20 Aug Local Company Records Blackout with Web-Based Monitoring System
MIDDLETON, WI – SoftSwitching Technologies, a high-technology spin-off of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, recorded power events on about 250 monitors Thursday during the biggest blackout the nation has ever seen. In a press release last week, the company said, “Near-simultaneous events were recorded in New York and Michigan at approximately 4:10 p.m. EDT. The blackout then spread across the northeastern United States, with the I-Grid recording over 200 events in the first two minutes alone.”
The company’s I-Grid product, a web-based power-monitoring system, has more than 1,000 monitors in the United States, with 250 of them in the affected states, said Dave Trungale, vice president of sales. “All the monitors are synchronized on the same time clock,” Trungale said, making the data more reliable than that from individual utilities.
The company is working with the Department of Energy and the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC), the nation’s primary transmission system monitor, to provide data to help determine the cause of the outage. “SoftSwitching firmly believes that the widespread power outages could not have been caused by any event or power disturbance at any industrial facility,” according to the company’s website.
I-Grid, one of a few products SoftSwitching has developed, was first unveiled last year. Targeted at industrial clients and utilities, it’s superior to other monitoring systems because the monitors are low cost and there’s no software involved, Trungale said. Previously utilities relied on customers to call about power outages, but I-Grid allows utilities to get real-time snapshots of failures, he said. Some utilities are starting to use I-Grid as a predictive maintenance tool, as well. “They can say, ‘It looks like there’s a tree limb against this line,’ and send out a tree crew,” Trungale said. For industrial companies, “it gives them the data to say here’s what shut us down. Here’s what I need to fix the problem,” he said.
Often I-Grid helps to sell a different SoftSwitching product, the Dynamic Sag Corrector (DYSC), Trungale said. The DYSC is a battery-free uninterruptible power supply (UPS) that allows industrial companies such as auto manufacturers to cover their usually very short power outages, Trungale said. “Sometimes a quarter of a second of downtime can cost half a million dollars,” he said. In semiconductor production, if cleanrooms lose power for a fraction of a second, months of production work can be lost, he said. The DYSC is a low-cost, battery-free solution for companies who rarely experience long outages, but for whom very short power problems cost plenty, he said.
Venture capital firm Venture Investors invested in the company, and says the blackout shows the importance of the product. “We’re really excited about the market opportunities for the I-Grid,” said David Arnstein, associate. “This event has shown the importance of monitoring power quality on a real-time basis. We hope this unfortunate event can help SoftSwitching Technologies capitalize on this market opportunity.”
Since the blackout last week, SoftSwitching has fielded many calls and requests from the press, Trungale said. A search of the internet show the company featured in articles in USA Today, ABC News and The New York Times.
The Future of Power
SoftSwitching recently developed the first portable hydrogen fuel cell-based UPS system in a partnership with Ballard Power Systems, Trungale said. The UL- and CSA-approved AirGen fuel cell generator converts hydrogen and oxygen into electricity.
As SoftSwitching is a privately owned company, Trungale would not release financial data. The company was founded by Deepak Divan, Ph.D., who currently serves as chairman, and is, among other honors, an IEEE fellow. A professor at UW-Madison, Divan spun SoftSwitching off the university in 1995.
Jennifer Braico is a freelance writer and contributor to Wisconsin Technology Network. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.