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SmartSynch’s technology could be critical as power demand surges

In the next decade, this country’s demand for electricity will grow by 19% and the supply will grow by only 6%. A Jackson-based company hopes to help fill that gap by making electric meters smarter.

Since 2000, SmartSynch has been developing ways to automate the electric meter reading process and enable power companies to get information from those meters every few minutes. Information in real time will help those companies and electric consumers make decisions that can lead to changing usage patterns.

Thanks to a federal mandate to save energy, SmartSynch is in the right place at the right time. “We feel blessed to be where we are and have the technology we’ve developed,” said Matt Thornton, senior vice president for corporate development. “We’re looking at carbon emissions, the use of electricity and the demand.”

Now with the Republicans and Democrats in Congress agreeing that it’s time to do something about the burgeoning demand for electricity, he expects something big to happen.

“There is no correlating supply from conventional power generating plants. We would have to build 1,500 to 3,000 new power plants just to meet demand,” he said. “That’s not possible due to social, regulatory and political reasons and costs. There’s a big imbalance between demand and supply.”

Thornton drives his point further by noting that 10% to 20% of electricity generated is lost traveling through transmission lines. Furthermore, power outages cause a $70-billion economic impact each year.

“The electric grid in this country is running on 50-year-old technology,” he said. “The buzz is on how we can have a more intelligent electric grid. We must have smart devices all along the meters on the grid.”

SmartSynch’s technology allows a utility to put a meter at a home that can be read every five minutes using the existing cellular telephone network. “What distinguishes our system is that it allows electric utilities to leverage existing, public cellular networks so they don’t have to spend money on a network,” Thornton said. “They can have great partnerships with cellular companies.”

With five existing patents, SmartSynch has deployed more than 100,000 smart metering devices in North America, and 65 of the top 100 investor-owned utilities use their products.

“Our current penetration of households is only s 6% and will grow to 89% by 2012,” he said. “The next five years will see significant growth from traditional meters to smart meters. We’re well positioned to be a major provider of smart grid solutions to the North American marketplace.”

Stephen Johnston leads the company as CEO with a board of directors that includes John Palmer, former ambassador to Portugal. The young company is a Mississippi success story that Thornton affirms will continue to be headquartered in the state.

“Our board is comfortable with us being here,” he said. “We’re one of the highly technical and highly educated employee bases in the state. We’ve raised over $60 million in venture capital since 2000 and see no drawback to being located in Jackson.”

Although the company recruits engineers from Mississippi schools, it is also able to recruit them from all over the country, including Silicon Valley.

SmartSynch has 55 employees and does not anticipate huge growth in that number. “We’re a knowledge economy company of engineering, design and intellectual property,” Thornton said. “We will continue those functions. We are not a manufacturing business. We can partner with others for that part of the business.”

The smart meter technology was originally developed in 1998 for the oil field industry in Alberta, Canada. At that time, it was based on the paging network versus cellular. The business wanted Jacksonian Mark Rogers of SkyTel to lead and develop the emerging technology, and he insisted it be moved to Jackson.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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