Tantalus-Logo-jpgTantalus Systems, provider of networking infrastructure to wirelessly transmit energy consumption data from smart meters to utilities, has brought in $13.5 million in new equity. Looking beyond simple electricity monitoring, its technology tracks gas and water use as well so that vendors can better manage supply and demand while promoting conservation among consumers and use of devices like programmable thermostats.

Based in North Carolina, the company has 20 years of experience in radio frequency technology, and 10 utility-related data transmission. This makes it much older than Silver Spring Networks (launched in 2002), the anointed — and Google-backed — leader in the smart meter networking market. Ambient and SmartSynch are also big names in the business. But Tantalus has gotten less attention — even though it’s partnered with one of the biggest meter makers, Itron.

Why? It slightly more specialized. While it offers the outage detection, demand response and reporting capabilities that its competitors do, it focuses on small power municipalities and cooperatives. Not only that, but its technology is better equipped to connect meters in hard-to-reach places, like basements, says Tantalus CEO Eric Murray.

Most importantly, however, the Tantalus Utility Network is a “hybrid network,” allowing different generations of equipment to speak to each other, and letting utilities much more easily switch from one platform to the next. This has expanded the company’s customer diversity.

“Let’s say one of our utilities made an investment in powerlines — writing that off would be excessive,” Murray says. “As WiMax, Zigbee and fiber become mainstay technologies, utilities don’t have to pick and choose the perfect technology or guess which is going to be the commercial winner. They can start off with the most cost effective option and then migrate when they need more capacity or when a new generation of technology matures.”

Tantalus plans to use its newest round of funding to expand its product portfolio and its current deployments. The major goal is to keep debt off the balance sheet and hit profitability as soon as possible, Murray says.

The company should be helped in this pursuit by its two partnerships with Itron and General Electric, which make the metering hardware Tantalus knits together into its networks. It will no doubt be looking to land more of these deals with its new infusion of capital.

Redpoint Ventures led the recent round of funding. It raised more than $18 million from European investors in 2007.