Tag: "smart-grid"

Posted October 2, 2012 by christopher

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance has just released a new case study on community broadband -- this one examines how Chanute, Kansas, built its own broadband network over a period of many years without borrowing.

Download a PDF of Chanute's Gig: One Rural Kansas Community's Tradition of Innovation Led to a Gigabit and Ubiquitous Wireless Coverage here.

Local businesses are strong supporters of the network. From Ash Grove Cement to MagnaTech, business clients have remained satisfied subscribers. The network continues to encourage economic development and provides connectivity options that attract high bandwidth employers. The network generates $600,000 per year for Chanute’s Electric Utility, 5 percent of which goes to the general fund as a franchising fee each year.

Author Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Telecommunications as Commons Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, believes Chanute can offer valuable lessons to other communities across the United States. “This community has demonstrated that communities can meet their own telecommunications needs with smart public investments — they did not wait for national corporations to solve their problems.”

City Manager J.D. Lester refers to municipal broadband as “the great equalizer for Rural America,” saying: “You don’t have to live in Kansas City to work there.”

The City also operates a 4G WiMAX network that connects public safety and is used to feed Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the community.

Local leaders plan to expand the network to offer access to all residents and businesses in the future as extending it become financially feasible. As it expands, it will offer the potential for smart-grid type investments in the gas, water, and electrical utilities — all of which are owned and operated by the local government.

One of the key lessons other communities can take away from this case study is how planning and prioritizing community investments in broadband can greatly benefit the community, especially local businesses. Chanute took advantage of several opportunities to expand what started as a very basic network over the course of many years at low cost.

Posted September 17, 2012 by lgonzalez

We have watched Cedar Falls Utilities (CFU) for the past several years as they upgraded their cable to fiber and started expanding their municipal network outside town limits. The Iowa water, electricity, and telecom utility just commenced further expansion to bring broadband to more rural residents through wireless and fiber with a broadband stimulus award.

Tina Hinz, at the WCF Courier, covered the story. Three new towers and more fiber installation will bring broadband service that is comparable to the connections in town to rural locations. Construction and customer installation should be completed by mid-2013.

According to Hinz:

CFU received final approval last month on a federal grant to fund nearly 40 percent of the $2.3 million installation cost. This reduces the high per-customer cost of building a communications system in an area with lower housing density. Customers will pay a similar price as those in town.

A PDF map of the rural expansion is available on the CFU website. CFU also provides a recent PDF map of their fiber-to-the-premises project, which is 70% complete.

Hinz spoke with rural customer Chris Hansen, who is in line for service through the new expansion.

Hansen called the development "a godsend." Recently he moved a mile west of the city limits on University Avenue. Accessing the web from his phone is functional but slow, he said.

...

Hansen has the wireless option, which will assist with his business as a sales representative for Bertch Cabinets and in his work on the family farm. He said he may subscribe to Netflix, which streams movies and television programs, and the Internet will benefit his twin children, Christian and Carina, 13, who currently share one phone with Internet.

The expansion will also allow CFU to improve electric service in rural areas and reduce...

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Posted September 14, 2012 by lgonzalez

Last winter, we reported on Tullahoma, Tennessee's plans to use their fiber optic network for an Automatic Metering Information system (AMI). At the time, city leaders had just started a series of informational meetings for customers. Tullahoma Utilities Board (TUB) technicians are now in the process of installing the new meters in the full service area and expect to complete the project by April, 2013.

Brian Justice of the Tullahoma News, reported:

Brian Skelton, TUB general manager, said Wednesday the results have proven to be very effective, and now the utility is spreading out to install 10,500 electric meters and 9,500 water meters that electronically read and provide TUB with the usage information.

...

In addition to reading electric and water meters automatically, the system will be used for a number of other tasks to reduce peak electric demand and take advantage of TVA’s new wholesale rate plan.

As we reported earlier, utility managers decided to pursue the new system when the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) announced it would change to a "time of use" pricing structure. Because rates will be higher at peak times, the TUB want to give customers the chance to manage their utility costs.

Brian Coate, manager of the electric and fiber departments, told Justice:

“Automated metering will not only reduce personnel costs, but also provide better information on leak detection, outage management, and theft of service,” he said. “The system will also have a server and data portal where customers can examine their time of use habits and have more control over their bill.”

The new meters contain a radio transmitter that sends usage data to a collector secured on a utility pole. The information is then transferred to the TUB via the fiber optic network.

Electric usage will be monitored hourly while water usage info will be available on a daily basis. Customers will also be able to determine if there are any water leaks based on the results. Residents will be able to monitor their usage via a computer or smart phone.

A small number of customers expressed concern over the privacy of their data and...

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Posted July 11, 2012 by lgonzalez

We have followed events in Opelika's network project for almost two years. In addition to creating a smart-grid for its municipal electric utility, the City plans to offer triple-play services. We previously covered Charter Cable's astroturf campaign to oppose the network and how the campaign failed when Opelikans passed the referendum.

This week, the 27,000 residents of Opelika saw their efforts begin to materialize at a ground breaking ceremony at the site of the new Opelika Power Services Facility. Chris Anthony, of the Opelika-Auburn News covered the story:

Site work is well under way on the $3.7 million facility, which leaders say will be an integral part of the fiber-optic network being built throughout the city. In addition to housing the administrative office and warehouse, the facility will also be the home of Opelika Power Services’ fiber hub.

Mayor Gary Fuller notes how the people of Opelika entered the business of municipal utilities over one hundred years ago, when the community purchased the then-private electric utility. He spoke about how the people of Opelika carry on that self-reliant streak with their new fiber network.

According to, Beth Ringley, Interim Director of Opelika Power, 90% of the fiber is installed underground throughout the city and should be nearly completed by the end of the summer. The $41 million project is scheduled for completion in the spring of 2013 and the first customers are expected to connect at that time.

“It’s a big, big day for the city of Opelika,” Mayor Gary Fuller said. “It’s important for our future.”

Two videos offer further coverage of this new community network.

These videos are no longer available.

Posted May 29, 2012 by christopher

We have been watching Johnson City, Tennessee, examine its options to improve broadband options in their community using extra capacity from fiber-optic investments for smart-grid implementation. Johnson City has been looking for a partner that would offer services to local businesses and perhaps residents.

We were concerned about that approach as a private-sector partner may be interested only in finding the most lucrative high-margin customers rather than seeking ways to serve the whole community.

We are now relieved to learn that Johnson City and BVU Authority have made an initial agreement and are working toward a final contract. BVU Authority originated in and continues to be based out of nearby Bristol, Virginia.

We have long covered BVU Authority and just recently published a case study about them.

BVU Authority should be an excellent match as they provide excellent business services (they are tremendous pioneers in this regard) and have a focus on serving the community as a whole. BVU Authority's investments in southwestern Virginia have led to strong job growth and we expect them to have similar success in northeastern Tennessee.

Posted March 30, 2012 by lgonzalez

The Chattanooga Times Free Press, reports that the City's last IntelliRuptor, or "smart switch," will be installed on April 24th. No wonder EPB was named one of The Networked Grid - Top Ten Utility Smart Grid Deployments in North America by Greentech Media. EPB also received a special award for Best Distribution Automation, thanks to its fiber-optic network. EPB and Chattanooga have been similarly recognized in the past.

Quickly locating and localizing power outages will continue to limit power loss which will save tens of millions of dollars each year. According to Harold DePriest, CEO of EPB, "Nobody has applied them (IntelliRuptors) in the numbers we've applied them." A tornado on March 2nd tested the new system and, while 3,470 customers lost power, estimates are that the number would have been double without the use of the smart switches. Smart meters are also being installed, allowing customer usage data sent to the utility, which means that EPB will immediately know who has power and who does not in the aftermath of storms.

EPB saved about 5 million customer minutes in 2011 with half of the switches installed and half of installed switches set up to function automatically. EPB estimates and annual saving of up to $40 million to $45 million for businesses, and between $6 million and $7 million in savings for the utility because of fewer and limited outages.

Putting a dollar amount on loss due to power outages is no easy task. Estimates for losses in the United States vary but a 2005 research study from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) put the figure at $80 billion dollars annually. With more smart grids like the EPB system, that figure could be significantly reduced. Community fiber networks are uniquely poised to offer the best option to electric utilities that need reliable, robust connections across their footprint.

A significant number of smart meters (approximately 60,000) and automation points (approximately 300) remain to be installed in Chattanooga.

Posted January 15, 2012 by christopher

Silicon Valley Power, the muni electric utilty owned by Santa Clara is preparing to launch a citywide Wi-Fi network later this year according to the Santa Clara Weekly. The city took over the failed MetroFi attempt at citywide wireless broadband and has apparently expanded it.

That system never reached the entire city and was limited to outdoor use. Santa Clara FreeWiFi will work citywide, indoors as well as outdoors. A new, high-density design will provide up to 40 access points per square mile - compared with less than 30 access points for the MetroFi system.

I share Esme Vos' reaction regarding its likely difficulties in actually functioning inside but the Santa Clara Free Wifi website strongly recommends that anyone who is planning to use it inside use a Wi-Fi- booster, which can be found at most tech stores.

Silicon Valley Power, as we previously noted, has an extensive fiber-optic system that is already uses for its power management. That will provide the necessary backhaul to the wireless access points.

This will undoubtedly be a nice amenity for those living or traveling in Santa Clara but it is unlikely to suffice for those who need reliable and high capacity connections to the Internet. It will be interesting to see who is ultimately paying for the Internet access charges as well as how the economics work out. The network will be helpful for remote meter readings -- perhaps the savings there will entirely pay for the public's usage of the network.

Ponca City has been taking this approach for some time now and it seems to work for them.

Posted December 15, 2011 by christopher

Tullahoma, home to the LightTUBe FTTH network of Tennessee, is starting to roll out smart meters for its electrical and water utilities (owned by the city). They have initiated a series of public meetings to discuss the AMI - Advanced Metering Infrastructure. From a recent press release:

“The meetings are designed to answer any questions the Tullahoma community has about the AMI technology”, said Ernie Hobbs, Communications and Marketing Specialist for TUB. “We want to assure the community that automated meter reading is the next step in providing exceptional customer service. AMI is a step forward for Tullahoma, and it will provide additional opportunities for our customers by allowing them to monitor their own usage of utilities.”

The AMI installation is a replacement of current water and electric meters. The
new meters can transmit usage data through TUB’s secure fiber network. The infrastructure upgrade has been in the planning stage for several years. However, with Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) moving to Time Of Use (TOU) rates, TUB decided it was time to begin the AMI project to align with the TVA rate change.

A recent newsletter from the utility explains further, noting that the Tennessee Valley Authority (a federal agency that produces the power used by Tullahoma and many other public utilities) is going to start charging time-of-use rates starting in fall of 2013. This is because electricity is more expensive to produce and distribute based on the amount being used - time of use pricing will encourage people to use more power when it is cheaper to produce and less when it is expensive.

This time-of-use pricing is one component of a "smart-grid." Unfortunately, some investor-owned utilities have used time-of-use pricing to increase their revenues without substantially benefiting ratepayers -- which is one reason many are suspicious of the entire concept. Hence the public meetings.

Because Tullahoma has its publicly owned network already connecting much of the community, it is better positioned to deal with TVA's changing rates than other communities.

Posted August 26, 2011 by christopher

Silicon Valley Power, a muni electric in Santa Clara, was smart when fibering-up its electrical plant. They overbuilt their needs and are using the additional capacity to benefit the community. One of the biggest beneficiaries are the schools and taxpayers that support them.

That brought to mind my recent conversation with Larry Owens, manager of customer services at Silicon Valley Power. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based municipal electric utility built fiber between its subsystems to increase the organization’s reliability. But Silicon Valley Power overbuilt that network, which enables it to lease dark fiber to the school district and service providers via its SVP Fiber entity. The electric company also purchased MetroFi, a free Wi-Fi services company that fell on hard times, to connect new smart energy meters to its offices. Those Wi-Fi assets also are being leveraged to deliver free outdoor Wi-Fi access to anyone within Santa Clara.

I remember reading about this network earlier this year in a Public Power Daily release:

The technology and added bandwidth capacity allow teachers to hold virtual field trips and will eventually allow students who are unable to attend school the opportunity to join their classrooms via a home computer, Silicon Valley Power said. Download speeds have made classrooms more efficient, the utility said.

"Before the fiber network, the download process was very slow and sometimes wouldn't work at all when my class tried to use streaming video to add to our lessons," said Jennifer Rodriguez, who teaches a fourth- and fifth- grade combo class at Katherine Hughes Elementary School. "Now I can utilize instructional videos off the web and stream them quickly, making the lesson more interesting and the learning more fun for my students."

Posted February 9, 2011 by christopher
Guy Daniels heads to Chattanooga to learn about the best broadband network in the country -- interviews with Katie Espeseth (VP of EPB Fiber Optics) and Harold DePriest (President and CEO of EPB) from Telecom TV

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