The primary purpose for the deployment of your end-to-end communications network/infrastructure (connecting your head-end utility systems to your residential, industrial and commercial customers) is which of the following?  (Multiple selections were allowed).

What’s becoming clear in 2010 is that a communication layer, or platform, will be added to our electricity grids the world over in order to transport data related to virtually every aspect of the generation, distribution and consumption of electricity. While the raison d'être of Advanced Metering is often sold to state regulators on the (easily forecast-able) expected cost savings related to the end of physical meter readings and other nominal advances, the real value - even if it’s a difficult metric to put a dollar sign on - is clearly the creation and dissemination of electricity information from any relevant input (“from the turbine to the toaster” as the GE team likes to put it).  Utilities have been slow to understand this point.

And so, when asked what their comm network will be used for, unsurprisingly, most utility execs raise their hand for AMI – to connect the meters to the utility and vice versa.  But, the good news is that this frame of mind is shifting rapidly as more people in the industry are beginning to realize that there is an unlimited amount of new applications that can be created once we put the intelligent communications infrastructure, or a “network fabric” in place. 

Apart from AMI, the industry is beginning to realize at a high level that data from the operation of the distribution grid itself, and from the load centers (the consumers) will be two core areas of the comm network, and that is reflected in the data above as Distribution Automation/Grid Optimization and Demand Response/Home Area Network Enablement were each selected by more than 60% of respondents. 

Many industry observers have posited that Distributed Automation/Grid Optimization (DA) will be the next big wave of Smart Grid, though it is currently unclear if existing, and even new, AMI network solutions can handle the various requirements of DA.  In a follow-up question, we asked utility executives if current AMI communication/networking solutions adequately meet bandwidth, latency and feature requirements to support DA; only 26% answered yes, while 49% remain unsure.

Lastly, while not necessarily a cause for celebration or alarm, the fact that 1/3 of the respondents selected Distributed Generation & Storage Integration as a primary reason to build out a grid communications network, indicates that utilities are drawing a stronger connection between smarter grids and green technologies than in years past. 

2010 is most certainly the age of The Networked Grid. While it may take time to deploy and integrate new and advanced applications, what is encouraging is that the industry is starting to get it. 

The above chart is taken from an upcoming GTM Research Report titled: The 2010 North American Utility Smart Grid Deployment Survey. Over 50 separate North American utilities participated in this research.