Cisco, Silver Spring Back Smart Grids

Cisco Systems and Silver Spring Networks have been tapped by utility companies to help with their “smart grid” projects.

Duke Energy, a utility company that has 11 million customers in five states, and Cisco June 9 announced a three-year partnership designed to help bring smart grid capabilities to Duke’s energy delivery infrastructure.

Duke officials are looking to Cisco to bring such capabilities as two-way digital communication to help reduce the cost and energy consumption while improving efficiency and reliability.

Meanwhile, Silver Spring Networks was one of several companies named by Commonwealth Edison on 9 June as partners in the initial step of its smart grid strategy. The AMI (Advanced Metering Infrastructure) pilot program aims to give customers concise information about their energy use and costs throughout the month before they get their monthly bills. The idea is that customers will be able to adjust their behavior accordingly to reduce power consumption and costs.

GE Energy will supply the meters for the project and Silver Spring will bring its Smart Energy Network wireless network software and services.

Utilities and government agencies are looking to create smart grids that will help drive down power consumption and reduce costs for both the companies and their customers. They’re turning to IT networking companies to help them with their initiatives.

Cisco in May launched an aggressive program based on smart grids. The Cisco Smart Grid initiative is aimed what company officials expect to be a $20 billion-a-year opportunity within five years.

Cisco is looking to give utilities an IP-based communications fabric that would touch power companies and their customers. Officials said utilities using smart grid technologies could see a 30 percent jump in reserve power capacity and a 39 percent reduction in power-generated greenhouse gas emissions. Homeowners could save up to 12.5 percent on their energy bills, Cisco said.

During a panel discussion at an event on 5 June hosted by Schneider Electric, Neil Rasmussen, founder of American Power Conversion and chief innovation officer for Schneider’s IT business, said smart grid technologies are complementary tools in the overall push to reduce power usage in various buildings, including offices, factories, data centres and homes.

Much of the focus of the Schneider event was on technology that can be used within these buildings, such as automation and intelligent products.

“[Smart grid strategies don’t] replace the need to instrument buildings or to automate buildings,” Rasmussen said. “Smart grid stops at metering, and doesn’t say what’s going on inside [the building], where energy is being consumed.”

Duke Energy and Cisco will develop an entire smart grid communications architecture based on IP protocols.

“Internet protocol-based open standards are key to creating a smart, highly secure backbone for the nation’s modern electrical grid,” Marthin De Beer, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco’s Emerging Technologies Group, said in a statement.

Cisco and Duke also will develop and install home energy management devices designed to enable customers to better control their electricity consumption. In addition, the two companies will test new weather-proof communications equipment that can be used in Duke’s electric substations.

Duke has several smart grid programs planned, including one in Ohio, where the company over a five-year period will deploy more than 700,000 electric and 450,000 natural gas smart meters. It also is considering a smart grid project in Indiana, including the installation of about 800,000 smart metres.

For ComEd, the AMI pilot program will call for putting about 141,000 smart meters throughout Chicago and 11 surrounding communities. The initiative is designed to test how customers interact with the technology, and will offer users such features as alternative pricing plans, Web interfaces, in-home displays, programmable thermostats and network control systems.

“Population centers, such as Chicago, are ideal for the energy-saving power of smart grid technologies,” Bob Gilligan, vice president of transmission and distribution at GE Energy, said in a statement. “By giving people real choice in how they spend—and save—their energy dollars, we move them to a new level of energy awareness. They can make choices that help control infrastructure needs, climate change and day-to-day costs, ultimately making America’s great cities even more livable.”

Silver Spring also announced June 9 that it is working with electrical distributors CitiPower and Powercor Australia to give network support to a four-year AMI program mandated by the Australian government and aimed at about 1.2 million homes and businesses throughout Victoria, Australia.

Jeffrey Burt

Jeffrey Burt is a senior editor for eWEEK and contributor to TechWeekEurope

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