Ensuring the Future of the Smart Grid

Next Generation Communications Blog

Ensuring the Future of the Smart Grid

By Susan Campbell

Our growing reliance on energy has sparked a new focus on how to make consumption more efficient. The Smart Grid has emerged as an important focus in this space, projected to impact the business landscape, the energy marketplace and even the ways in which we interact.

According to a recent Alcatel-Lucent article, EPB Chattanooga: Customers at the Center of the Smart Grid’s Future, smart grids will also enhance convenience and control within the industrialized world while positive social progress is enabled in developing countries. The level of skill with which energy providers are able to manage change will determine when and how well the benefits of smart grid technology will gain traction.

Three things we know for certain regarding the potential in development and deployment of smart grids:

  • They will provide customers with unprecedented levels of control and convenience, while also ensuring communities have access to advanced communications services.
  • Customers will enjoy many if not most of the benefits as a result of a greater reliance on wireless technologies for access and as service enabler.
  • There will not be success until customer education and privacy concerns are seen as priorities for utilities going forward and properly addressed.

“These days we’re used to instant information, to quick response, and to having control over a lot more things in our homes and our lives, but that hasn’t been true for electricity, said Harold DePriest, President and CEO, Electric Power Board of Chattanooga (EPB), in the Alcatel-Lucent piece. “The Smart Grid is changing that reality, bringing electric systems into the 21st Century.”

EPB has been in the process of rolling out a gigabit passive optical fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network for its entire service area. More than 170,000 customers and 90,000 smart meters have already been installed and connected to a smart grid. This roll out will easily become the model for future innovations as it is currently the fastest fiber-based smart grid in North America managing electrical usage information in real-time.

“Whether it’s providing advanced services or dealing with outages, we’re going to be able to do it quicker, with customers communicating interactively with the electric system through mobile devices and other platforms,” said DePriest. “It’s going to make us a more relevant and convenient part of people’s lives.”

While service providers and electric companies understand the value and importance of the smart grid’s future implementation, convincing customers they must pay more for a service they don’t quite understand will be an uphill battle. As such, utilities companies must create more value for the customers to ensure widespread support and adoption.

To accomplish this, utilities must be able to create more efficiency, better reliability and additional services. EPB has effectively demonstrated all three. In fact, according to the Electric Power Research Institute, EPB has created value for its customers to the tune of roughly $300 million over 10 years in the form of reduced outages, energy conversation and other efficiencies. To promote the adoption of smart grid technology, this is a powerful case study for success.

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