Tag: "smart-grid"

Posted February 4, 2011 by christopher

We've been raving about Chattanooga' FTTH network and smart-grid for quite some time now, but others are just learning about it. Chattanooga's Electric Power Board serves some 170,000 households and businesses across 600 sq miles. Though we have mostly focused on the triple-play benefits of the network

Chattanooga had been named one of the 2011 Top 21 Intelligent Communities of the year previously, but more recently made the cut to a Top 7 Intelligent Community. Time will tell if is awarded the Intelligent Community of the year.

Green Tech Media covered the completion of the network pass and activation of electric grid smart switches at the end of 2010.

[A]ll of its 170,000 electricity customers could benefit from the infrastructure. The network will serve as the conduit for 80 billion data points on electricity use per year that could help the utility run more efficiently, reduce outages, and give customers more control over their monthly electricity expenses.

“Chattanooga is the epicenter of energy technology,” said Harold DePriest, president and CEO of EPB. “One of our biggest jobs is to exploit this technology for the benefit of our community.”

With power outages previously taking a $100 million/year bite out of private businesses served by EPB, the new FTTH network will enable a much smarter network that will radically decrease those outages and thereby make businesses more productive. By mid 2012, businesses will see a 40% decrease outage time. Over time, as EPB's grid grows ever "smarter," those losses will likely decrease further while also providing energy users (residential and business) more opportunities to manage their power consumption.

For those who only associate the smart-grid with enabling time-of-use pricing (paying more electricity during periods of high demand), there are other important, if hidden benefits:

S&C Electric is supplying EPB with the switches’ pulse-closing technology, which injects a low-energy current pulse into an electric line to determine if a fault has cleared. This saves the utility money by reducing wear and tear on substation...
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Posted November 20, 2010 by christopher

Chattanooga continues to generate a lot of press since their announcement of the nation's fastest broadband speeds.

For those who crave technical details, this article from Cable 360 looks into the tech behind the network:

EPB contracted with Alcatel-Lucent as its GPON network supplier. "We've designed our network a little bit different, with our control center located where our operations center is," says Wade. "We've designed a series of fiber rings that circle our city, allowing us to have multiple 10 Gig MPLS rings, terminating in 17 communications hubs connected back with our control center."

Another article from Cable 360 (affiliate) gets into the smart-grid details of the network:

As far as the cost savings of the smart grid are concerned, users often don't realize that it costs several times more at certain times of day to generate electricity than it does at others, says EPB COO David Wade.

But perhaps the most interesting update from EPB is another window into their take rates (from Tecca.com):

We are ahead of our business plan projections for this time frame. Since our launch last September (2009), we have signed up 18,873 homes to our EPB fiber optics services. That is a 15.45% take rate. Our goal is a 35% take rate, and we believe we will reach that in 2 years. Of our EPB fiber optics customers, 81% are receiving our Fi-Speed internet service. We are still building out fiber optics as well, and our entire 600-square-mile customer service area will have access to these advanced services by the end of the this year (2010).

And finally, a short interview (audio quality is not good) with an EPB employee discussing Chattanooga's community fiber network. An interesting piece: noting that EPB views all employees as ambassadors of their product and offered them public speaking training.

...

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Posted November 14, 2010 by christopher

Communities with both smart-grid investments as well as community networks are again in the news, this time featuring Chattanooga, Leesburg, and Ponca City. Thanks to my colleague at EnergySelfReliantStates.org, who posted this item. ESRS publishes original content about decentralized renewable energy - mostly of a quantitative nature using charts.

Perhaps one of the reasons the broadband networks run by public power utilities are so much more reliable than those run by telco and cablecos is the many decades that public power companies have focused intently on reliability.

Reliability is a good economic development tool, he said. One business looking at Chattanooga asked about the cost of a redundant feed. After EPB explained its smart grid plans, the company chose Chattanooga and decided it didn’t need a redundant feed, he said. In talking to businesses, "I can tell you ... that they get it and they get the importance of this level of automation."

The article offered more details about Ponca City's wireless network that we had previously not discussed. In addition to offering free Wi-Fi to residents, the Ponca City offers fiber-optic-based broadband to local businesses... and two are quite connected.

Perhaps the most eye-opening benefit is that Ponca City offers all of its 26,000 citizens free WiFi service. The city uses its fiber network to sell broadband services to businesses (one has requested 300 mbps service) and those sales pay for the free WiFi, Baird said. The network is basically support-free, said Baird, adding that he gets one or two calls per week. And the free WiFi is "a huge economic development draw," he said.

Posted November 6, 2010 by christopher

Outside Plant Magazine has reprinted some of my "Breaking the Broadband Monopoly" report with a focus and updated numbers on the Chattanooga EPBFi network.

Across the country, hundreds of local governments, public power utilities, non-profits, and cooperatives have built successful and sometimes pioneering telecommunication networks that put community needs first.

These communities are following in the footsteps of the publicly owned power networks put in place a century before. We watch history repeat itself as these new networks are actively being built across the country.

Cities like Lafayette, Louisiana, and Monticello, Minnesota, offer the fastest speeds at the lowest rates in the entire country. Kutztown’s network in Pennsylvania has saved the community millions of dollars. Oklahoma City’s massive wireless mesh has helped modernize its municipal agencies. Cities in Utah have created a true broadband market with many independent service providers competing for subscribers. From Washington, DC, to Santa Monica, California, communities have connected schools and municipal facilities, radically increasing broadband capacity without increasing telecom budgets.

Posted November 2, 2010 by christopher

Green Tech Grid asks, "Are Munis and Co-Ops Leading Smart Grid?" And the rest of the article says, "YES." This should come as no surprise for readers of this site. The dynamics, and even players, in smart-grid are very similar to those of community networks. There are essentially two approaches to smart-grid: that of the investor-owned utilities that see smart-grid investments as an opportunity to raise rates, and that of munis and coops who see an opportunity to cut costs and better serve their ratepayers.

In Leesburg's case, they knew that just an advanced meter deployment would cut their cost. "We told our commission we're not going to increase our rates because we're rolling this out," said Paul Kalv, Electric Director of Leesburg Power. "And we know we'll be reducing the customer charge to share those savings." So far the city has saved about $1 million. Kalv talks a lot about his customers. When one guy complained about his smart meter, Kalv personally went over to his house to check it out. It is that sort of on-the-ground interaction that is simply not possible for the CEO of investor-owned utilities, like Florida Power & Light Company, where Kalv worked for 22 years.

I raise this issue to note that the article discusses Leesburg and Lake County, Florida, without mentioning their investments in broadband. But when Leesburg applied for the Google Gigabit project, they noted their fiber-optic assets.

Leesburg already provides one of the most important components for Google’s plan – more than 185 route miles of fiber-optic cable spanning from Lady Lake south to Clermont and from the Sumter County line east to Mount Dora and Umatilla. The network would be vital for Google to reach thousands of local businesses and homes. “Leesburg can offer Google a well-established and well-maintained fiber optic backbone from which they can launch their fiber-to-the-home initiative,” said Leesburg City Manager Jay Evans. “Our community’s diverse demographic will be an excellent test bed for all kinds of bandwidth intensive consumer applications.” Among Leesburg’s existing clients are Lake County government, Lake County Schools and Central Florida...

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Posted September 17, 2010 by christopher

Jackson Energy Authority in Tennessee, long the largest community fiber network in the US, is investing in greater smart-grid capabilities. If you aren't already familiar with this network, an article in Electric Light & Power offers some history:

After receiving local government support and revenue bond issue funding, JEA went ahead with the $54 million project. Now its FTTP network boasts 16,500 cable, 10,843 Internet and 7,000 telephone subscribers. JEA is preparing for the next phase of its FTTP deployment with a smart grid initiative expected to begin in 2010.

The article also makes an important point that many find confusing in understanding the economics of these community fiber networks:

In the early years, JEA focused on subscriber growth as its key performance metric, rather than average revenue per user (ARPU). The capital-intensive cost of acquiring and hooking up new customers, however, can create significant cash flow problems for a network operator, especially when growth substantially exceeds the business plan. JEA had to secure more financing to support its incremental growth. The utility also adjusted its business model to focus instead on ARPU and increasing the number of existing subscribers using two or three services. JEA employed special promotions and service packages that took advantage of the huge bandwidth capabilities of its fiber network to build customer loyalty and overcome the customer churn typical of the industry. Today, JEA’s network has passed more than 30,000 homes, more than 16,000 of which are subscribers.

This is a good example of a community encountering a problem and overcoming it. The article also offers other lessons learned along the way. Moving forward, JEA has decided to work with Tantalus to add smart-grid capabilities to the fiber network.

Posted September 13, 2010 by christopher

Chattanooga has announced a new level of service, offering 1Gbps to all subscribers in a unique citywide offering. Chattanooga previously led the nation with a 150Mbps tier. Today has been crazy, and lots is being written about this announcement, so I'll highlight stories and saving adding something interesting until later.

A quick reminder, we recently wrote about their insistence on taking fiber to everyone, rural and urban.

The New York Times started the Choo Choo coverage this morning:

Only Hong Kong and a few other cities in the world offer such lightning-fast service, and analysts say Chattanooga will be the first in the United States to do so. “This makes Chattanooga — a midsized city in the South — one of the leading cities in the world in its digital capabilities,” said Ron Littlefield, the city’s mayor.

Ars Technica offers additional perspective (as usual):

The city hopes this will give it a competitive advantage; on the new website promoting the service, the city's Electric Power Board pitches its country-leading broadband as "a test bed for next generation technology," as "the ultimate tool for entrepreneurs," and a place where "bandwidth is no problem." The consistent theme: you should move to Chattanooga.

(It also reminds us that Chattanooga is far beyond the FCC's timid goals in the National Broadband Plan.)

Giga Om has lost the lust for his still-respectable 100Mbps.

EPB says that their 100 Mbps service is now costing $140 a month and the 1 Gbps service will cost $350 a month.

Though Chattanooga has beat Google to the punch, this does little to change Google's goal of even cheaper 1Gbps with open access - the race is not simply to 1Gbps, it is to the future! Those who are putting Google down in some way are grasping for something to say about a stunningly unique offering. Sad to see Google put down in some way merely because they announced their big ambitions.

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Posted August 12, 2010 by christopher

Despite a coordinated campaign by cable incumbent Charter that offered little honest debate or accurate claims, the citizens of Opelika voted yes on their referendum to allow the city to build a broadband network. The City's public power utility will use the network for smart-grid services and a private company will likely contract to deliver triple-play services.

Opelika's Mayor had this reaction:

This video is no longer available.

Mayor Fuller also said:

It’s a great day for Opelika. It’s a great day for our future. It’s a terrible day for Charter,”

One gets the sense that the Mayor took some umbrage at Charter's tactics to prevent the community from building its own network.

The day before the election, Stop the Cap! ran a fantastic article about Charter's manufactured opposition to the community network.

Phillip Dampier investigated the background and claims of prominent opponents, including Jack Mazzola, who might as well have written some of the articles in the local paper about the Smart-Grid project for how often he was quoted by the reporter (who often failed to offer a countering view from anyone in support of the network).

Jack Mazzola claims to be a member of Concerned Citizens of Opelika and has become a de facto spokesman in the local press.  He claims he is “30 years old and have been a resident of Opelika for almost two years.” During that time, he evidently forgot to update his active Facebook page, which lists his current city of residence as Atlanta, Georgia.  Suspicious readers of the local newspaper did some research of their own and claim Mr. Mazzola has no history of real estate or motor vehicle taxes paid to Lee County, which includes Opelika.

Any community considering a referendum on this issue should read this Stop the Cap! post and learn from it because massive cable companies like Charter all use the same tactics in community after community. When communities do not have a response ready, they can suffer at the polls.

If you are suspicious about the viability of municipal fiber, simply ask yourself if they are such failures, why do phone and cable companies spend millions to lobby against them?  Why the blizzard of scare mailers,...

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Posted August 5, 2010 by christopher

Opelika, Alabama, is home of some 27,000 people and a public power utility called Opelika Power and Light. On Tuesday, Aug 10, the city will hold a special referendum to decide if the community can build a network that will cover telecommunications and smart-grid services.

Alabama is one of the states that preempt local authority to build broadband infrastructure, requiring a referendum and imposing limitations on the business plan for community-owned networks that it does not do for privately owned networks.

The local newspaper has a Q&A to answer questions about the project.

Expected cost is in the neighborhood of $33 million and will be funded with revenue bonds if citizens approve the project. Opelika Power and Light already has a fiber ring that will be used in the project if they move forward (the project could start offering services as early as Fall 2012).

From a distance, it appears that details are not yet worked out (and why would they be -- until they have the authority conferred by a successful referendum, they would not complete any agreements), but the private company Knology will likely provide some of the services on the network built by Opelika.

Opelika Power and Light

The local editorial board endorsed the plan.

“Shall the City of Opelika, Alabama, be authorized to acquire, establish, purchase, construct, maintain, lease and operate a cable television system for the purpose of furnishing cable service to subscribers?”
That’s what the ballot will read in Opelika on Aug. 10.


And the answer: absolutely yes.

Unless, of course, you are a massive company like Charter that already offers services. If you are Charter, you might make absurd claims that cable is somehow more reliable than fiber. The Charter Government Relations Director apparently suffers from what we might call the make-ity-up...

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Posted July 14, 2010 by christopher

Bristol Virginia is again expanding broadband access in rural Virginia. Following a $22.7 million BTOP (broadband stimulus) grant and matching $5.7 million grant from the Virginia Tobacco Commission, in combination with in-kind contributions from the Virginia Department of Transportation, BVU will greatly expand middle-mile broadband throughout 8 counties in Southwest Virginia. The project is expected to take 2.5 years to complete.

The Bluefield Daily Telegraph covered the story:

“With this broadband network, Bristol Virginia Utilities will enable service to more than 120 of what we refer to as anchor institutions,” [US Senator] Boucher said. “That includes schools, libraries, hospitals, clinics, major government facilities and other large public facilities. The new network will also come within two miles of 18,000 homes and 500 businesses. That makes it feasible for what we refer to as last mile service to be provided to these 18,000 homes and 500 businesses. Some of these have broadband today, but not all of them do.”

This project will add onto the economic development successes resulting from previous networks built by the publicly owned utility:

Boucher said the original broadband line deployed across the region several years ago has already helped to create a number of new jobs, including 137 new virtual call center jobs that have been created in the region by DirectTV, and another 700 plus jobs that have been created by the Northrop Grumman and CGI technology centers in Lebanon.

Read BVU's press release on the grant award [pdf].

Though BVU is expanding middle mile access, it cannot offer last-mile services in most of these communities. Virginia law prevents BVU from offering some services outside its existing footprint - a policy that is great for telco profits but terrible for people that actually want modern telecom services.

For its existing broadband subscribers where it is allowed to offer services, the utility has boosted downstream and upstream speeds [pdf]. The new tiers remain asymmetrical, as with a number of the earlier muni broadband networks....

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