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Utilities’ Economies of Scale for Broadband Fiber + Smart Grid Applications = Ultra-Fast Broadband Everywhere?

Drew Clark



June 17, 2013 - The smart grid and broadband go together like mashed potatoes and gravy. And yet why is it so hard to get electric utilities and broadband experts to dialogue on the role that electric companies can play in expanding super-fast broadband?

Tomorrow's June 2013 Broadband Breakfast Club, on Advanced Energy, Smart Grid & Fiber to the Home: Using Advanced Energy to Jumpstart Fiber Builds," is at least a step in the right direction.

Tomorrow's event brings the debate about broadband and the smart grid together in an exciting and new way. While advanced energy is predicted to be an opportunity greater than the internet economy to date -- and fast, reliable broadband will be a key feature of advanced energy implementation and distribution through smart grid systems. Yet, while smart grid networks of various complexity exist, new networks are limited by the short supply of fiber build outs. The event will be moderated by Sylvia Syracuse, Director of Marketing and Events at the Broadband Breakfast Club.

Think of these questions, which tomorrow's discussion aims to tackle head-on:

1. Where are we in the development of the national-level smart grid?
2. What are the barriers to implementing this broadband-enabled smart grid?
3. What is or what will be the utilities role in building this smart grid?

Central to these questions will be David Wollman, Deputy Director on Smart Grid and Cyberphysical Systems Program Office in the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Wollman, our keynote speaker at Tuesday's event, leads efforts to coordinate and accelerate the development of smart grid interoperatbility -- and research to enable new smart grid advances.

Equally important in getting these answers will be the role of the electric utilities -- both the investor-owned utilities, and the electronic co-ops. Tomorrow's panel event will feature John Hewa of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, and C. David Hudgins, of the Old Dominion Electric Cooperative. Also addressing the subject will be Malcolm Woolf at the Advanced Energy Economy.

One key insight that Broadband Breakfast Club hopes to emerge from tomorrow's event comes from a presentation made several months ago, at David Isenberg's Freedom to Connect conference in Washington, by James Salter, CEO of Atlantic Engineering Group.

Salter's core idea is that the United States is 15 percent built with fiber to the home. Salter thinks that the U.S. should be 100 percent fiber -- and that electric utilities should build, or at least partner, in the remaining 85 percent.

Salter -- whose Freedom to Connect Power Point is available here -- believes that smart grid-related applications are the killer app for big broadband deployment. But there are three obstacles that he identifies:

1. They don’t have any regulatory incentive to do real SmartGrid – they get a return for a new coal plant, they don’t get a return for technologies that avoid a new coal plant - We must change politics of regulation.

2. They don’t believe you need big data requirements to do SmartGrid – We must show them they are shortsighted
– Ask Chattanooga

3. They don’t want to be in the retail telecom business and they don’t want to partner with anybody – We must convince them that cyber security and common infrastructure aren’t mutually exclusive.

Salter lays down a powerful challenge to the electric utilities. Register to attend Tuesday's Broadband Breakfast Club to see how and whether advanced energy and the smart grid can help jumpstart more fiber builds.


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