Emmanuel Albert: 'Utilities understand they need a product like ours.'

Emmanuel Albert: 'Utilities understand they need a product like ours.'

Trispectra is a Fredericton startup dedicated to solving a problem common to pretty well every electrical utility – quickly finding and identifying faults on their grids.

The company is made up of a trio of University of New Brunswick engineering grads who have embraced the work of New Brunswick’s Smart Grid Initiative in a big way. They are working on a solution that will help utilities find outages on their grids more quickly, and eventually help to reduce power interruption.

The company has been going for about three years, but it pivoted 18 months ago to develop a system of sensors that can go on the network of powerlines. These sensors, which are powered by the wires they sit on, can tell the utility’s headquarters where there’s a problem in its grid so it can be fixed quicker than is currently the case.

It’s a little-known fact that utilities don’t have the ability to detect a power outage as soon as it occurs. They find out there’s an issue when customers phone to say their power has gone out. Then they send out crews to try to find the problem. Once a crew locates the problem, they have to identify it and hope they have the right equipment to correct it.

“Our solution was to provide a sensor-based monitor system that would provide a map of the power lines and detect faults,” said CEO Emmanuel Albert in an interview. “We can alert the utility if there’s a fault – not just location but also the type of problem.”

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Albert, CFO Shawn Cunningham and COO Jamie Willar have built out several laboratory prototypes and are now working on a full working prototype of their product. Not only will the system alert the utility if there is a problem, it will also assess the state of each wire, saying how much it’s sagging or swaying, or what its temperature is.

By analyzing the data produced by this system, Trispectra hopes to produce a predictive feature that can identify wires where problems could occur so they can be upgraded before there is an outage.

So far, Trispectra has been working in the Energia accelerator at UNB, which provided $20,000 in non-dilutive funding and introduced the company to such mentors as Pierre Mullin of Siemens Canada.

The founders’ main focus now is to perfect certain components that will go into the sensor mechanism, and they are talking with potential manufacturers about ironing our sundry kinks in the design. Once these problems are sorted out and the product has gone through alpha tests, Trispectra hopes to run two pilot projects with municipal electricity providers in the second and third quarters of 2018. Albert has already spoken with utilities about the product.

“The feedback we’re getting is that they understand the product,” said Albert. “They think this is a problem that needs to be resolved. What we’re trying to do is not just make a cool technology with no customers – utilities understand the need for a product like ours.”