Utility firms around the world warming up to Ottawa-based BluWave’s smart-grid solution

Kanata-based startup takes AI platform across Pacific with challenging trial run
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No one can accuse Devashish Paul and his team at Ottawa’s BluWave-ai of trying to pad the results from the first major round of international beta-testing for their smart-grid technology.

Based in Kanata, the two-year-old startup makes artificial intelligence software designed to predict how much energy a utility’s power grid will need to meet market demand. 

The company’s AI solution taps into various sensors across a city’s power sources to monitor and forecast up-to-the-minute energy needs to help utilities use their resources more efficiently and avoid costly penalties. In many jurisdictions, for example, 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.

BluWave has already conducted test runs of its technology with partners such as Hydro Ottawa, the University of Ottawa and the city of Summerside, P.E.I. 

But when it decided to venture beyond this country’s borders and find its first international test site, BluWave didn’t simply look south of the border. Instead, it took its software across the Pacific to the megacity of Mumbai, with its population of nearly 25 million.

Launching your export bid in India’s second-most populous urban area is hardly dipping your toe in the water. But Paul is nothing if not ambitious.

"Our goal is to be the premier renewable energy AI company worldwide."

“Our goal is to be the premier renewable energy AI company worldwide,” he says. “We always had a goal of developing this technology in Canada and taking it to the export market.”

The 20-person company is already making plenty of waves, so to speak, inside Canada’s borders.

BluWave raised a $1.3-million pre-seed round late last year, and Paul says it expects to close a $4-million funding round before the end of this year. In August, the company announced it received $2.43 million from the feds’ Sustainable Development Technology Canada fund, part of a $6-million project to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from energy grids.

One of the partners in that project is Mumbai-based Tata Power, one of India’s largest utilities and a leader in generating solar energy. 

BluWave executives first met Tata execs through the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service about a year and a half ago, and the Ottawa firm quickly realized it could play a key role in helping deliver power more efficiently in Tata’s home base.

It’s a monumental challenge. 

Tata orders energy from a major transmission grid in 15-minute blocks, which equates to 36,000 orders a year. Beginning in 2020, the company will be expected to accurately predict its power requirements within a range of one per cent or it will face a financial penalty for every miss.

“If we get that right, we’ll save them millions of dollars a year,” Paul says.

Further complicating matters, Tata must place those energy orders an hour and a half in advance. 

“In those 90 minutes, a lot of things can change,” Paul explains. “That’s the big challenge. Things can swing dramatically.”

A sudden rise in the outdoor temperature, for example, could cause a spike in air conditioner usage that puts an unexpected strain on the energy grid. 

BluWave’s AI platform taps into sources of all kinds, including weather services, to try to get as accurate a read as possible on anything that might cause power consumption to fluctuate.

Prize-winning tech

Energy providers around the world are beginning to take notice of the software’s potential. 

BluWave took home the prize for top smart-grid startup at the World Energy Congress event in Abu Dhabi in September, and Paul and his team recently met with the Dubai energy and water authority’s director of AI to discuss the potential of plugging its tech into the Middle Eastern city’s power grid.

Since the firm’s launch two years ago, attitudes toward AI solutions have shifted dramatically in the utility industry, BluWave officials say.

“In the mainstream business world, there’s a greater understanding of AI as a method of yielding greater profits,” explains Brandon Paul, a marketing executive at the firm. “Now, people don’t view AI as this scary, Skynet Terminator thing. They see it as just another component of business.”

Devashish Paul agrees.

“Customers, to some degree they were scared of applying AI techniques,” he says of the attitudes he commonly faced when he started the company. “Now, they’re basically saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got all this data. How we can organize our utilities more efficiently using it?’

“You don’t hire a guy to be director of AI unless you plan to do this stuff. It’s completely flipped over. A lot of utilities have become very forward-looking.”

Meanwhile, the company is setting the stage for even more rapid growth in the months to come.

In December, BluWave will further upgrade its AI platform by adding a meter that will show customers how much they’re reducing their carbon output through more efficient use of energy. The firm expects to land a series-A financing round in the range of $5 million to $8 million by the end of next year.  

Paul has spent time in Silicon Valley in the past, but he says he wouldn’t want to build his growing venture anywhere but Ottawa. The National Capital Region has an abundance of software development talent, he notes, and Canada offers government support in the form of cleantech grants and R&D tax credits that you don’t get in the Valley.

“If you look at it as an expansion franchise and you want to win the Stanley Cup, there’s enough talent here locally to do it,” he says. “We can build the right company here for the export market.”