From distributed homes in Cambridge, Mass. and Cambridge, England, inBalance Research is joining Y Combinator as it looks to accelerate its business as the oracle for independent energy providers, utilities and market makers.
Selling a service it calls Delphi, the very early-stage startup is hoping to provide analysis for power producers and utilities on the demand forecasts of energy markets.
The orchestration of energy load across the grid has become a more pressing issue for utilities around the country after witnessing the disastrous collapse of Texas’ power grid in response to its second “once-in-a-century” storm in the last decade.
“If we want to address the solution long term, it’s a two-part solution,” said inBalance co-founder and chief executive, Thomas Marge. “It’s a combination of hardware and software. You need the right assets online and you need the right software that can ensure that markets operate when there are extreme market shocks.”
Prices for electricity change every 15 minutes, and sometimes those pries can fluctuate wildly. In some places, even without the weather conditions that demolished the Texas grid and drove some companies out of business, prices can double in a matter of hours, according to inBalance.
That’s what makes forecasting tools important, the company said. As prices spike, asset managers of finite responsive resources such as hydro and storage need to decide if they will offer more value to the market now or later. Coming online too early or too late will decrease the revenue for their clean generation and increase peak prices for consumers.
The situation is even worse, according to the company, if storage and intermittent renewables come online at the same time. That can create downward price pressure for both the storage and renewable assets, which, in turn, can lead to increased fossil fuel generation later the same day, once cleaner sources are depleted.
The software to predict those pressures is what inBalance claims to provide. Marge and his fellow co-founders, Rajan Troll and Edwin Fennell have always been interested in the problems associated with big data and energy.
For Marge, that began when he worked on a project to optimize operations for wind farms during a stint in Lexington, Mass.
“Fundamentally we’re a data-science solution,” said Marge. “It’s a combination of knowing what factors influence every single asset on every single market in North America. We have a glimpse into how those assets are going to be working one day before to one hour before in order to do price forecasting.”
So far, one utility using the company’s software in the Northeast has managed to curb its emissions by 0.2%. With a focus on renewables, inBalance is hoping to roll out larger reductions to the 3,000 market participants that are also using its forecasting tools for other services. Another application is in the work inBalance is conducting with a gas peaker plant to help offset the intermittency of renewable generation sources.
The reduction in emissions in New England is particularly impressive given that the company only began working with the utility there in December. Given its forecasting tools, the company is able to provide a window into which assets might be most valuable at what time — including, potentially, natural gas peaking plants, hydropower, pumped hydropower (basically an energy storage technology), battery or flywheel energy storage projects and demand response technologies that encourage businesses and consumers to reduce consumption in response to price signals, Marge said.
Already, six companies have taken a trip to see the Delphi software and come away as early users. They include a global renewable asset manager and one of the top 10 largest utilities in the U.S., according to Marge.
“We use machine learning to accurately forecast electricity prices from terabytes of public and proprietary data. The solution required for daily power system stability is both hardware — like storage and electric vehicle charging — and the software required to optimally use it. inBalance exists to be that software solution,” the company said in a statement.
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