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Company Is Dedicated To Speed Public Power and Co-ops into Digital Age

image credit: Tantalus Systems
Llewellyn King's picture
Executive Producer White House Media, LLC

Llewellyn King is the creator, executive producer and host of “White House Chronicle,” a weekly news and public affairs program, airing nationwide on PBS and public, educational and government...

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  • Jan 24, 2022
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Peter Londa, president and CEO of Tantalus Systems, believes that his company is a fast horse out of the gate in bringing technological solutions to public power and rural electric co-ops. His order book suggests he is right.

Tantalus’ role, according to Londa, is to speed utilities into the digital age. On a recent Digital 360 webinar, he said the utility of today in many ways isn’t that different from the utility of 100 years ago, except for changes in technology. “And 100 years from now, it will be different again. Our job as a technology company is to help utilities into the future," he said.

Tantalus was founded in Burnaby, a suburb of Vancouver, Canada; and it was named for a nearby mountain range. While it is headquartered in Burnaby and listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, most of its customer base is in the United States, Londa told me when I visited him at his office in Norwalk, Connecticut.

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

The company was founded by Keith Martin, an engineer, and, as Londa described the original team, “a group of very smart engineers with expertise in transporting data over wireless networks back in the days when being connected was having a pager.”   

Tantalus’ smart grid solutions’ genesis came in 1999, at the annual technology conference of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. At this conference, where Tantalus had booth, a utility was asking how it could access meter data in remote, treacherous locations by wireless communication to avoid expensive, time-consuming manual processes. Tantalus’ answer was to use the 220 MHz band, which is the narrow band set aside by the Federal Communications Commission.

It was a can-do, eureka moment for Tantalus, and the company has been expanding that mission with a suite of services and evolving solutions ever since.

While Tantalus initially focused on automating metering infrastructure (referred to as advanced metering infrastructure), it has expanded its capabilities by deploying a digital network of connected devices to assist utilities to get data from a variety of assets to make informed, proactive decisions that improve the efficiency, reliability, and resilience of the distribution grid.

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

The trick was harnessing a variety of communication technologies to deliver edge-computing. Tantalus’ proprietary technology includes a small device which fits under the glass of a meter, enabling it to analyze, send and receive vital data via the radio network.

This device, Londa said, has been modified and improved since its early deployment, and is now highly sophisticated in the kinds of data it can transmit, or the kinds of signals it can receive. It is quite small (about the size of a saucer) and contains 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 a utility of any size to be totally digitized.

Data will be key to managing operations, from normal day to day to those in a supply crisis or other interruption. Londa said that with the growing capacities of utility networks, things never contemplated can now be easily arranged. For example, a utility in a dire situation, like the five-day deepfreeze during winter storm Uri in Texas last February, can now contemplate cutting off every other house so people can shelter with their neighbors. More than 200 people died during winter storm Uri and while this staged blackout wasn’t in broad use at the time, Tantalus’ utility customers were able to surgically control their customers’ power and prevented them having to endure days and nights without any power at all, Londa told me.

A Tantalus service gives a utility a total operating picture in real time or with only seconds of delay. Looking at the data coming from its service, a utility management would know instantly where there is low voltage or high voltage, or whether a tree limb is chafing a line, causing what is called a flutter or blink. That exact location is established with instant triangulation, and utilities can dispatch a vegetation management team to free the line and prevent an outage or other disruption.

Tantalus has stayed in the field of public power and cooperative power utilities as a strategic decision, partly because they have partnered with this market segment for decades and have developed a clear view of the requirements of rural utilities and other geographically challenged systems, and partly because that is where they have found the demand for bespoke communications.

With the enormous importance of the large, metropolitan-based utilities (the 60 or so investor-owned behemoths), public and cooperative power utilities and their members are often overlooked or underserved. Londa told me Tantalus wishes to be the place they go to for long-term assistance, bordering on TLC.

Just over 200 utilities are in the Tantalus fold, and there are 2,000 other public power entities as well as more than 700 rural electric cooperatives in the United States. It would seem that the company has room to grow. A tantalizing prospect.

 

 

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 24, 2022

partly because they have partnered with this market segment for decades and have developed a clear view of the requirements of rural utilities and other geographically challenged systems, and partly because that is where they have found the demand for bespoke communications

This is definitely eye-opening. I wonder if other companies/industries have taken note of this path to success

Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Jan 24, 2022

I don't see any super power added. How did they do this claimed feat? 

QUOTE=Tantalus’ utility customers were able to surgically control their customers’ power and prevented them having to endure days and nights without any power at all, Londa told me. 

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