All utilities – electric, gas, water and wastewater – deliver vital services to customers. Utility customers expect these services to be available all times. Some of the key challenges shared by utilities include reliability, fast response to problems, and conservation. Many utilities have moved towards installation of smart grid systems to improve efficiency, security, reliability and resiliency.
Smart grid is a term used for the modernization of the electric grid. Utilities install intelligent devices in the distribution system, management and control software in substations and their data center, and two-way communication to link the devices and software. A smart grid enables valuable new applications such as Automated Metering Infrastructure (AMI), demand response, outage management, distribution automation, automatic load shedding, and the ability to manage alternative energy sources.
While smart grid is generally associated with electric utilities, the same concepts can be applied by gas, water and wastewater utilities to great benefit.
Smart grid benefits for utilities include:
- Lower operating costs - Fewer personnel required in the field, lowering transportation, insurance, and medical costs. Detailed data uncovers problems quickly and reduces fraud.
- Encourages conservation - Customers can see their usage at any time, helping conservation efforts, and quickly detecting water leaks or faulty thermostats so corrective action can be quickly taken.
- Improves customer service and satisfaction - Utilities can pinpoint system problems - leaks or outages - before customers report them, reducing downtime.
- Reduces customer complaints - High-quality, real-time data increases billing accuracy, eliminating estimated bills, and unpleasant surprises for customers.
High-speed wireless broadband access using a Tropos network is being used to enable smart grid applications to achieve significant cost savings and meet conservation goals. Some examples include:
- Corpus Christi, Texas expects to save $30 million over the next 20 years with their AMR system for gas and water
- Anderson, Indiana is using smart meters for water and electricity and expects to save $18.7M over 15-years
- Rock Hill, South Carolina is using smart meters for water and electric meter reading; expected payback in 8 years