Sunday, April 25, 2010

Welcome to the Smart Grid

I started work recently at a new company, ironically located just down the hill from the building Creo started in many years ago.

Tantalus is one of the small, fast-growing tech Vancouver companies working to make the smart grid real. Tantalus manufactures radio and software systems read electrical meters by radio. Well, that's half the story. Automated Meter Reading, or AMR, could be seen simply as a cost reduction exercise to reduce employment of the urban university students who jog between houses reading meters, or the more significant carbon footprint of driving trucks around rural areas to read meters of farm-houses. Tantalus' meters alone have saved an estimated 1,000,000 miles of truck travel in the U.S. in 2009. Part of the reason Tantalus' system does so well in these sparse rural regions is the nature of the radio systems they designed years ago, the uses both analog and digital techniques to create a network that allows meters to relay information from any other meter that they can reach by radio, extending the network reach by miles.

The other half of the story is that Tantalus' radio system is two-way. That turns out to be a great innovation because over the next few years, as the smart grid gets overlaid on top of the electrical grid, there will be as much communication going INTO homes and buildings as coming out of them. With radio-connected meters, utilities can have near real-time updates on the actual load on their entire system. We will see utilities imposing highly discriminated pricing regimes called time-of-use, to balance peak power demands to avoid the need to build new power plants. Customers already can sign up for connecting devices to plugs that only go on when power cost is low, or thermostats that can alter the temperature setting to save power to prevent brownouts. As one customer told me, eventually all customers will be on time-of-use, so we will want to have appliances that make good economic choices about when to use power and when not to.

Tantalus has some cool tech, some good basic science, and some good sales folk and customers. I'm glad to have ended up here and help them fuel their next stage growth.