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September 18, 2023 AI in CT

CT startup uses AI to help electric companies ID faulty utility poles, equipment

PHOTO | CONTRIBUTED Noteworthy AI’s technology can be placed on top of utility vehicles to geolocate and produce high-resolution digital images of utility poles.
Noteworthy AI at a glance
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The aging U.S. electric grid, which was mostly built in the 1960s and 1970s, is facing significant demand from the rise in electric vehicle use and other innovations.

It’s also becoming increasingly vulnerable to service interruptions and outages due to climate change and extreme weather events. Bare electrical wires and leaning utility poles, for example, have been cited as the possible cause of the recent deadly Maui fires.

There’s an estimated 185 million utility poles crisscrossing North America, with the average pole made of wood and nearing the end of its 40-year shelf life, according to industry statistics.

But less than 20% of utility poles are replaced annually because inspection is an expensive and labor-intensive process. It requires utilities to send out dedicated teams — armed with cameras, binoculars and notepads — to make in-person assessments.

Stamford-based tech startup Noteworthy AI has found a way to streamline that process. Its technology, Noteworthy Inspect, helps electric companies evaluate pole conditions through cameras that can be mounted on utility vehicles performing routine operations.

The company’s technology combines cloud-based artificial intelligence software and computer vision that automatically geolocates a pole, and then produces high-resolution digital images and data points.

That data gets processed through machine-learning models to detect pole defects, such as corrosion, rotting wood, leaky transformers or broken insulators.

Christopher Ricciuti

The technology allows customers to proactively identify problems that require maintenance, reduces preventable service disruptions and provides crucial cost savings, said Christopher Ricciuti, founder and CEO of Noteworthy AI.

“Our platform monitors, processes and notifies utilities of equipment defects in real-time,” Ricciuti said. “It’s cheaper to use AI to find the needle in the haystack.”

Raising awareness

Ricciuti, who created the technology with an initial team of engineers, founded the company in 2020, aided by an affiliation with UConn’s Technology Incubation Program and data science initiative in Stamford, which offered university resources and office space.

“Stamford has a good concentration of machine-learning engineers, which supports our hiring needs,” Ricciuti said.

Over the past three years, Noteworthy has experienced rapid growth, fueled by its participation in utility industry-sponsored accelerator programs that have provided access to key stakeholders and revenue-generating opportunities.

The 15-employee company has participated in accelerators sponsored by the Electric Power Reach Institute, Dominion Energy, Duke Energy and global clean energy provider EDP.

In July 2022, Noteworthy raised $3 million in new funding, with backers including Earthshot Ventures, Techstars and Connecticut Innovations, among others. The company is in the midst of a second funding round, but Ricciuti declined to provide details.

“We’re excited to see Noteworthy AI bring new technology, such as computer vision and artificial intelligence, to address pressing challenges across utility networks,” said Mike Jackson, managing partner at San Francisco-based venture capital firm Earthshot Ventures, and a member of Noteworthy AI’s board of directors. “We see this increasing the safety and reliability of grid operations, while unlocking big new opportunities for their utility customers.”

Clients today include FirstEnergy, Alabama Power, FPL, Constellation and others across multiple states, including Florida, Alabama, New Jersey and Texas, Ricciuti said.

The company is marketing itself directly to utilities as well as to their service providers, such as engineering, vegetation, inspection and other firms, he said.

“Mostly, marketing means raising our awareness in the space through industry conferences, thought leadership, and other means,” Ricciuti said.

Growth potential

Noteworthy AI could see an additional revenue boost, Ricciuti said, from the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, which will provide billions of dollars in loans and grants to utilities and other energy providers for clean energy projects, including grid upgrades.

Privately held, Noteworthy doesn’t disclose revenues or earnings.

The company’s three- to five-year plan is expansion. While it’s premature to consider a detailed exit plan, it could eventually culminate in an IPO or acquisition by one of Noteworthy’s larger partners, Riccitui said.

There are also opportunities to diversify into other sectors, like telecom, that use utility poles for cable and telephone lines.

“Over the next few years, our goal is to become the de facto means of helping large, investor-owned electric utilities in the U.S. better understand the condition of the grid,” Riccitui said. “In time, we will expand our offering internationally, as well as to adjacent verticals such as telecom.”

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