A new source of funding for energy research launched yesterday with the goal of advancing global infrastructure by harnessing the various data streams that are coming out of the electric grid.
The Siebel Energy Institute will spend at least $10 million over the next five years on projects that will improve the grid’s safety, reliability and efficiency, predicted Tom Siebel, the billionaire founder who made his fortune by selling his software company to Oracle Corp.
“We all know about the Internet of things,” Siebel said yesterday at an event announcing the inaugural grant recipients. “This begins to look like the Internet of energy.”
The institute will give seed grants to engineers and computer scientists at eight schools around the world with the goal of getting projects to the point of receiving government funding. The research will be made available to the public, including to an “industry advisory board” that includes Entergy Corp., Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and Honeywell International Inc., as well as Siebel’s own energy analytics firm, C3 Energy.
The eligible schools are Carnegie Mellon University; École Polytechnique; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Politecnico di Torino; Princeton University; the University of California, Berkeley; the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; and the University of Tokyo.
From roughly 55 proposals submitted last month, the deans of the affiliated schools chose 24 projects that will receive $25,000 or $50,000 each.
The projects include customer-facing proposals, like a website that evaluates rental properties’ energy usage and a system that detects power outages through smartphones. They also include a proposal to compile a nationwide database of power outages in order to predict future outages and calculate the cost of outages to customers.
One project, which will use drones to check power lines before and after extreme weather events and will repower the drones from the power lines themselves, drew particular interest from Entergy Chief Operating Officer Mark Savoff, who spoke at yesterday’s event.
After a series of hurricanes in Entergy’s service territory, the utility got “lambasted on social media” for its perceived slow pace in restoring service, he said. Savoff pointed to a nationwide trend of focusing more on utility customers, evidenced by the resurgence of the term “customer,” rather than “ratepayer.”
“We’ve really got the customer in the equation now,” Savoff said.
The institute will begin soliciting applicants in six months for its next round of funding, which will focus on cybersecurity, Siebel said.