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mPrest and Vector partner, expand missile-tech to smart grid IoT

mPrest, a control systems experts is partnering with Vector, an electricity and gas utility based in New Zealand, adding its Distributed Energy Resource Management System (DERMS) software to its network. Vector has also made a significant investment in mPrest, and will also now act as a reseller of its services in the Oceania region. mPrest is already working with utilities in the US on its DERMS platform but this partnership expands its reach into Oceania and the South Pacific for its DERMS platform.

mPrest is perhaps best known for its work on Israel’s Iron Dome defense system, that is used to intercept short range artillery. The system operates autonomously, taking in data from multiple sources to build what the company calls an ‘air-awareness picture’ that can respond to threats in real time – and shoot them down. This background, integrating multiple data points to support predictive calculations to intercept missiles, is not unlike the predictive analytics systems required to ensure a utility’s network is not hit with outages.

Vector said that the mPrest DERMS software allowed it to better predict and manage outages by optimizing distributed energy resources (DERs) to enable a streamlined delivery of energy to and from the grid. DERMS is enabled through bidirectional exchange of information from endpoints to the control systems of a utility’s network.

The excitement around DERMS has grown, as they will play a significant role in enabling grid-edge energy resources to be integrated into the distribution network as a whole – although it seems that Vector is not using the mPrest’s software in this way yet.

mPrest is trying to position itself as one of the emerging major players in the DERMS market – an area which is seeing increasing attention as utilities are having to deal with a more mixed energy network. More consumers are adding generation and storage assets at the edge of the grid and DERMS help the utility integrate these assets into the network to manage them.

The state of the market for DERMS is as such that no one system is the same, needing to be modular to suit the utility’s needs, portfolio of assets and local regulatory context of the market – meaning that each project is distinct.

Vector has 1.2m home and business customers, and has already deployed many smart meters in New Zealand, as well as commercial solar and battery solutions. The applications mPrest provides help to assist utilities with reducing power outages, improving service to their customers, offering integrated management of greener energy, and reducing overall cost of energy within their network – boosting margins.

New Zealand is a country that often has its utility networks disrupted by extreme weather, meaning that generation assets can on occasion get knocked out with no advanced warning. DERMS software can help in stabilizing a network after a generating asset is compromised. Consequently, it should be no surprise that Vector is a keen customer and partner of mPrest for its DERMS software.

Electricity generation in New Zealand is already characterized by a high percentage of renewables. The national target for generation by renewable sources by 2025 is 90%. As of 2015, the International Energy Association (IEA) found that 80.2% of New Zealand’s electricity generation was being met with the renewable sources. Much of this renewable generation has been achieved with hydroelectric, but to hit the final target of 90%, it is expected that wind and residential solar will play a greater role.

In the US, mPrest recently won a contract to monitor the asset health of the New York Power Authority (NYPA). The software used in the project gives the NYPA a real-time picture of transformer health, looking forward to recommending maintenance actions. The company also says it is collaborating with a number of other utilities in the US – as part of its international expansion strategy.

There is stiff competition in this market from a mixture of large players that are used to providing a range of hardware and software to utilities – ranging from Siemens, AutoGrid Systems, Alstom, and Enbala, to name a few. Developments in data analysis from ‘Big Tech’ companies improving AI and machine learning based platforms, are also likely to have an impact on the DERMS market, as customers will want those platforms integrated into their DERMS software.

Although the market for DERMS is competitive, the expectations for the market’s growth are still conservative. GTM Research is currently forecasting a 33% CAGR in the market, which will mean that from 2017 through to 2021, a cumulative $380m will be spent on DERMS implementation in the US – little more than the $300m in venture capital raised by DERMS companies since 2010. Slow regulatory progress in implementing DER into wholesale markets is apparently holding back investments in DERMS platforms.

According to Crunchbase, mPrest has raised a total of $30m to date, and operates in a number of areas from utility, smart city, industrial, defense and security – and so is not entirely leveraged on its success in the area of DERMS. But it is clear that it sees smart grid customers as a strong market for it to expand into.

This week also saw the news that brought relief from many in markets related to DERs, as the plans for US solar panel tariffs were revealed, which were lower than anticipated – at 35%. Some commentators are already saying that this won’t have quite as much detrimental impact, as they were expecting a higher a tariff – so a slowdown in the growth of solar in the US market won’t be as dramatic as first thought.

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