a bakery had figured out how to optimize his workday. In order for the oven to reach the required temperature, it must be operated for an hour. He had figured he could come to work an hour later if the oven was left on the night before. Without a monitoring system, it would be almost impossible to detect such a situation, unless the security guard would think of checking the stove at night and notice that it was still working.
“The main advantages of our solution are the ease of use and an in-depth focus on electricity. Yes, there are other companies that offer similar solutions, but they are the most difficult to install and use or provide very superficial information,” O. Gūtmanis says.
Everyone Starts With the Lighting
Among the company’s customers, there are both those who understand the importance of such services and those for whom they are incomprehensible. However, because of various rules and regulations at the European level, even those who do not find the potential savings significant enough must think about this.
When asked whether entrepreneurs are implementing processes to improve efficiency for financial gain or environmental protection, O. Gūtmanis says that financial gain is a priority. For example, recently a large printing company became a customer of the company, wanting to understand how much each particular stage costs in production. This is important in order to understand the prime cost of different products and to see opportunities to reduce costs.
The first things that any company starts with are the optimization of lighting and the replacement of old, inefficient equipment. Once this is done, problems begin: where else to find opportunities to improve efficiency.
“There is great potential in electricity. We know how to find different ways to increase the efficiency of electricity use and reduce costs,” O. Gūtmanis says.