We’re so used to getting a power bill that has one charge on it that we don’t even think about the possibility of it being any different. But imagine getting a power bill that looks like a credit card or cell phone bill, with a break down of everything you “spent” your energy on. And imagine that you don’t get this information once a month, but that you can connect to the system using your smartphone or tablet PC to check your usage, turn on your dishwasher or make sure you unplugged the iron. Access to this type of information will empower individual and business consumers alike to make changes in how they use energy.
The Smart Grid makes this type of real-time information exchange possible. A framework, the Smart Grid permits the communication of data to and from a device in one location to a device in another. This machine-to-machine (M2M) interconnectivity is made possible through broadband and wireless networks like that of AT&T. Utilizing a network and M2M devices, such as sensing and measuring devices, utilities are able to monitor a consumer’s energy usage, price that usage, and control energy demand by shifting supply when necessary. The adoption of more robust networks, like LTE and 4G, will improve existing M2M capabilities, including the ability for increased traffic prioritizing, which is important as more and more data is carried over networks. As the communication networks improve (in 2010, AT&T invested $19 billion in its wired and wireless networks), I believe we’ll see more utilities using smart grid frameworks.
Some utilities are opting to build their own networks, most often citing coverage, performance and security as reasons for doing so. But commercial network coverage continues to improve, as does performance. AT&T recently conducted a study and determined that if all utility meters in the U.S.—electric, water and gas—transmitted information at 15 minute intervals every day via AT&T’s network, the total increase in traffic on the network would be less than a 1/500th of a percent. And that’s utilizing the 3G network we have now.
While there are issues to be worked out with the Smart Grid, security among them, these are issues that exist whether the grid runs on a commercial or a utility-owned network. AT&T reliably and securely transports over 18 petabytes of data on its networks on an average business day that includes financial transactions and homeland security information. At the end of the day, using Smart Grid technology to provide consumers and utilities with real time, actionable information will dramatically improve the reliability, quality and efficiency of providing power to consumers.