Russelectric in Hingham keeps the power on
By Zane Razzaq
The Patriot Ledger
Posted Nov 24, 2017 at 12:24 PM
Updated Nov 24, 2017 at 7:46 PM
HINGHAM — With a cloud of smoke, a Hingham factory roared to life. Workers assembled bits and pieces for power control systems. Others welded metal parts from behind protective glasses. Heat rose as the parts were sprayed with an electrostatic polyester powder and baked at 470 degrees.
Nestled in a quiet part of town off Route 3, Russelectric Inc. has been creating a crucial but invisible bit of technology.
“We’re in the business of ‘it just can’t fail,’” said John Stark, the marketing services coordinator. “Nobody thinks about power until they don’t have it.”
The 62-year-old family-owned company custom designs and builds low -and medium-voltage power control systems and automatic transfer switches to ensure that critical facilities keep power during surges, spikes, blackouts, or other power quality problems.
Russelectric’s equipment is present anywhere even 15 seconds of no power can be disastrous – places like hospitals and airports, casinos and insurance agencies. South Shore Hospital, Logan International Airport, and Foxwoods Casinos are among the customers.
The list stretches beyond Massachusetts, with major players such as the NASA, Bank of America, and Caterpillar, Inc. relying on the local company and its products.
“Look at any Fortune 100 company – they’re going to have our equipment,” said Dorian Alexandrescu, Russelectric’s president and CEO.
The company was founded by Raymond G. Russell in 1955. The Scituate native was a veteran of the United States Navy who served during World War II. Because on-site emergency power was nonexistent in the late 1950s, the Navy usually responded to power outages. If a facility needed power, Russell would arrive with a generator on a trailer as part of his service.
The Northeast Blackout of 1965 changed Russell’s career path. On Tuesday, Nov. 9 of that year a major disruption in supply of electricity left over 35 million people without electricity for up to 13 hours. Much of Massachusetts was in the dark, along with Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New York, and parts of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Braintree, with its own electric utility, was one of the few places where the lights stayed on. It remains one of the largest electricity outages in U.S. history. Most hospitals, airports, and other spaces did not have emergency backup power sources prior to 1965. Suddenly, backup power for critical facilities became a high priority.
“It basically convinced him to get out of the portable-generator business and into building transfer switches,” said Stark.
The innovation center also acts as a hands-on demonstration area, allowing industry participants to get firsthand idea of what a micro-grid is and how it works.
Alexandrescu said that the new micro-grid can be used to simulate taking the solar system online or offline, transferring between power sources, and other testing high-stress situations.
“It looks like you’re playing a video game almost,” said Alexandrescu.
Stephen Pike, the CEO of Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, called it “a tremendous story.”
“The thing that’s unique about it is that most micro-grids are designed to sit there and be in the background,” said Tim Kelley, the Director of Renewable & Storage Solutions. “Ours is designed to be played with.”
To Pike’s knowledge, Russelectric is one of the only private companies that is demonstrating an entire micro-grid. “A lot of companies may have micro-grids but you can’t take it for a test drive,” said Alexandrescu.
The company makes a special effort to hire veterans with 17 percent of its employees having served in the military. Like serving in the military, being a field engineer for the company demands being on call 24 hours a day and being away from family for weeks at a time.
“Once you get the mindset of serving, that tends to carry with you,” said Alexandrescu on why the company seeks out veterans.
Even as the company is present at most critical facilities around the country, keeping power flowing seamlessly, Stark said that most South Shore don’t realize it is being created in their backyards.
“The average Hingham resident has no idea all this is here,” said Stark.