Smart grid's daunting logistics tamed (somewhat) by smart cities concept

Samantha Bookman, FierceTelecomThe term "smart grid" tends to fire the imagination whenever it's bandied about. After all, putting a more robust means of controlling energy use into the hands of individual consumers and businesses is pretty exciting. But once the details and costs involved with achieving a ubiquitous grid are studied, the prospect of reaching that goal becomes daunting for many enterprises.

But innovation is making the goal of rapid and affordable deployment of smart grid technologies easier to achieve--front and center being the role communication-based technologies play in smart grid projects. Combine this with new ways of approaching smart grid deployments--such as the "smart city" concept--and the grid is much less of a theory and more a reality.

FierceEnergy's Barbara Lundin points out that "more advanced home energy management will be available through independent consumer devices or services offered by utilities, telecom/cable companies, alarm system companies, or a combination of all of these." In many ways, that's just a start, and forward-thinking municipalities are looking at these independently offered technologies as a cost-efficient way to deploy and manage a smart grid.

The smart city is an engaging idea. As ABI Research describes it in a new report, municipalities' coordination of smart grid development within the city limits (and then extending out to the surrounding suburbs and regions) is essential to creating an effective grid. It's a sensible step in breaking down smart grid deployment into manageable segments. And smart city planning incorporates ICTs (information and communication technologies) in a way that works.

"Certain technologies are in use in most Smart City projects and programs. These include communication-based technologies, such as broadband, WiFi, and RFID, while others target improved energy efficiency through the incorporation of smart meters and the smart grid," says Larry Fisher, ABI Research practice director. The firm predicts that the market for these technologies will jump within the next five years, from $8 billion last year to $39 billion in 2016.

ABI Research studied more than 50 smart city projects for its newest report, "Smart Cities: Municipal Networking, Communications, Traffic/Transportation, and Energy" which details how these projects work to achieve a municipality's goal of becoming more efficient while being more responsive to its citizens.

An interesting point made in the report is the importance of open standards to successful smart city development. The reason is obvious: diverse organizations deploying diverse technologies could be chaotic enough, particularly as standards and regulations have not caught up to technological reality. Companies having trouble linking to an area smart grid would be able to resolve issues more quickly when all the technologies involved can be modified rapidly. However, this also relies upon all the parties involved openly communicating with each other throughout the deployment process.

We've seen the enthusiasm from business owners and consumers in Kansas City, Kansas when Google chose the city to deploy a 1 Gbps Fiber to the Home (FTTH) network, based on an open access model. Consumers want better technologies in place, and they want them quickly, but they also want them installed affordably, particularly where their taxes are involved. It's a no-brainer. And some municipalities have already responded to the need, such as Pulaski Electric System in Tennessee, which built out its own retail/wholesale FTTH network to not just provide triple play services and energy usage metrics to users but also monitor its own electrical grid.

The smart city concept is not just a good idea, but hopefully also the start of new ideas to get the grid installed and running at a minimum of cost.--Sam