Silver Spring Networks -- the people who want to hook your home's electricity meter to the grid with mesh radios -- will work with Australia's Western Power to link up one of the most isolated electricity networks in the world.
Western Power provides electricity to more than 850,000 homes and businesses but over a service territory covering 322,000 square kilometers. That's going to take some extra repeaters and infrastructure to make sure everyone is linked up. The contract will initially cover six service areas in the overall service territory.
Silver Spring has landed contracts to deploy its technology in California, Texas and Florida, among other places, arguably putting it at the top of the pack of smart grid network providers. This latest deal, however, brings an element of human drama.
GridNet, which proposes using more powerful broadband networks to link up consumers and utilities, and its partner General Electric last year signed a deal with Australian utility SP AusNet. The utility plans to use the next-generation wireless technology to link about 680,000 household customers with smart meters. Future uses of that grid could include linking distribution grid sensors and controls, rooftop solar panel monitors, "smart charging" systems for plug-in electric and hybrid vehicles, and a host of other smart grid applications.
GridNet is also trying to seal up other Australian deals, vice president of marketing solutions Judith McGarry told us recently. GridNet hasn't landed as many deals in the U.S., McGarry said, because it got started later. Australia as a result has become something of the test case for the company. Although it plans to accommodate all sorts of broadband standards, GridNet is now mostly focused on WiMax.
Silver Spring and GridNet take fundamentally different approaches to smart grid. Silver Spring's equipment doesn't provide huge amounts of bandwidth, but that's the point, the company argues. Smart meters dribble out small packets persistently over long periods of time. The key considerations are comprehensiveness of coverage and cost.
GridNet agrees, but adds that future applications will swamp networks, so utilities should try to build the best networks they can now to save future upgrades. Grid Net founder Ray Bell once worked at Silver Spring and made that argument then.
Right now, utilities seem to like the "good enough" argument (PG&E's smart grid group is run by alumni of Intel's WiMax group and they chose to go with Silver Spring), but only time and data from trials will tell.