BY DAVID BARDWELL
December 3, 2015: NB Power trucks are working full tilt to try and restore power to over 25,000 customers who lost connectivity as result of a damp snowstorm.
NB Power officially called the mass outage a result of the wet snow accumulating on tree branches which would then break and down transmission lines.
After a long, cold night for many homeowners in the province, crews restored power to most customers, but around 6,000 in the Fredericton area still had no power.
Now, there’s a startup in New Brunswick aiming to reduce or eliminate downtime like that altogether.
Trispectra Innovations is a company that has a focus on infrastructure maintenance and uptime maximization.
In short, it helps keep power flowing to customers with the assistance of technology rather than relying on customers to report outages.
“Our focus is building a sensor-based communications platform for power lines,” said Emmanuel Albert, the CEO and Co-Founder of Trispectra. “It’s being developed to monitor power lines in real time.”
The purpose of the monitoring system is to immediately locate faults in the grid that could lead to outages.
“This way, we can reduce the downtime in power lines by telling the utilities. They can use that to speed up or optimize their management process.”
The company is also developing a more complex grid analytics platform. That will serve as a wider management system than just real time notifications.
This will give the utilities a sort of heat map, indicating where lines experience the most trouble, what the choke points are for certain areas and reduce overall downtime by allowing proactive management of the grid.
“We’re still in our early stages, so there isn’t a lot of product development going on, but there’s been a lot of interest, so we’re going at it full time.”
Albert said he’ll be meeting with a utility this month to discuss taking the concept and implementing it in a test case.
“[The utility] has known about it for a long time, and they’re very interested in learning more.”
Albert said a lot of what his sensors will do is assist in notifying utilities when to address vegetation overtaking the lines.
“A big part of what downs lines in the winter is just trees breaking under the weight of ice and snow, we’re hoping to fix that by letting them trim those trees before they become a problem.”
Albert’s company isn’t the only one making waves in the energy sector in New Brunswick.
Rising Tides Technology is developing tidal generating technologies to assist in power production that makes peak-power times more manageable for utilities.
“Our company is focused on developing a new method of tidal [energy generation],” said Scott Shreenan, president of Rising Tides Technology.
Shreenan said the company started with a simple concept and has since fleshed out a second, more refined concept for generating stations.
“Right now we’re looking at doing the whole thing. From putting devices in the water, initially the Bay of Fundy, eventually using that to generate electricity to put it back in the grid to sell to say, NB Power or Nova Scotia Power if we end up on that side of the bay.”
Shreenan said what sets his company apart from competitors is design. He said the company is now seeking funding from government and grant boards.
“The new Liberal government is very keen on new, clean, green energy,” said Shreenan.
Shreenan is a recent graduate of UNB’s Master’s Program in Technology Management and Entrepreneurship.
“I started [my master’s] in August and finished last September. One of the speakers who came to speak to our class last October had actually thought of looking into tidal power early last year.
He was working with two others who had their PhDs in engineering, so they’re the brains behind the tech side of things.”
Another startup to have come out of UNB is SimpTek Technologies. It’s key focus is on delivering an unique experience to the consumer through tools like an energy dashboard.
The company was formed in May, 2014, after its founders graduated from UNB’s Electrical and Computer Engineering programme.
The purpose of the dashboard is to demonstrate how much power a consumer is using in realtime. This allows for a personalized recommendation on how to save power, offset peak load impact and in turn, allow utilities like NB Power to rely more on their renewable resources rather than burn fossil fuels to generate auxiliary power.
Keelen Gagnon, co-founder and COO of SimpTek, said, “The utilities usually collect power data from smart readers, we collect that data and then bring in other data from other sources to create meaningful information,”
Gagnon said the company’s software doesn’t require any extra visits to the home as the service is web-based.
The company was recently in the news for raising over $700,000 in funding through various routes. This fundraising was done in cooperation with the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation and various angel investors.
A recurring theme with these startups was support from the community, with SimpTek getting a helping hand from various startup launchpad organizations to Shreenan’s engagement with the UNB instructor who was partly behind the three companies’ formations.
“A big part of the support we received…is the support we got from the community. I’m talking about NB Power, UNB, Planet Hatch, Ignite Fredericton. All of the mentors that really came together gave us the recipe for success,” said Gagnon.