Driving Energy Smart Grid Innovation through Broadband

by Guest Contributor on November 28, 2011

November’s Broadband Breakfast and panel discussion drew a packed crowd Tuesday morning as industry lawyers, lobbyists and experts filed into Clyde’s to hear from the White House, telecoms, energy management companies and utilities about the challenges and efficiencies that lies ahead with “The Smart Grid and Broadband.”

Nick Sinai, Senior Advisor to White House’s Chief Technology Officer gave the opening remarks at the breakfast. Sinai focused on what the Obama administration is doing to support, secure and modernize the energy system for the country. He noted that although the current grid has expanded, it is fundamentally still an analog grid and has been that way since the beginning of the 20th century.

“The administration invested $4.5 billion in Recovery Act across 140 projects in 46 states to build a more stable secure electric grid that increases access to renewable energy and helps offer opportunity for consumers to cut their utility bills,” said Sinai.

This summer the administration released its Policy Framework for the 21st century grid, which lays out a roadmap for state regulators, industry and all Americans to benefit from investments in infrastructure. Additionally as part of their commitment to Rural America, 150 million in smart grid investment was allocated through RUS loans.

Sinai also highlighted the administration’s interest in placing more information in the hands of consumers. He said, “Aneesh Chopra challenged utilities to develop a green button to make energy data available to consumers in standard machine readable formats…whether through an energy efficiency app or broadband thermostat, unlocking detailed energy data in computer friendly formats is key to jumpstarting all innovation.”

As for broadband, the Senior Advisor stated, “Smart Grid increasingly needs broadband. The Recovery Act is helping to fund 1000 censors across the transmition grid to help prevent a blackout like one in 2003.” He added that, “all advanced meters and endpoints in homes are now being backhauled by broadband circuits.”

In addressing the broadband standards and technologies that are used with new smart grid developments, Sinai stressed, “There are opportunities to use commercial networks, opportunities to use public safety networks and opportunities to use private networks…all three happen today, all three will continue to happen in future, it is therefore important to use private sector developed standards so we don’t strain investment in any of those three options.”

When asked about the administration’s thoughts on privacy and security concerns in the smart grid, Sinai once again pointed to the administration’s Policy Framework where one of the four policy pillars include securing the grid both physically and from a cyber perspective. “From a cyber perspective, the government needs to continue to provide threat information to industry, and industry needs to move from a compliance model to one where there is active modeling, assessment, and response to threats.”

Sinai added, “Smart grid privacy is an important issue. If you don’t do it right it will back fire. Many states are thinking about how to update existing privacy rules in a utility context. The flip side of privacy is data access, so it makes sense for states to be thinking about these in parallel, rather than just a privacy proceeding.”

Sinai steered clear of any controversial remarks regarding overlapping telco and utility footprints as well as questions about when the administration plans on clearing out Department of Defense Spectrum that can be used as wireless backhaul support for smart grid technologies.

When asked whether the government would endorse a time of use rate structure that would drive innovation and be implemented by the individual states. Sinai told the audience that the federal role is not to tell the states what to do. “The government has said that aligning incentives and experimenting with lifestyle rates and other dynamic rates allow for important innovation but these issues are to be left up to the states.”

Katie Fehrenbacher, Founding Editor of Earth2Tech.com moderated the panel that followed. Panelists included, Jeffery Dygert, Executive Director of Public Policy, At&T, Arkadi Gerney, Senior Director of Policy, Partnership and Public Affairs, Opower, Paul Hamilton, Vice President of Government Affairs, Schneider Electric, and Sunil Pancholi, Smart Grid Program Manager, Pepco.

Some of the major topics the panel touched on included the importance of broadband for smart meter use, the privacy and security concerns of sharing private energy use data, rates setting and responsibilities of the states, and incentives for consumer adoption of smart grid technologies

Role of Broadband in Smart Grid

After introductions from each of the companies Fehrenbacher asked the panelists about connectivity to the grid and what role broadband will play whether connecting at the consumer level or deeper in the grid when dealing with censors.

Each of the panelists agreed that broadband is essential for Smart Grid infrastructure. Where utilities used to take one reading a month, new devices are taking multiple readings per second that need to be synchronized and uploaded with no latency, “that type of connectivity cannot happen over dial up,” said Dygert from AT&T. “If you build a network they will come…we have a greater demand for a bigger pipes and having the infrastructure in place for better and more robust connectivity will create incentive for more people to create more Apps and more solutions we have not thought of yet..”

When asked about the stage of their development Gerney from Opower told the audience that they are still in their beginning stages of development in the residential space. Mail is still their most important delivery method for expressing cost savings, even in the houses with smart meters. They have implemented bill alerts through email that can notify customers if their usage has significantly increased in relation to the prior month. They are still providing basic information about consumption, “if you can provide a small amount of insight people can take some big steps forward.” Gerney added that challenges will get harder because they are still only picking off low hanging fruit.

With regard to creating a digital home Gereny said, “There is no one device that will make a dramatic change; we want to reach people through the devices they are already using.”

Dygert told the audience that AT&T is working on a Digital Life Project that would create a unified digital platform in the home that will incorporate home security, monitoring, telehealth, energy efficiency, smart grid as well as video IPTV and DSL services that can all be accessed through a single device. He was not willing to give any exact roll out date however.

Head to Broadband Breakfast to read the rest of the article and view highlights from the breakfast!

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    North Alabama Electric Cooperative serves rural Northeast Alabama.
    Combining its smart grid initiatives with the lack of broadband
    connectivity to its serving communities, North Alabama Electric
    Cooperative is investing in state-of-the-art fiber and broadband
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  • JCraigDC

    Great info.  Looking forward to hearing more on how broadband makes industries outside of communications operate more efficiently hopefully bringing costs down for everyone.  Makes the case for universal deployment for reasons beyond getting broadband to the home.

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