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Acorn Energy

Acorn Energy is using big data analytics to manage and protect energy installations worldwide.

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Acorn Energy

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Acorn Energy, a Pioneer in Digital Energy
Acorn Energy is using big data analytics to manage and protect energy installations worldwide. From monitoring the nation's aging energy grid to protecting underwater pipelines abroad, Acorn's subsidiaries have taken an early lead in the emerging field of digital energy.

What does Delaware's credit card industry have in common with keeping tabs on the nation's aging energy grid? Big data. The integration of next-generation sensor systems and big data analytics could mean a quantum leap for improving the efficiency and security of oil and gas exploration, production and delivery. And a Delaware company with talent from the State's credit card industry is staking an early claim in the emerging field of digital energy.

With several successful ventures already under its belt, Acorn Energy is now investing heavily in its four subsidiaries to provide a range of monitoring and protection solutions to energy clients around the world.

"There simply aren't enough people to manage the sheer size, number and complexity of the world's energy installations," explains Acorn CEO John Moore, a longtime Delawarean. "Our companies are focused on connecting vast networks of sensor systems to big data analytics in order to better operate energy infrastructure with unmanned, highly instrumented probes." The goal, Moore says, is to help their customers achieve greater productivity, reliability, security, and efficiency, which should in turn lead to greater profitability.

Early Successes
Acorn has already had several important commercial successes: In 2007, the company spun off Comverge, a subsidiary that produced a "shock absorber" for energy demand from air conditioners. Comverge used sensors and an IT management system to dial back demand for air conditioners during peak usage times. "Comverge had more power under contract the year it went public than all the solar cells on the market combined," Moore says. That same year, Newsweek voted Comverge one of the 10 most eco-friendly companies, and earlier this summer, Delmarva Power parent Pepco Holdings signed a contract with Comverge to implement a new direct load system to control users' central air conditioning during critical peak energy use hours.

In 2007, Acorn acquired CoaLogix, a small company that had developed a solution for coal-fired power plants to reduce their emissions of nitrogen oxides. "The world's largest environmental threat is smog from coal fired power plants," Moore explains. "We bet that state smog regulations would become federal regulations, which they did. The real home run was that China made them mandatory for every coal-powered plant. So every plant in China is now being equipped with the catalyst regeneration technology developed by CoaLogix." Acorn sold the company to a private equity firm in 2011 for $101 million.

Ambitious Investments
Acorn's successful ventures paved the way for the company's present operations: Four wholly-owned subsidiaries that combine big data and sensors to improve the productivity and reliability of traditional energy operations and installations:

  • OmniMetrix uses related technology to remotely monitor emergency back-up power generation systems, as well as home back-up generators to ensure that the systems will work when needed, and to also ensure that users are in compliance with regulations that limit the number of days that generators can be used and prohibit use on bad air quality days. Fracking companies are also turning to OmniMetrix solutions to monitor pump jacks. Fracking requires many more wells than oil production. Moore explains that because the well workforce is aging and shrinking, remote monitoring is critical for managing the infrastructure in a cost-effective manner.
  • GridSense provides monitoring for all critical points along the electricity delivery system. The monitoring provides real-time information about the condition and performance of distribution transformers, allowing utility companies to do repairs and replacements as needed rather than wholesale, allowing them to stretch capital expenditure dollars further.
  • US Seismic Systems supplies fiber optic sensing solutions to increase oil/gas production and at lower costs. The company's solutions combine sensors and big data analytics to allow oil and gas companies to zero in on oil and gas reserves and drill with greater precision than ever before, to make exploration and production more economical and reduce the environmental impact.
  • DSIT Solutions has developed an underwater site security system designed to protect naval and marine-based energy assets from underwater threats such as terrorism. The system uses sonar sensors and powerful IT analytics to protect underwater assets from intrusion and sabotage.
The Delaware Advantage
According to Moore, the State has played a pivotal role in the company's development. "Delaware has the second highest per capita number of advanced degrees after Silicon Valley," he points out. "There are tremendous human resources here, particularly in the field of big data analytics." The region is attractive to professionals because of its proximity to East Coast metro areas and low cost of living, Moore says, and that makes it particularly attractive to entrepreneurs and young businesses looking to grow quickly and attract talent. "It's heavy lifting finding new markets, and we have gone all in to leverage opportunities with our early stage companies," Moore says. "It would be much harder to do this in a more expensive market like New York."

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