In order to reliably operate the grid, utilities need secure networks able to deliver information related to a variety of critical capabilities including monitoring of distribution and transmission lines, outage management, smart metering, substation automation and more. Indeed, it’s common for utilities to build and operate their own private communications networks. A survey conducted by the Utilities Technology Council in 2019 found that “three-fourths of the respondents owned 80% or more of their networks, while only one small public power utility surveyed reported owning less than 40% of its telecommunications network.”
As an increasing number of technologies connect to the grid, whether providing generation, energy storage services, or grid monitoring and control data, utility communication networks are becoming an even more critical component of a secure, reliable, and efficient grid. Utility communication systems can include fiber networks and private wireless networks that could also be leveraged to provide middle mile broadband and last mile internet service for end-use consumers. The Chattanooga utility EPB leveraged a $111.7 million ARRA Smart Grid grant to build a $222 million fiber optic communications network that enables the city’s smart grid and provides high speed broadband access to all customers. A new study suggests that EPB’s fiber optics has helped generate at least 2,800 new jobs and added $865.3 million to the local economy by cutting power outages, improving Internet links, and attracting businesses to the “Gig City.”
GridWise Alliance’s theme for the third quarter will be utility communications and broadband. Utilities’ investments in operational fiber and wireless broadband communications networks are essential for a modern grid. In July and September (no meetings in August!), our Policy and Technology Councils will explore the applications of modern utility communications networks, from increased visibility of grid conditions to enhanced customer engagement, and beyond. We welcome your suggestions for speakers and more granular topics within the broader Utility Communications theme. If you have any content that showcases your work with communications and/or broadband that we can feature on the GridWise website, please send it to Josh Steinhardt.