Duke, Avista Make Bet On Open Source Grid Software

Taking a page from the creators of Linux, Avista Development and Duke Energy are making a joint investment in an open source software platform.

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At a time when calls to modernize the nation’s power grid are rising, utilities are pouring money into startups that can help meet that end.

Duke Energy and Avista are investing an undisclosed sum in Open Energy Solutions, which makes open source software for the power grid. With the platform, customers can have access to information and tools to manage their energy usage.  The two utilities are collaborating, a first in the industry, to hopefully spur innovation and create a new market for the software.

“This groundbreaking approach to meeting the needs of utility customers in the future will allow unrivaled creativity and thinking around energy management solutions, forever changing how technology interacts with utility grid systems, and ultimately paving the way for more control and information management for the utility customer of the future,” says Ed Schlect, Chief Strategy Officer and Vice President, Avista in a press release in January.

The partnership comes out of the Duke Energy Emerging Technology Office, which is exploring open grid standards via the Open Field Message Bus. The companies view the electricity grid similar to a smartphone, with different apps managed within the system. The software Duke and Avista are investing in enable utilities to manage different energy sources including from the energy grid, renewable energy, and others. Because it is open source, the companies hope to drive widespread adoption and support for the software.

Open Energy Solutions is taking a different approach to how it makes money on its software. Instead of charging a monthly fee for access like most of the software as a service companies, customers get its smart grid software for free and pay for consulting services. The company also makes money on add on products.

In an interview with The Spokesman-Review Mark Gustafson, Avista Development’s senior manager of business development and strategy said there are a lot of opportunities for companies to build proprietary applications and thus the need for consultancy services.

Duke Energy and Avista aren’t the only utilities going after the smart grid space. In November National Grid, the UK energy company launched a Silicon Valley venture capital unit that will invest in energy startups. It has earmarked $253 million to the effort already investing in five companies.