Community microgrids raise questions about the role of the utility franchise, versus the free market.
Proving Smart-Grid Savings
Real-world projects show tangible returns.
technology on the network. The DMS system is being put into place and smart appliances likely will be in homes by the second half of this year. Some of the installations are expected to continue through summer 2011. Flora says 2010 is a test year for the utility. “Right now we’re still validating data, validating the technology, and looking at pricing options from the consumer side.”
Ultimately, the goal is changing consumers’ perceptions, so they view electricity not as a convenience, but a product they use on a daily basis. “People want to know exactly what they’re buying,” Flora says.
TNMP’s SmartMeter Trial Deployment: Texas-New Mexico Power (TNMP)
• 706,000 customers
• Service areas in Texas and New Mexico
• 300-MW generating capacity (the rest is purchased from other utilities and third-party suppliers)
• $2.5 billion revenue (PNP Resources, 2008*)
*Consolidated operating revenues from continuing and discontinued operations
• Coverage: 10,000 units for residential customers.
• Cost: Undisclosed. TNMP paid for the smart meters out of its operating budget and there was no rate case involved so the amount isn’t public.
• Overview: TNMP’s smart-meter trial in Texas is being done in partnership with SmartSynch, which manufactures IP-based wireless communication equipment for the utility industry that connects to public wireless networks. For the trial, SmartSynch’s wireless communication modules are integrated into GEI210+C digital meters.
“The communication module can fit into anybody’s meter—Elster, Itron, GE,” says Robert Howells, director of program management for SmartSynch. The data bandwidth for AT&T is “massive” while unlicensed radio frequency (RF) mesh networks provide far less capacity, he adds. The argument is that disaster recovery is already built in with AT&T, while a utility would need to buy and maintain that with a mesh network. SmartSynch’s system takes the data collected by each meter, encrypts it, compresses it, and then sends it out over AT&T’s network to a transaction-management system, allowing TNMP to make remote disconnects and reconnects, monitor for outages, and receive notification about a power restoration.
• Returns: While the financials for the smart-meter trial deployment aren’t publicly available, SmartSynch reported in May that TNMP had achieved a 99.96-percent average daily read rate on its 10,000 units in the Texas market. SmartSynch says TNMP also is saving money by avoiding having to build a mesh network and then hire personnel to maintain it. In a statement about the smart-meter trial deployment, Neal Walker, TNMP’s vice president of operations, said that SmartSynch’s use of public wireless networks offers the utility enough bandwidth to use the best security technology on the market.
Over the past year, the smart-grid communications market has been heating up. Verizon also has formed smart-grid partnerships with vendors. Even municipal WiFi company Tropos has repositioned itself as a smart-grid network provider for utilities, saying that its networks have a 3.5-year ROI. With all this competition, utilities might look forward to a wider range of options to fit their goals and budgets.
• Timeline: The partnership between TNMP and SmartSynch began in fall 2007 and the smart-meter