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Energy and Telecom Oases and Deserts

Energy and Telecom Oases and Deserts

Fortnightly Magazine - April 2017
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There were many presentations and discussions at the recent DistribuTECH conference regarding the benefits derived from Smart City and Smart Neighborhood investments. I agree, those areas benefit tremendously from the interconnection of energy and gigabit telecommunications technologies.

By their very nature, such investments result in oases of tremendous value and many positive economic interactions. However, they are surrounded by a comparative desert encompassing rural and low-income residents who experience a relative dearth of economic, education, health care, and personal growth opportunities.

While some may object to the above metaphor, the reality is that investments in energy and telecommunications capabilities are made in areas most likely to result in the quick recovery of research and deployment investment dollars. I think of those areas as oases. But what about the deserts?

EES North America

As electric utilities strive to become more flexible and nimble in meeting customer expectations for services beyond the mere provision of electrons, the potential for increased service differentials between affluent and less affluent, urban and less urban customers has the potential to grow exponentially.

As a public policy maker, my concerns are at least four-fold.

I want to encourage the research and deployment of technologies that enhance human capabilities and quality of life. I hope the deployment of equipment and software work as advertised, rather than becoming an investment that must be repeated at the expense of consumers. I also hope the deployment ultimately is expanded on a reasonable schedule to those persons outside the oases. I wonder what will be the lag time between deployment of an initial investment to the last customer in the desert and the deployment of the next generation technology to the customers in the oases.

Conflicts may arise between the historic model of all customers receiving the same quality of electricity and service, and the evolving distributed generation, demand management, and communications innovations. The evolving models suggest that customer-utility relations may change in two dimensions.

First, the interactive capability between them will lead to price and behavior signals with the potential for customers and utilities to be providers or consumers of electricity based on prices offered. The transactive energy system framework developed by the GridWise Architecture Council is significant, because it demonstrates that both customers and utilities can monetize their ability to provide benefits to the other.

Second, not all customers will desire or have the capability to interact as equals with the electric utility or a third-party aggregator. These customers may prefer a more basic service on the model of today's fixed price per kilowatt-hour.

Interactive customers will be able to select from options that may include power quality, time of use rate flexibility, ancillary services for the customer's distributed generation system, and more. These options will be in addition to the utility

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