Thursday, January 07, 2010

Partnering Electricity Delivery With Wireless Internet

The infrastructure is there to link electricity delivery with the efficiency possibilities of controlling some demand characteristics of appliances and HVAC systems with internet communications. These links can be cable, fiber optic and/or wireless (including satelite).

Wireless communications are becoming more helpful in linking disparate systems from the home, through the distribution systems, to substations, control rooms and beyond to the enterprise. The ubiquitous utility communications of the future will integrate a wide range of systems, some of them owned by the utilities and others leased and contracted by various carriers such as AT&T and others.

A lot of attention is being directed toward so-called "smart meters" today, not only in the U.S. but throughout the world. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 in the U.S. strongly encouraged this attention. As more smart meters are installed, they will serve as gateways into the home to provide utilities demand response capabilities. Smart meters also will enable utilities to more thoroughly embrace distributed generation, a vital, communications-intensive step for solving the critical supply and demand problem.

Advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) and smart grids will be required to track all the current flows and provide information to CIS and other accounting systems to ensure everyone is compensated fairly. All of this requires ubiquitous communications to and from the field, not just the service trucks that now dominate utility field activities

Utilities are likely to embrace a wide range of new and existing communications technologies over the next 10 years or so as they grapple with their supply/demand disconnect problem. One of these is IP/MPLS (Internet Protocol/Multi Protocol Label Switching), which already is proven in utility communications networks as well as other industries which require mission critical communications.

These WAN (wide area network) solutions are likely to continue to be a mixture of optical and microwave, wireless, leased line, and even satellite communications to cost-effectively address specific substation applications. A typical utility’s IP/MPLS network will likely run over all of these networks.

Standard cell towers are able to support a utility; or communications companies can build them to do so. One of the biggest concerns utilities raise is what happens if something fails. Utilities would receive the same class of service as public safety agencies. If one tower doesn’t work, data is most often sent by another route. In the big picture of cell signals overlap, utilities should not experience interruption of their data packet transmission.

(Source: Sierra Energy Group, "The Intelligent Utility Enterprise and The Role of Telecommunications Providers," July 2008)

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