“Going Beyond Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI)”—the conviction to think through the next innovation and create a truly intelligent and responsive distribution grid—makes Tantalus Systems a unique player in the energy industry today. While the utility industry is submerged in challenges ranging from aging infrastructure and increasing consumer expectations to the introduction of commercially viable distributed energy resources which create network stability issues and potential revenue erosion, Tantalus is positioned as a stable foundation at the epicenter of this transformation. The company is focused on keeping its customers ahead of the curve by helping them think outside of the traditional AMI box. To achieve this, Tantalus leverages the latest energy Internet-of-Things (IoT) based technologies, backed by the power of distributed computing and data analytics deployed at the edge of the grid, to improve the operating reliability and efficiency of the energy distribution network.

To “Go Beyond AMI,” Tantalus relies on its sophisticated future-ready smart grid solution, the Tantalus Utility Network (TUNet®). TUNet combines a Linux-based computing platform— embedded on every Tantalus device—with a low latency, high capacity network with IP-based data communications. The network and endpoints work together to analyze and prioritize data delivery to utility decision-makers via TRUPush® messaging technology. This combination enables utilities to automate and optimize the distribution grid by integrating applications such as Advanced Metering Infrastructure, Demand Management (DM), Distribution Automation (DA) and Smart Streetlight control on a single powerful platform.

“TUNet is unique in its ability to deliver real-time, granular data—i.e., interval meter data delivered on the interval—to utilities in a cost-effective manner and in virtually any terrain,” says Peter Londa, President and CEO at Tantalus. “The utility industry is evolving and it is clear that change is at hand. Utilities can no longer afford to make critical operational decisions armed only with limited access to batched meter data. In fact, utilities need even more than just real-time alerts such as outage, voltage, sags and swells. Rather, utility decision makers need full access to granular interval data to understand loss of power and voltage changes in real-time. With the right data delivered at the right time, utilities can make operating decisions to avoid, or significantly reduce, the impact of power outages, mitigate economic exposure during peak demand periods and empower their commercial, industrial and residential consumers with timely data.”

"TUNet is unique in its ability to deliver real-time, granular data—i.e., interval meter data delivered on the interval—to utilities in a cost-effective manner and in virtually any terrain"

As an example of TUNet’s differentiated performance, one rural electric cooperative serving 65,000 members in South Carolina recently performed a side-by-side comparison of TUNet and a traditional mesh network. The field demonstration compared communications reliability in challenging terrain, data delivery and response time during an outage. To fully illustrate real-world performance expectations, TUNet was integrated with the utility’s existing Outage Management System (OMS) as part of the demonstration. Results showed that TUNet’s ability to rapidly deliver messages from the field greatly enhanced outage management performance. Based on real-time TUNet information, the utility’s OMS was able to determine the precise fault location within minutes of the first outage message. Further, TUNet delivered 99.7 percent of meter power restoration messages within six minutes of service being restored, enabling the utility to maximize operational cost savings by recalling crews sooner than expected.

Over the past several years, we have more than doubled the number of utilities we serve while significantly expanding our solutions and applications portfolio

TUNet’s superior performance compared to the mesh network helped the cooperative understand the importance of receiving the right data, from the right location, at the right time.

Pioneering Delivery of Edge Computing

Tantalus has a long history in delivering smart grid solutions to the utility industry. The company’s deployment of IoT-based communications dates back to 1989, well before the terminology existed. Tantalus was also the first company of its kind to integrate Linux-based edge computing technology for smart grid. At the core of its technology lies a powerful ASIC (Application-Specific Integrated Circuit) module with robust computing power, five co-processors for parallel processing on the device and abundant RAM and flash memory. Essentially, Tantalus delivered a means to cost-effectively deploy the computing power of a smart phone in every smart grid device on the distribution grid.

TUNet’s powerful “distributed intelligence” is designed to support edge analytics, applications and protocols both today and in the future as the needs of utilities evolve. These intelligent endpoints are a critical component to providing key smart grid insights such as outage detection, power diversion detection, transformer load monitoring, and water leak detection—all in real time. With TUNet’s advances in network architecture and edge computing power, Tantalus can deliver analytics to every corner of the grid at a price comparable to other metering systems that do not offer distributed computing capability. “While many meter vendors continue to rely on housing analytics through a centralized head end, which adds network latency and congestion, Tantalus stands alone in heavily investing in bringing that level of functionality to the edge of the grid. We are delivering a robust and long-lasting technology platform that is currently deployed at more than 120 utilities,” states Londa.

In addition to industry-leading computing power and communications reliability, TUNet is designed to reduce a utility’s technology investment risk. A Linux-based design coupled with a software configurable radio allows utilities to push system upgrades, new applications and even new communications protocols to every TUNet device remotely through Over-The-Air-Programming (OTAP).“This means that we can change the state, behavior or functionality of the communications module on any device simply by delivering a remote firmware upgrade precisely where and when it is needed— whether that is on a single device or to the entire network,” explains Londa. This ensures that utilities can be certain that the technology investments being made today are truly future-ready and can be molded to meet evolving utility and market needs with minimized incremental cost.

Turning Challenges into Opportunities

As a seasoned smart grid technology executive, Londa has an acute understanding of the technology trends shaping the industry. Along with acknowledging ongoing industry shifts, Londa encourages the entire team at Tantalus to turn challenges into opportunities.
“As society becomes increasingly dependent on data-driven applications with ‘on-demand’ expectations, utilities must proactively provide enhanced services such as portals and applications as part of their customer service offering.” Tantalus is addressing this “need for speed” by ensuring that the utility has real-time energy consumption data that can be used to identify anomalies in the grid while providing visibility and control to consumers.

Tantalus is committed to helping utility customers migrate beyond AMI by partnering with application vendors that can leverage TUNet data and provide quantifiable benefits. The company helps mitigate the risks associated with integrating multiple systems for utilities by adopting widely accepted industry technology standards in its product and application lines. “We strive to increase ease of integration by avoiding non-standardized interfaces where possible. We are also active members of many industry standardization bodies for both metering and communications,” states Londa.

Another way in which the company is converting industry challenges into opportunities is by addressing rising energy demand and operational costs through the optimization of distribution grid assets. The ability to control operational costs in this manner will play a key role in the long-term sustainability of its business operations. Tantalus is working with leading DA companies to integrate a DNP3-compatible TUNet communications module onto DA devices such as capacitor banks and voltage regulators. By extending TUNet communications to these remote distribution devices, the company eliminates the need for a secondary network, making edge computing at the transmission and distribution levels more practical and affordable than ever before.

Further, utilities with integrated Tantalus AMI data and Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA) communication to DA devices can further increase savings with applications such as Closed Loop Voltage Reduction (CLVR). CLVR provides the data needed for rapid and precise voltage control to help address costly peak demand charges for utilities like Morristown Utility Systems (MUS) in Tennessee. CLVR has helped MUS take pro-active action to avoid peak demand charges during high consumption periods by quickly reducing system-wide peak voltage up to 4 percent. Results at MUS have been astonishing with ongoing economic savings exceeding multiple millions of dollars with no impact to customer power quality.

A Clear & Exciting Vision

Tantalus’ vision is to push the boundaries of what defines the ‘smart grid’ and to deliver nothing less than a ubiquitous utility smart grid platform that can support the sustainable utility of today and tomorrow. The convergence of technology affordability and an increasingly data-driven culture is changing the way in which utilities are thinking about the future. Now more than ever, utilities have the opportunity to address challenges and market uncertainty with solid technology investments that can grow with them as needs evolve.
This strong passion towards innovation is translating into a leading position for Tantalus as one of the fastest growing smart grid providers in the industry. “Over the past several years, we have more than doubled the number of utilities we serve while significantly expanding our solutions and applications portfolio,” states Londa. On future endeavors, Tantalus plans to continue to leverage the broad capabilities of TUNet through the expansion of its edge computing and data analytics applications. The company strives to stay in tune with the utility user experience while keeping an eye towards future needs. Tantalus is actively expanding its geographical footprint to reach more utilities that are similarly committed to building an intelligent and responsive smart grid.