A local cleantech startup is bringing the decision-making power of artificial intelligence to grids in Ottawa and around the world in an effort to optimize and reduce cities’ energy consumption.
Ottawa’s BluWave-ai, founded roughly a year ago, has raised more than $1 million in pre-seed funding for its smart-grid solution. The 12-person startup is implementing its tech locally with Hydro Ottawa, on the east coast in Prince Edward Island and overseas with one of India’s largest utilities providers.
Founder and CEO Devashish Paul tells Techopia that landing the unnamed client in India, a sizeable market for energy-efficiency solutions, opened the “big angel investment floodgate” earlier this year. Among those investors is Montreal’s Ecofuel, an initiative of the cleantech fund Cycle Capital, which invests in companies such as Agrisoma Biosciences and GaN Systems in the National Capital Region.
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Ecofuel’s investment – an undisclosed amount of up to $75,000, according to its website – also comes with participation in the fund’s accelerator program, which works with 10 or so companies across its spring and fall cohorts.
Paul says the Ecofuel program has run BluWave through the basics of building a sustainable company and connected the firm to mentors as well as Canada’s broader cleantech ecosystem.
“I think it’s putting us on the right track,” he says.
A self-driving grid
Paul offers a comparison to describe BluWave’s solution which, at first blush, might seem a bit strange. He says the startup’s AI solution helps to manage a utility’s energy loads in the same way an autonomous vehicle keeps its passengers on the road.
In the case of the car, sensors and instruments all feed into a central processing unit to inform the vehicle about what’s going on around it.
“What’s going to happen to the road in front of me in the next second based on all these guys speeding around me, and the snow, and obstacles and so on?” explains Paul.
Autonomous vehicles are continually making predictions based on historical data and the information they’re receiving. Then, they’ll issue a prompt to act based on those estimates: Oncoming truck; collision predicted; move out of the way.
BluWave’s AI system also monitors the various sensors across a municipality’s grid to make the most informed predictions about oncoming energy demands. If it sees the need to adjust, the system can either send a message to another piece of software to make the change automatically or flag the issue for a human operator, giving the grid manager a broader view of the entire system.
“It’s saying, ‘Hey, adjust this voltage, adjust this power dispatch, drop this, finetune that’ … It’s basically, ‘steer, brake, accelerate, whatever,’” Paul says. “It’s just too much data for humans to make good decisions.”
Harnessing Ottawa talent
While Paul mentions India, California, China and sub-Saharan Africa as a few of the international markets where he sees strong potential for BluWave’s energy management solution, he’s adamant that he’ll be growing the company in Ottawa.
Paul’s career, which includes stints at Nortel and a decade spent at Integrated Device Technology in Kanata, has shown him the breadth of talent across Ottawa’s IT and software sectors. He says he intends to bring these disparate talent pools together into cleantech.
“We feel that there’s the right talent in Ottawa with all of the networking, cloud computing and software to build the biggest renewable energy AI company in North America and do it right here,” he says.
“We’re planning to stay in Ottawa and build big here.”
“(We can) redeploy all these telecom guys and cloud computing guys into something that’s potentially very meaningful in the global economy.”
With ambitions of one day becoming one of the largest employers in the National Capital Region, BluWave intends to grow its headcount from 12 to 20 in the next year.
“We’re planning to stay in Ottawa and build big here,” Paul says.