Smart Management

Bit Stew introduces the utility community to new possibilities with Grid Director

Bit Stew Systems, a Vancouver-based developer of smart-grid software, is one of B.C.’s fastest growing companies and an innovator in the smart-energy sector. The startup has made quite a name for itself in the global utility community by solving a growing problem: with all the smart devices that utilities (and other industries) are using today, how do operators manage the overload of information they’re receiving?

Smart meters—those electronic meters BC Hydro recently installed for its customers—continuously measure how much energy your home is consuming and relays that information back to the utility operator. However, with almost two million smart meters in service in the province, BC Hydro’s operations team would be overwhelmed with data without an effective way to manage it all.

Game-changing software

Three years ago, Bit Stew partnered with BC Hydro to do just that. They created a game-changing software platform that would help the utility manage its new network of smart meters effectively. The result was Grid Director®, which synthesizes information relayed by BC Hydro’s smart meters and integrates it with data from other networks and systems. It filters and analyzes the data and alerts the utility company to any issues that need to be addressed.

Bit Stew’s chief executive officer, Kevin Collins explains, “Our solutions let utility operators understand what is happening with their networks in real time, and are able to make more informed decisions, more quickly.”

Successful deployment

Today, BC Hydro’s smart grid has been recognized by many in the utility sector as the most successful smart grid deployment project worldwide. As a result, Grid Director is getting a lot of global attention. “Big companies like tried-and-true solutions, but BC Hydro took a risk on a small, local software firm; and it paid off for them and for us,” says Collins. “They gave us the opportunity to build a solution that met their specific business needs and now that solution is being exported globally,” he adds.

Optimizing operations

Grid Director not only provides a dashboard view of all the activity happening on the smart grid, it also uses artificial intelligence to apply both simple and complex rules to filter the events and alert operators to only those that require action. “A utility operating millions of smart meters could be faced with thousands or even hundreds of thousands of events,” explains chief technology officer, Kai Hui. “By filtering the data, Grid Director allows a utility to be both effective and efficient.”

Global expansion

Chief operating officer, Bill Reny says, “Due to the success of this engagement, Grid Director is now in high global demand.” The company currently services a number of large electrical utilities in Canada, the United States and Australia, and has many new opportunities in the works in North America, Europe and Asia.

“Our growth strategy involves both geographic expansion, and expanding into adjacent utility sectors. We’re looking to take on gas and water utilities next, and will eventually branch out into other industries,” adds Reny.

Spotlighting Vancouver

“Having spent several years in Silicon Valley, [co-founder] Alex Clark and I love the area for its exciting high-tech nature and willingness to take risks,” says Collins, a native Vancouverite. “We wanted to bring some of that Valley culture to Vancouver.”

Bit Stew’s staff has already grown from one employee to 30 in less than two years, and staff is expected to grow to 100 by 2015. “The majority of those new, high-paying tech jobs will continue to be based in Vancouver, as we plan to keep our product development and operations firmly rooted in B.C.,” says Collins. Moreover, Bit Stew is raising the city’s profile in the global high-tech industry. In October, Bit Stew was asked to present its innovative work on smart-grid technology at the Cisco Internet of Things World Forum in Barcelona.

“We want to be more engaged in the local technology scene,” adds Reny, noting that Bit Stew is getting involved with the B.C. Technology Industry Association, made the 2013 Ready to Rocket list of up-and-coming B.C. tech companies and will also be one of the sponsors and a panellist at the 2014 international CaseIT business case competition at SFU.

Unlimited potential

Bit Stew is poised to be a world leader in managing machine-to-machine communications. Long-term, Bit Stew plans to leverage its success with smart grids to take on a leadership role in the Internet of Things realm—where networks of intelligent devices communicate with one another, such as smart street lamps that adjust their output based on the time of day and season.

As the applications for smart devices multiply, the need to manage the data they relay and help those devices talk to each other grows. That kind of development is in Bit Stew’s wheelhouse. “How many times in your life do you have the right technology, at the right time, solving the right problems? We think we have all three of those pieces in place and there are no limitations to what we can achieve,” says Collins.