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July 7, 2016

Portland firm bests 24 contenders for $146K grid grant

Photo / Lori Valigra Kay Aiken, CEO of Introspective Systems LLC of Portland, which was recently awarded a $146,683 grant from the federal government.

Introspective Systems LLC, a Portland-based company that designs complex frameworks and software so various electronic systems can talk to each other in networks, has been awarded a $146,683 U.S. Department of Energy grant through the federal Small Business Innovation Research program.

The grant, which runs until March 13, 2017, involves the company designing an architecture for devices such as household refrigerators to attach to the electric grid, company CEO Kay Aiken told Mainebiz. It is the first such grant the company has won.

Aiken said Introspective Systems was one of 28 companies to apply for the SBIR grant, and four won. The competing grants will be assessed and narrowed down to a winner as the grant process advances.

The idea behind the grant is to create a more robust electric grid nationwide that also will be able to cope with potential terrorist attacks. The project is part of the DOE’s Grid Modernization Initiative.

“The DOE wants a way to put intelligence on the edge of the grid,” Aiken said. A refrigerator, for example, could figure out which is the best time to turn down its internal temperature, waiting for the washer in the house to finish before it turns on. It also could save energy and cost at the same time.

Introspective Systems’ plan is on the cutting edge, Aiken said, as it using the concept of fractals, mathematical equations that describe geometric figures, each part of which has the same character as the whole. That means a miniature electric grid in one house could be attached to five houses with similar grids, and that ring of grids could in turn could be attached to larger amounts of houses with grids and so on until all eight national grids and their components tie together. That way, if one house or group of houses is in a blackout, nearby grids could automatically sense the lack of power and send electricity their way.

“One problem now with the grid is that it is very vulnerable to terrorist attacks,” Aiken said. Having potentially thousands or millions of smaller grids that build upon one another would result in less damage if there were an attack.

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