Tantalus Seeks To End Utilities Frustration By Digitizing Network

In Greek mythology, Tantalus, the wicked king of Sipylus, was a close friend of the gods of Mount Olympus, to whose table he was admitted. For killing his son Pelops and attempting to serve him to the gods, Zeus, the king of the gods, punished Tantalus by sending him to the underworld, where he was to stand forever up to his neck in the water, which flowed from him when he tried to quench his thirst, and above his head hung fruit which the wind carried away every time he tried to pluck it (hence the word “temptation”).

The technology company Tantalus Systems Holdingthe story of is quite the reverse. Rather than being perpetually frustrated, he relieved the frustration of public electricity and rural electricity cooperatives. For more than three decades, Tantalus has worked to bring electricity, water and gas utilities into the digital age.

In fact, the company’s name comes from a mountain range in British Columbia, which is one of the most difficult mountains to climb.

Born in Canada, thriving in the United States

Tantalus was founded in Burnaby, a suburb of Vancouver, Canada. Although it is headquartered in Burnaby and listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX: GRID), most of its customer base is in the United States, the president and CEO told me. of Tantalus, Peter Londa, when I visited him at his office in Norwalk, Connecticut.

Tantalus’ other offices are located in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands, and Raleigh, North Carolina; and Kanata, which is a suburb of Ottawa. Each office offers specialized services and the staff are highly mobile, said Londa.

The company was founded by Keith Martin, an engineer, and, as Londa described the original team, “a very intelligent group of engineers with expertise in transporting data over wireless networks at the time. where to be connected had a pager “.

The genesis of Tantalus smart grid solutions took place in 1999, during the annual technology conference of the National Association of Rural Electricity Cooperatives. At this conference, where Tantalus had a booth, a utility was asking how they could access meter data in remote and dangerous locations by wireless communication to avoid expensive and time-consuming manual processes. Tantalus’ response was to use the 220 MHz band, which is the narrow band reserved by the Federal Communications Commission.

It was a highlight for Tantalus, and the company has continued to expand this mission with a suite of scalable services and solutions ever since.

Tantalus initially focused on automating metering infrastructure (known as advanced metering infrastructure), but expanded its capabilities by deploying a digital network of connected devices to help utilities obtain data from ” a variety of assets in order to make informed and proactive decisions that improve the efficiency, reliability and resilience of the distribution network.

While Tantalus continues to operate the 220 MHz band for utilities with very remote service territories, its current smart grid network exploits Internet Protocol technologies, such as fiber, cellular and radio frequencies. In fact, it’s a market leader in helping utilities deploy a fiber-to-the-home solution, the company said, noting a successful deployment by the utility supporting Chattanooga, Tennessee, which has helped transform the city as a center of economic growth. .

Communication device added to meters

The trick was to harness a variety of communication technologies to deliver advanced computing. Tantalus’ proprietary technology includes a small device that fits under the glass of a meter, allowing it to analyze, send and receive vital data over the radio network.

This device, Londa said, has been modified and improved since its first deployment, and is now very sophisticated in the types of data it can transmit or the types of signals it can receive. It’s quite small (about the size of a saucer) and packs computing power and a radio transmitter / receiver – much like the evolution of smartphones. Londa gave me one to handle and showed me how it easily fits under the glass of a standard household meter.

You can’t talk to anyone associated with the utility industry today without hearing about the value of data or the need for any utility of any size to be fully digitized.

The data will be essential to the management of operations, from the normal day to day to those in crisis of supply or other disruption. Londa said that with the growing capacities of utility networks, things never before considered can now be easily arranged. For example, a utility in a dire situation, such as the five-day deep freeze for winter storm Uri in Texas last February, can now consider cutting down all other homes so people can take shelter with their neighbors. Over 200 people died during winter storm Uri and although this blackout was not widely used at the time, Tantalus utility customers were able to surgically control their customers’ power supplies and kept them from having to endure days and nights with no electricity at all, Londa told me.

A Tantalus service gives a utility a full picture of operation in real time or with just a few seconds of delay. By looking at the data coming from their department, a utility executive would instantly know where there is low or high voltage, or if a tree branch is irritating a line, causing what is called a flutter or flicker. This exact location is established with instant triangulation, and utilities can send a vegetation management team to clear the line and prevent an outage or other disturbance.

Tantalus has remained in the area of ​​public power and cooperative power utilities as a strategic decision, in part because they have partnered with this market segment for decades and have developed a clear view of the demands of consumers. rural utilities and other geographically challenging systems, and in part because that’s where they’ve found the demand for tailor-made communications.

With the enormous importance of large metropolitan utilities (some sixty investor-owned giants), electric utilities and cooperatives and their members are often overlooked or underserved. Londa told me Tantalus wished to be where they were going for long term assistance, bordering on TLC.

Just over 200 utilities are in the fold of Tantalus, and there are 2,000 other public entities as well as over 700 rural electric co-ops in the United States. It looks like the business has room to grow. An enticing prospect.

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