Chattanooga Smart-Grid Receives Record Recognition

We've been raving about Chattanooga' FTTH network and smart-grid for quite some time now, but others are just learning about it. Chattanooga's Electric Power Board serves some 170,000 households and businesses across 600 sq miles. Though we have mostly focused on the triple-play benefits of the network

Chattanooga had been named one of the 2011 Top 21 Intelligent Communities of the year previously, but more recently made the cut to a Top 7 Intelligent Community. Time will tell if is awarded the Intelligent Community of the year.

Green Tech Media covered the completion of the network pass and activation of electric grid smart switches at the end of 2010.

[A]ll of its 170,000 electricity customers could benefit from the infrastructure. The network will serve as the conduit for 80 billion data points on electricity use per year that could help the utility run more efficiently, reduce outages, and give customers more control over their monthly electricity expenses.

“Chattanooga is the epicenter of energy technology,” said Harold DePriest, president and CEO of EPB. “One of our biggest jobs is to exploit this technology for the benefit of our community.”

With power outages previously taking a $100 million/year bite out of private businesses served by EPB, the new FTTH network will enable a much smarter network that will radically decrease those outages and thereby make businesses more productive. By mid 2012, businesses will see a 40% decrease outage time. Over time, as EPB's grid grows ever "smarter," those losses will likely decrease further while also providing energy users (residential and business) more opportunities to manage their power consumption.

For those who only associate the smart-grid with enabling time-of-use pricing (paying more electricity during periods of high demand), there are other important, if hidden benefits:

S&C Electric is supplying EPB with the switches’ pulse-closing technology, which injects a low-energy current pulse into an electric line to determine if a fault has cleared. This saves the utility money by reducing wear and tear on substation transformers and other equipment compared to conventional reclosers, which trip to clear faults and reclose several times to test the line, often creating short-circuit current surges.

Electric Energy Online covered EPB's network in "EPB Deploys America's Fastest Fiber-optic Smart Grid [warning, link is to one of those incredibly annoying flash-based magazine recreations].

The big question for Chattanooga's municipal utility was how to make its investment ensure far greater advantages than simply automating meter readings. EPB sought a solution that not only benefited the utility, but more importantly delivered ever-growing value to the community by improving quality of life and opening up economic opportunities.

For those critics who think utilities should focus on wireless networks for smart-grid applications (often because it is less expensive in the short term), article author Lee Baker sees it differently:

Virtually unlimited bandwidth gives EPB lightning-fast, two-way communication with ever device in its distribution system. While a network this robust is overkill for metering, EPB realized that fiber is essential for tightly coordinated load shedding activities, for the split section responsiveness required in distribution automation and, for a virtual real-time energy management tool for customers.

Further, the network will have to accommodate millions of smart meters, smart appliances, and who knows what in coming years -- each of them sending signals every 15 minutes to start and more frequently as EPB increases its capacity to handle so much data. Most utilities do meter reads ever 30 days -- greatly reducing their ability to quickly deal with problems and help customers avoid needlessly using more power than they intend to.

EPB has 22 large industries ready to use the time-of-use pricing, which they forecast will save a combined $2.3 million/year by allowing the businesses to time their processes with when energy usage is least expensive.

Another article focusing on the smart grid again reiterates EPB's commitment to the community:

"We wake up thinking about what we can do for our community, not the shareholders," says David Wade, chief operating officer, for EPB, in a meeting with reporters. "The smart grid is about being intelligent, interactive and self-healing."

The video below discusses, in part, how EPB made "ambassadors" out of all their employees -- providing those who were interested with speaking classes and encouraging them to be an integral part of the community.

Photos courtesy of EPB