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Gridmetrics, a startup incubated at CableLabs, takes aim at power outages

Gridmetrics is ready for liftoff.

Gridmetrics, a for-profit, wholly owned subsidiary of CableLabs, has launched its first product, the Power Event Notification System (PENS), a platform that uses hundreds of thousands of "sensors" to monitor and track the state of the distribution portion of the US power grid in near real-time. Rather than just pinpointing where outages or voltage variabilities are occurring on the US distribution grid, PENS claims to add a critical layer of context by correlating the causes of those outages, such as fires, floods and severe weather.

Monitoring the where (and why) of power events

Going beyond traditional county-level insights that might be updated at 15-minute intervals, PENS monitors the last mile of the distribution grid – individual neighborhoods, for example – in five- minute increments. To obtain that granular-level view, PENS uses the US National Grid projection, a 1 km x 1 km grid overlaid on a map of the US, to support its monitoring capabilities. It's a good place to look, as almost 90% of all power outages occur in the distribution portion of the power grid, according to Gridmetrics.

To help put power events and outages into context, PENS can also tell, for example, if they are occurring near specific areas that are particularly vulnerable to power outages, such as hospitals, emergency response centers or nursing homes.

"There is no comprehensive, independent, observational view of the power grid. PENS is the first one that supplies this," Scott Caruso, president of Gridmetrics, said.

Gathering and analyzing network data

PENS does all this by leveraging data from the communications infrastructure – existing pieces of the network with access to fiber backhaul and resilient backup power – that neatly map to the US national grid. Those individual Gridmetric sensors, which reside in everything from cable fiber nodes to Wi-Fi hotspots to 5G small cells, collect two things from those devices: the inverter status (which tells whether a device is on commercial power or backup power) and the input voltage.

When that data is fed into Gridmetrics' cloud, resulting dashboards show the number of "power events," such as outages, and the population that is being impacted by those events.

The Gridmetrics-PENS Twitter account, which shares notable power outages, offers a glimpse of the product in action:

"It gets us a view of power outages, the current state of power," Caruso explained. "We are literally showing events that take place in the last mile of the power grid and then we put it in context … We enable better decisions for our first responders and public safety communities to make better decisions with better data."

Gridmetrics is hosting its product through Esri, a top supplier of geographic information system (GIS) solutions and a dominant supplier of dashboards and decision support tools for the public safety sector. Through Esri's web-based ArcGIS Marketplace, Gridmetrics is offering 21-day free trials of the service. Broward County, Florida, is among those that have recently signed on to test it, according to Caruso.

300,000 sensors and counting

Caruso said PENS currently aggregates data from about 300,000 sensors on communications networks that are largely run by CableLabs' cable operator members. Today, about 150 million people – or about 45% of the US population – live within 1 kilometer of a Gridmetrics sensor, he estimates.

"It's a good start. We're around the major population centers," Caruso said.

Caruso said Gridmetrics recently transitioned agreements with CableLabs member partners to commercial agreements using a revenue-sharing model.

Gridmetrics is in the process of expanding its coverage by working with additional CableLabs members and by engaging with other types of communications companies. That includes a mix of telcos, metro fiber operators, satellite broadband providers and mobile network operators – the types of companies that have access to two basic elements: fiber backhaul and resilient power sources.

Caruso expects Gridmetrics to double its current coverage in the US within the next 12 to 18 months. "We certainly envision going well beyond just the US," he added.

While there are other markets Gridmetrics could target down the line, such as banks and corporate security, Caruso said public safety and the emergency response community had the most urgent need for this type of technology and service.

Focusing on public safety "is not going to be the windfall, but it's the right first market," Caruso said. "Is it our biggest market? No. If I were a traditional startup that was venture-backed, I probably wouldn't start with this market. But because we are incubated with CableLabs, we have the luxury and the opportunity to really focus on the market with the greatest need."

Caruso said Gridmetrics also has "visibility" at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), believing that its data can help the agency make better decisions during crises. "Candidly, this needs to be in FEMA's hands," he said.

Gridmetrics origins

The PENS launch surfaces about three years after Gridmetrics was initiated as an incubation project at CableLabs, which credits Dr. Robert Cruickshank, a DOCSIS pioneer and currently a researcher in power grid modernization, with inspiring the idea behind Gridmetrics.

Caruso, who also serves as VP of strategic ventures at CableLabs, noted in this blog post that Gridmetrics evolved from a conversation in 2017 between Cruickshank and Caruso.

Although PENS is the first commercial product from Gridmetrics, the first application using the Gridmetrics data set stemmed from an R&D project with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) called the Situational Awareness of Grid Anomalies (SAGA). SAGA focused on creating a visualization tool that trains computers to classify grid events, in the context of potential grid cybersecurity threats, in near real-time.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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