Safeguarding Grid Reliability and Resilience: Our Investment in Buzz Solutions

Mar 24, 2024

Blackhorn Ventures is proud to announce our latest investment in Buzz Solutions, which uses  AI-powered visual data insights and predictive analytics to safeguard critical infrastructure.  Blackhorn previously invested in Buzz’s 2022 Seed Round, and we’re proud to co-invest in their Series A alongside GoPoint Ventures and MaC Venture Capital . 

The electric grid is the backbone of the energy transition. For the past two decades, demand for electricity across the United States was flat. However, this is dramatically changing. The combination of accelerating growth in electricity use by data centers mining cryptocurrency and delivering AI, plus longer-term electrification of manufacturing, electric vehicles and building heating has upended that status quo. All told, grid planners across the U.S. forecast an increase of 38 gigawatts of peak demand by 2028, according to data reported to federal regulators.  As the Washington Post recently reported, “Vast swaths of the United States are at risk of running short of power as electricity-hungry data centers and clean-technology factories proliferate around the country, leaving utilities and regulators grasping for credible plans to expand the nation’s creaking power grid.”

As both the transmission network and the electrical distribution network are increasingly strained, utilities are looking to build ‘digital twins’ to streamline asset maintenance and repair. Utilities face three large and growing problems that require immediate behavior change: 1) the growing cost of extreme storms, wildfires, unexpected blackouts and preventable failures, 2) the need to rapidly modernize the grid given a jump in renewable energy generation and distributed energy resources (including EVs and energy storage), and 3) an aging workforce and severe labor shortages as more than 50% of the utility’s workforce is set to retire over the next decade.

At the center of these three challenges sits Buzz Solutions. Their AI-powered visual data insights and predictive analytics platform is designed to provide fault detection, monitoring, and management for utility power infrastructure and renewable energy assets. Buzz Solutions’s 100,000+ image-to-image source of record acts as a foundational data asset that is core to training their best-in-class AI model. The company is quickly becoming the go-to solution for visualizing data sets to enable resilience – and real savings for utilities.

The world of grid inspections is plagued with inefficiencies

When it comes to speed, accuracy and expense, grid inspections are far behind the standards of other critical infrastructure. Electrical utilities suffer losses of $170B annually due to network failures, forced shutdowns, and natural disasters. On average, grid inspection takes six to eight weeks for an engineer to conduct manually. This work comes at a great cost to utility workers: power line repairmen rank in the top 20 most dangerous jobs in the US and account for 24.2 deaths per 100,000 workers according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Compounding this historic challenge for the energy industry, utilities have faced a record number of thefts (e.g., copper and other raw materials), break-ins and vandalism at substations (including several high-profile incidents resulting in blackouts). These events have spurred calls for new regulatory mandates for greater monitoring and autonomous operations, given that many substations are in highly remote areas. The utility industry is urgently looking for new solutions to help avoid these costly and high-risk incidents and their associated negative publicity and potential for lawsuits.

Buzz Solutions offers an AI platform to efficiently inspect, monitor and manage power infrastructure 

Buzz Solutions provides a multi-product visual data digitization and analytics platform to address utilities’ inspection and monitoring analytics needs via two solutions: PowerAI and PowerGUARD.  Unlike other solutions on the market, Buzz does not need to bear the expense of collecting raw data.  Instead, they partner with drone, helicopter, and ground-based providers and existing utility sub-contractors.

PowerAI is a cloud-based AI software analyzing visual transmission and distribution data.  It does this faster, cheaper, more accurately, and safer than current manual processes. With its human-in-the-loop algorithm, PowerAI generates materially higher accuracy, at 60% of the cost, and 5X faster than manual processes, saving Buzz’s customers~$5M daily in reduced outage risk (assuming analysis of roughly 2M images per year). PowerAI ingests aerial visual data collected via third-party drone partners or a utilities in-house drone inspection team. It processes these images through their data management and AI fueled smart algorithms. It stores the analytics and reporting on a utility’s IT/OT systems to address cybersecurity considerations; and then integrates the insights into the utility’s GIS or work order systems via APIs to ensure the necessary actions tie into workflow and maintenance prioritization systems. In 2024, Buzz plans to expand PowerAI functionality to include smart analytics of solar and hydro assets. For PowerAI, Buzz’s extensive field inspection data volume source acts as a foundational data asset that is core to their competitive advantage.

In 2023, Buzz launched its second platform solution, PowerGUARD, as an edge AI monitoring platform providing 24/7 visual monitoring for utility substations. PowerGUARD analyzes visual data and thermal imagery via fixed on-site cameras; and provides intrusion, worker safety, and equipment condition monitoring as well as fire, smoke and arcing detection with their AI-powered alerting algorithm. It then delivers these alerts to the relevant utility teams, such as the substation operators or security teams. In 2024, Buzz plans to expand PowerGUARD’s product coverage to include monitoring and analytics of wind infrastructure assets.

It’s there but we can make it more explicit about how it has influenced our conviction. The primary piece is adding on the Substation product and evolving to a full platform solution that captures, digitizes, analyzes and builds actions into the utility workflow system for all visual data assets. The other piece is the significant uptick in utility customer “readiness to act”. Thanks for that input.

The transmission inspection market is massive and becoming more connected 

Globally, the transmission inspection market accounts for over $40B. The market is expected to double over the next decade as voluntary and mandated inspections increase. New transmission builds, for example, now require an initial and post-construction inspection. As inspections transition from manual processes to more autonomous drone and robotic data collection, it is expected that utilities will capture 10x more images for each monitored structure. With more data comes the need for better prioritization and actionable insights – exactly where Buzz is positioned to win.  Additionally, the growth of renewable energy assets creates a large and growing market opportunity for solar, wind, and hydro inspection analysis, which PowerAI could service with minimal product updates.

Given the intermittent and unpredictable load profiles of EVs and DERs, implications for the  utility distribution network are still unknown. However, the aging grid is increasingly stressed and strained. The more utilities monitor grid equipment and assets, the better they understand their condition. With this understanding, grid operators will be able to better estimate  load patterns, infrastructure capacity, and speed the pace of electrification and decarbonization. We believe the combined offering of PowerAI and PowerGUARD position Buzz to be the 0nly utility tuned platform that will increasingly capture, digitize, provide superior analytics, and seamlessly build actions into the utility workflows  across all visual data assets. We see this broader visual data analytics platform accelerating customer interest, early adoption and full enterprise deployment in the coming years.

Founders with a customer obsession

Buzz was co-founded by CEO Kaitlyn Albertoli and CTO Vikhyat Chaudhry in 2017. The pair met at Stanford University and started Buzz as part of their coursework. Kaitlyn graduated from Stanford and has a background in finance and sustainability. She leads go to market for the company, and has spent the past seven years working with utility customers and channel partners. While earning his MS in Civil and Environmental Engineering, Vik specialized in energy engineering and AI/ML for smart grid technologies, working as a research assistant focused on ML and computer vision for drone sensing of wind farms. He spent three years as a data scientist at Cisco Systems, and worked as an embedded systems engineer focused on firmware design and Machine Learning based intent prediction algorithms. Since we invested at the seed stage, the team has been laser focused on serving customers like NYPA, Southern California Edison and others monitor their critical infrastructure, achieving best in class performance. They’re currently hiring a Marketing Manager, Sales Specialist and Solutions Engineer to join the team and their mission of safeguarding the world’s energy infrastructure. For more information on open roles at Buzz Solutions, visit their job board here.