by Winter Wilson | Joules Accelerator
When Tim Barat, CEO and co-founder of Gridware, studied emerging technologies at university, he noticed a gap in the conversation about what it might take to achieve a clean energy transition. In every sector, innovations were promoting decarbonization and renewables, but people seemed to forget that the power grid needed to sustain this rise in electrification.
The stress on these inconspicuous lines was increasing rapidly due to consumer demand and extreme weather events caused by climate change. The resulting outages posed significant threats to workers, consumers, and natural habitats. The key to preventing these catastrophes? Quick and precise information.
“The problem,” Barat explained, “is that right now we don’t have a lot of intel when things go wrong on the grid. We don’t even know that there’s an outage – let alone what caused it. Currently, utilities rely on customers to call and notify them of these events.”
As a former lineman, Barat had firsthand experience with the challenges workers maintaining grid operations face. He envisioned a day where instead of hiking eight hours to find the cause of an outage, technology could point him exactly to where it had occurred. With such insights, people could restore energy faster, create additional public safety, and promote worker safety.
This dream was the catalyst for Gridware. Barat also knew, however, that in order to realize his dream he had to find a way to work around the slow pace of innovation in the utility space.
“The biggest challenge for any company that’s trying to innovate in this sector is that you have this cyclical dependency,” he explained. “You can have the greatest idea in the world, but it will always need iteration. This, however, is very difficult because you can’t be doing science experiments on critical infrastructure supplying power to thousands or millions of homes.”
Therefore, Barat decided to build his own grid: A full-sized grid with 40-ft poles and 200-ft powerline spans, energized at 12 1⁄2 kilovolts. On any given day, you can find Barat and his team playing “myth busters”, cutting live wires, driving vehicles into poles, or throwing vegetation on the lines.
The result was a device with mechanical sensors that gives utilities live visibility into their system to minimize outages, reduce operational costs, and prevent wildfires. The technology is quick and easy to adopt, requiring little to no effort on behalf of the line workers to install and work with.
“They literally have to do nothing and instantly, they have unprecedented visibility into
the operations on their grid.”
When Barat looks into the future, he sees an expansion through Joules Accelerator into the Southeast. Gridware’s participation as part of Joules’ Cohort 12 marks an increased focus on accelerating the pace of innovation in the utility space. Beyond the technology itself, Barat believes that Gridware can become a model for other startups to think out of the box about testing and piloting their technology.