By Mae Kowalke
Increasingly, today’s consumers expect to be given choices in the goods and services they consume. This trend is spilling over into many areas, including the energy sector. As it does, utilities are compelled to provide real-time information that helps consumers make choices about how much energy they use, as well as where and when.
Smart communications technology is required to provide that real-time information. This technology is coming to bear in the creation of what’s been dubbed the ‘smart grid’ – an electrical supply system that predicts and intelligently responds to the actions of electricity users (suppliers and consumers).
“The smart grid is more than just an alluring set of promises,” Alcatel-Lucent noted in a brochure, Smart Grid: The world's leading utilities turn promise into reality. “It’s an imperative for all energy stakeholders, and most particularly, the global power industry.”
In the brochure, Alcatel-Lucent cited United Nations figures predicting a 40 percent increase in energy demand by 2030, when the global population is expected to hit eight billion.
“Power providers face many challenges today as they strive to meet increasing demand while deferring additional fossil fuel generation projects,” noted Kamal Ballout, Global Vice President for Alcatel-Lucent Energy Solutions Integration Division, in the brochure. “These include making power delivery more efficient, upgrading aging infrastructure, meeting higher security expectations, dealing with stricter regulations, and efficiently integrating and managing renewable energy resources.”
Alcatel-Lucent is working through its Bell Labs research arm to help utilities make smart choices and develop technology investment roadmaps for the next 2-5 years. The goal is to find ways of increasing energy delivery with more reliability, adaptability, scalability and security using information and communications technology.
Turning the smart grid into reality requires IP/MPLS network infrastructure capable of 99.999 percent uptime, combined with smart sensors and renewable energy sources.
“The smart grid is going to transform the way we live and work,” Ballout said in the brochure. “The world’s leading utilities and suppliers recognize this and are dedicating the investment, expertise, innovation, and resources necessary to make sure that they are part of the transformation.”
A variety of case studies around the world illustrate that the smart grid is an attainable, beneficial goal. A few examples:
- OG&E is working with Alcatel-Lucent to roll out a multi-tiered IP and POS communications network, utilizing a point-to-point licensed microwave backbone system and a point-to-multipoint wireless field area network, for its 785,000 customers.
- Bell Labs and the Gachon Energy Research Institute (GERI) of Kyungwon University in Korea have teamed up to design communication infrastructures, security systems, and develop analytical models to assess the impact of the smart grid evolution.
- Electric Power Board of Chattanooga (EPB) is rolling out a gigabit passive fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network to its entire service area of more than 170,000 customers.
- Bell Labs and University of Melbourne in Australia launched the Centre for Energy-Efficient Telecommunications (CEET), dedicated to generating new technologies and guiding collaborative research projects in telecom network infrastructure.
“Using a robust communications infrastructure with smart meters at the periphery of the grid with sensors embedded throughout, leading power suppliers are accurately forecasting pending instability, reacting in real time to outages, and creating a more balanced and reliable system,” Alcatel-Lucent said in its brochure.
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