Making the Grid Smarter By Tagging It

Can the power grid get smarter without using additional communication networks, like cellular or radio frequency? As it turns out, yes, according to a startup called Power Tagging, which makes hardware, and software to help utilities monitor and keep tabs on the grid via the power line itself. At the Cleantech Forum in San Francisco on Tuesday, Power Tagging CEO John LoPorto gave a presentation on the company’s technology and said Power Tagging is looking to raise a $25 million Series B round to lower the cost of the system and find more utility customers.

Power Tagging’s technology uses digital signal processing techniques and algorithms to “hug” the power line and help utilities with applications like voltage reduction, electric vehicle management, mapping the grid, and demand side management. To achieve this Power Tagging places modules at various places on the grid and amplification devices to make sure the signal can survive across the grid, especially at tricky places like transformers. Power Tagging’s algorithms create tags about the grid, with metadata about what is happening in real time, essentially creating a constantly updated map for the utility.

The idea is that a utility can spend a lot less on this type of communication technology, compared to signing up to use a cellular-based network for grid data, or building a separate network based on any number of wireless and wired technologies. The network also would provide full coverage (since it hugs the grid), compared to, say, a cellular network which can be unreliable on some locations.

One indication that the technology could actually be of interest to utilities, is the fact that large power company Dominion has invested in the company, is already piloting the technology, and will be Power Tagging’s first launch customer. Power Tagging already raised a Series A round of $5 million, and has been awarded two grants from the National Science Foundation.

Power Tagging is also working with Lockheed Martin (read our How Lockheed Martin is Tackling the Smart Grid), and Chris Demain, Vice President of Corporate Development for Lockheed Martin Corporation, sits on Power Tagging’s board.

It remains to be seen exactly what type of communications technology utilities will opt for. Many utilities that are building out smart grids are partnering with wireless network providers like Silver Spring Networks.

Image courtesy of Power Tagging.