Ottawa startup’s smart grid AI to open the door to more clean energy – and lower hydro bills

hydro energy

An Ottawa company’s artificial intelligence solution could help reduce the hydro bills of some local businesses thanks in part to a funding boost from a federal government fund.

BluWave-ai announced Thursday it’s getting $2.43 million from the feds’ Sustainable Development Technology Canada fund. The money is part of a $6-million project to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from energy grids, with support from Hydro Ottawa and utilities in Prince Edward Island and India.

BluWave develops AI software to monitor energy usage across a variety of sources and users, feeding operators information to help predict energy demands. The 20-person firm raised a $1.3-million pre-seed round late last year, and CEO Devashish Paul says it’ll soon close a $4-million round as well.

Paul says the company’s AI tech can help energy utilities better use their renewable energy resources. He compares a city’s grid to a barbecue party: If you know you have to grill a certain number of burgers in the next 45 minutes, but aren’t sure whether the solar panels on your roof have harvested enough energy to fully cook the meat, you might default to the propane tank to ensure the barbecue goes off without a hitch.

Energy providers are constantly asking similar questions about how much power a city will need for a given timeframe. In many jurisdictions, utilities have to place orders to upper-level grids based on their expected usage and can be dinged costly fees if their predictions are wrong.

“So on a giant scale, a city’s like a massive barbecue party,” Paul says. “How much energy do I need to run that barbecue party? And how much do I need between now and the next hour? Where am I getting it from?”

By tapping into various sensors placed along microgrids across a city’s power sources, BluWave’s AI can give a more informed view of available resources, and help to better utilize renewable sources and avoid overusing the more reliable – but costly – fossil fuels.

BluWave passed a milestone earlier this summer with one of the startup’s partners, the PEI city of Summerside. Based on what it knew about the city’s energy needs, the company’s AI was able to autonomously place an energy import order to the New Brunswick energy grid without operator assistance – a sizeable achievement after just two years in business according to founder Paul.

Local pilot project

BluWave is also hoping to have an impact closer to home. As part of the project, BluWave is working with the University of Ottawa and Hydro Ottawa to optimize how energy is used on campus. The post-secondary institution acts as a microcosm for the wider city and other large enterprises; Paul hopes that if the uOttawa project goes well, the pilot could be scaled up to the federal government’s energy infrastructure or other industrial organizations in the city.

It may seem counterintuitive that a utility such as Hydro Ottawa would want to reduce the amount of energy flowing to its customers, but Paul says the local provider is hoping to minimize the stress on its system to avoid the need for substantial infrastructure expansions. If BluWave’s pilots bear fruit, every player in the energy system could stand to save money.

“The enterprise customers would save and the utility has a better managed network and less stress on their side,” Paul says.

While the Ottawa market may be a step up from Summerside, Paul has his sights set far beyond. His company’s solution is most effective in markets where energy is more expensive and demand is higher, so cities in India or California are the top prize. If BluWave’s AI is implemented on a wider scale, he says the cost savings and greenhouse gas reductions could make a substantial impact.

“Our goal is to be the premier renewable energy AI company worldwide,” Paul says. He notes, however, that the Canadian market has the ideal scale, in addition to some well-monitored grids, that make the country the perfect starting point for the ambitious startup.

“You want a good home test market to springboard you to global dominance.”