The Latest News and Challenges in Smart Grid Rollouts

Carl Weinschenk

The announcement last week that Duke Energy will use the Verizon Wireless network for the Envision: Charlotte project hits a rare triple play of mentioning three hot telecommunications topics: smart grid, machine-to-machine (M2M) and Long Term Evolution (LTE).

Technically, smart grid is a subset of M2M, but the two often are considered separately. The project will link 70 buildings in the city, including those occupied by Bank of America, Wells Fargo and those owned by the city. The project, according to Reuters, will use Cisco's Building Mediator and EcoMap to link building automation systems, smart meters and other energy-monitoring and controlling devices. Duke Energy and Cisco are dividing the cost, with the energy firm picking up 80 percent.

There is enough there to cheer any environmentally conscious individual. What's a bit surprising is the use of LTE. In many cases, M2M applications utilize slower networks simply because the data is not time-sensitive and the amount-readings and off/on commands-can be handled without employing the speed of 4G. It's unclear why Duke and Verizon Wireless went in this direction. The project was announced in conjunction with the Clinton Global Initiative, so it is possible that Verizon wants its nascent LTE service to benefit from the exposure.

Envision Charlotte isn't the only recent smart grid news. Last month, Southern California Edison deployed two data warehouse appliances from Teradata to store and serve data serving residential smart grid meters. The story notes that late last year Pike Research pegged the value of just the data analytics portion of the smart market at $4.2 billion by 2015, so many more deals are ahead.

Another recent piece of news came from IBM, though Big Blue's initiative moves beyond the bounds of smart grid itself. The release says that it focuses on water, energy management, buildings and other infrastructure elements, and uses sensors, smart grid networks, RFID tags and-like in Charlotte-4G. Initial work will be done with the Cape Fear (NC) Public Utility Authority, the City of Waterloo (Ontario), the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority, McMaster University and the Swiss Federal Railways.

Despite the deals, smart grid apparently can use some marketing help. Green Beat reports on the image problems the approach has encountered:

Consumers have sued PG&E and Oncor over smart meters that they felt overcharged them (both suits were found to be without merit). Consumers in Illinois have claimed smart meters cause headaches and impotency. Recently, protesters in California's West Marin County tried to block smart meter installers in an incident that resulted in two arrests. While there are plenty of industry watchers and executives who will say media reports of these snafus have blown the issue out of proportion, the incidents show there's sometimes tension between consumers and utilities when it comes to the smart grid.

A new approach, the story says, is to focus on the ways in which smart grid technology can improve consumers' lives. To date, one executive says, the main direct consumer benefit-saving some money on the power bill-hasn't proven sufficient to sway public opinion.

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