For years, Verizon has been working on expanding from its traditional role as utility industry telecommunications provider to enabling a broader, deeper set of smart grid services. That work ranges from its 2011 partnership with eMeter, now part of Siemens, to host its meter data management (MDM) and analytics on Verizon’s cloud computing platform, to using the same IT expertise for building energy management and utility customer engagement.

Now, Verizon is plotting a new step on that path: becoming an end-to-end smart grid solutions provider. The telco giant is now central manager of a utility-scale smart meter and MDM deployment, Ernie Lewis, industry partner with Verizon's global energy and utility practice, told me in an interview earlier this month.

“We’re in the midst of a pilot right now, and what we’re piloting is more than the MDM -- we have a meter-to-cash system that includes an AMI partner as well,” he said. “All of it is hosted in the cloud, leveraging our private wireless network, our private IP, our cloud assets -- basically, being in a position to provide an end-to-end solution for utilities.”

While Lewis wouldn’t name the utility or the technology partners involved in the project, it’s likely that eMeter is playing a role. “The eMeter partnership is still strong,” he said, with plans for a broader rollout of cloud-based services in 2014.

Verizon’s soon-to-be-revealed pilot project sounds a bit like another project launched by rival AT&T earlier this year. That project, with the 71,000-customer Duck River Electric Membership in Tennessee, will integrate cellular-connected smart meters from Itron, meter data management software from ElectSolve and volt/VAR optimization and distribution grid controls from S&C Electric.

What Verizon is contemplating is “certainly in alignment” with the same premise driving AT&T and other telco providers into the smart-grid-as-a-service field, Lewis said. That’s the idea “that advanced communications is critical to the optimization of the utility today,” he said.

That also differentiates what Verizon is doing from similar smart-grid-as-a-service offerings being launched by General Electric, SAIC and Silver Spring Networks, Lockheed Martin and other smart grid and systems integration giants. In simple terms, while these companies begin with their smart grid or IT integration expertise, then contract the communications out to different vendors, Verizon and other telcos would start with comms, and then build from there.

(For more on the intersection of utility communications, big data, and smart grid services offerings, check out Greentech Media’s Soft Grid 2013 conference, taking place this Oct. 1-2 in San Francisco.)  

Verizon has its own energy and utilities enterprise solutions business, and of course, its $1.4 billion acquisition of Terremark in 2011 has given it a lot of cloud computing heft. At the same time, Lewis said that Verizon is “not trying to become something we’re not. We’re not going to manage electrons.”

On the other hand, “We believe that there are going to be a lot of network services to help utilities navigate that world,” including, of course, Verizon’s core networks, as well as the disparate legacy and next-generation communications networks that utilities use.

“I doubt there will ever be one ubiquitous network,” he said. “It will be a hybrid of networks. The question is, how do you bring that all together and manage that in a way that optimizes that combination of networks.”

At the same time, the move from 3G to 4G LTE technology does open up a path for cellular communications to offer capabilities, such as low-latency communications for grid equipment operations, that cellular couldn’t provide before, he said.

Another part of Verizon’s offering will involve “wrapping our differentiation around big-data analytics that are relevant to our solutions,” he said. While he didn’t provide specifics, it’s noteworthy that Verizon partner eMeter, since it was acquired by Siemens in late 2011, has seen its analytics capabilities expand to fill a broader role in Siemens’ smart grid plans.

Cloud computing plays a vital role in managing all the data required for advanced smart grid analytics. Verizon is seeing more interest in the cloud from utilities, although it’s coming in different flavors, Lewis said. “I tend to hear mostly from the larger, more progressive utilities, that they are more interested in exploring cloud in a do-it-yourself model, a private cloud, if you will,” he said.

Smaller utilities without the IT budgets and staff to handle that kind of project, on the other hand, are “looking at cloud because of a particular business application that they want to use that’s best delivered -- or only delivered -- in the cloud model,” he said. Those could include rural cooperatives and smaller municipal utilities, both of which are also likely targets for smart-grid-as-a-service models.


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