2011 was a year of unprecedented spending for smart grid project ramp-up and deployment in North America -- catalyzed by federal stimulus funding, aggressive renewable and energy efficiency standards in the United States and provincial policy in Canada.

In states with dedicated smart grid legislation, smart meter penetration surpassed 25 percent, with many leading utilities achieving close to full deployment. Increasing integration of decentralized and renewable generation sources and alternative performance-based ratemaking structures have driven utility investment in automated and self-healing transmission and distribution infrastructure.  

After reviewing project nominations for several of the most innovative utilities in North America, Greentech Media/GTM Research is pleased to recognize the following awardees as “The Networked Grid: Top Ten Utility Smart Grid Deployments in North America.”

Special acknowledgment has been given to three utilities for best-in-class projects in the categories of Advanced Metering Infrastructure, Consumer Engagement and Distribution Automation. We are honored to have representatives from several of the most innovative North American utilities speaking at The Networked Grid next week, Greentech Media’s flagship smart grid conference.

Arizona Public Service Co. (APS)

APS’ smart grid initiatives, and more specifically its distribution infrastructure upgrades, have made it one of the most reliable utilities in the United States. The utility’s best-in-class performance has largely been a result of its award-winning transformer oil analysis and notification (TOAN) program, which has allowed transformer health to be monitored remotely in near-real-time, helping to both prevent faults and quickly restore interruptions.  

APS has also implemented self-isolating and self-healing technologies on two of its main distribution lines in Flagstaff. Additionally, the utility has integrated more than 200 megawatts of consumer-owned photovoltaic systems into its distribution grid -- one of the largest portfolios of photovoltaic capacity in North America. The company’s Flagstaff microgrid project will incorporate an additional 1.5 megawatts of PV capacity, solar hot water heaters and micro-wind turbines, as well as a 1.5 megawatt-hour lithium-ion battery storage system designed to complement the utilities’ 500-kilowatt Doney Park PV farm.

Austin Energy

Austin Energy has one of the longest-running smart grid programs in the United States. Under the guidance of former CIO Andres Carvallo, the electricity provider achieved 100 percent smart meter penetration in 2009. Its current smart grid 2.0 offering includes more than 90 megawatts of load-shedding capacity via 86,000 remotely controllable smart thermostats.

In February, Austin announced its plan to implement 4.8 megawatts of backup power using Vycon Energy flywheels at its 190,000-square-foot data center. Furthermore, the utility has partnered with the Pecan Street demonstration project which will feature a smart grid community of 1,000 residents and 75 businesses designed  around integrating smart meters with distributed generation, energy storage, PEVs, and new electricity pricing models.

Con Edison

Con Edison’s smart grid initiatives have focused primarily on transmission and distribution upgrades aimed at enhancing reliability -- a logical decision for a utility responsible for maintaining the health of the electrical infrastructure for the greater New York City area.

Current and past projects include the installation of automated sectionalizing switches, microprocessor relays, and transformer condition-monitoring relays purchased from vendors which include Schneider Electric, GE, Thomas and Betts (ABB). Con Ed anticipates energy savings of approximately 30 megawatts through its distribution automation upgrades as well as a 40 percent to 50 percent reduction in outages.

Duke Energy

Duke plans to invest more than $1 billion in smart grid technologies across its service territories with the majority of investment occurring in the Carolinas and Ohio. The multi-state utility is in the process deploying more than 700,000 electric meters, 450,000 gas meters and 130,000 communication nodes in Ohio.

Duke also has one of the most robust communication networks in the industry. Its infrastructure supports two-way data transmission via RF, PLC, and Wi-Fi across local area networks (LAN) and neighborhood area networks (NAN).

In the Carolinas, the company is in the process of using stimulus funding to install 104 phasor management units (PMUs), which will be managed via Alstom’s wide-area situational awareness software.  

EPB: Best Distribution Automation

Chattanooga, Tennessee-based EPB received the largest DOE smart grid grant amongst all municipal utilities. EPB elected to allocate the majority of the $226 million in federal and matching funds to upgrade more than half of its distribution circuits. The utility’s distribution automation projects have included the purchase and installation of more than 1000 automated feeder switches, all of which will incorporate SCADA control. Upon full deployment, nearly 80% of the utility’s high and medium voltage lines will be automated. The distribution upgrades are leveraged on the utility’s low-latency, 100% fiber optic network.

Additionally, EPB plans to connect up to 50% of the already deployed 110,000 smart meters via fiber optic cable, facilitating enhanced meter data management and largely eliminating the “last mile” communications dilemma which has impeded smart meter integration for other utilities. Thus far, EPB's upgrades have saved more than 5 million customer outage minutes.

Hydro One: Best AMI

Hydro One, under the directive of the Ontario Green Energy Act, has undertaken one of the most comprehensive AMI initiatives in North America, despite the formidable challenge of integrating a communications network across a topographically diverse service area nearly twice the size of Texas. To date, the company has deployed more than 1.3 million smart meters.

An unprecedented 80 percent of Hydro One’s customers are enabled  for the utility’s time-of-use pricing program. Hydro One has also initiated an ambitious infrastructure upgrade program with plans to upgrade approximately 1000 distribution and regulating substations in order to incorporate distributed generation while maintaining reliability and power quality. The backbone of Hydro One’s communication network is provided via Trilliant’s 2.4 GHz self-healing RF mesh architecture, which can accommodate cellular, broadband and fiber backhaul.

Oklahoma Gas & Electric (OG&E)

OG&E is currently in the process of implementing volt/VAR optimization across 400 circuits in order to achieve a 75-megawatt load reduction. Using ABB’s Ventyx network management system, the utility aims to better identify and mitigate real and reactive power imbalances. Earlier this year, OG&E implemented advanced capacitors with remote controls across 42 circuits and automatic reclosers across 16 circuits. The company’s communications network was designed from the ground up by Motorola and features a three-tiered network, which incorporates point-to-point microwave, WiMAX, and RF mesh.

On the smart meter side, OG&E has deployed more than 440,000 endpoints at an impressive rate of more than 1500 meters per day. The company plans to achieve system-wide deployment by 2014.

Oncor: Best Consumer Engagement

Oncor, Texas’ largest utility, deployed its two-millionth meter in August 2012. The Landis+Gyr-based network is configured to report consumer electricity data in 15-minute intervals.

The utility has fully integrated meter data into the Smart Meter Texas web portal, which provides a free, web-based platform for viewing consumption data and usage patterns in near real time. Oncor’s extensive consumer outreach partnership, Biggest Energy Saver, encouraged consumers to reduce electricity usage by nearly 33 percent in 2011 and increased enrollment in the Smart Meter Texas web portal by 172 percent.

Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E)

Based on total numbers of units and total expenditure, PG&E trumps its peer utilities with more than 8.8 million electric and gas smart meters and 1,400 access points deployed across its service territory.

The utility recently joined Itron in co-sponsoring the DOE's Green Button program, an initiative aimed at presenting smart meter data in a standardized and consumer-friendly format. Under its Cornerstone Improvement Plan, the company received approval from the California Public Utilities Commission to recover $355 million of transmission and distribution capex, the majority of which will go toward improving fault location, isolation, and service restoration (FLISR).

Furthermore, PG&E is currently in the implementation phase of the Western Interconnect Synchrophasors Program (WISP) which will utilize $22 million of federal grant money and $25 million of the company’s funds to install synchrophasors throughout its service territory. 


NRG subsidiary Reliant offers a suite of consumer initiatives aimed at engaging its 1.5 million customers. Underpinning the program has been the deployment of its e-Sense home energy monitor (made and manufactured by Tendril). Reliant began offering the in-home display at no cost to consumers earlier this year.

As of January, more than 3,500 customers had signed up to receive a free display, with another 6,500 set to be distributed in the coming year. The in-home display is complemented by a three-tiered time-of-use pricing program, as well as a web-based platform, which benchmarks energy usage against neighboring households and previous use periods. Reliant was also the first electricity retailer in Texas to endorse the Department of Energy’s Green Button initiative. 

San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E)

Sempra subsidiary SDG&E operates over 18,500 miles of transmission and distribution lines with SCADA controls for more than 95 percent of its transmission infrastructure. The impressive degree of system monitoring has allowed the utility to maintain one of the lowest system average interruption frequency indexes in California.

SDG&E is also currently deploying synchrophasors on all of its major transmission substations in addition to  the already deployed 1.8 million smart meters and 36,000 programmable thermostats. But perhaps most impressive is the 90 megawatts of distributed solar, representing roughly 10 percent of all installed photovoltaic capacity in California.

With one of the highest electric vehicle penetrations in the U.S., SDG&E has also been a pioneer in implementing PEV time-of-use pricing. The company’s Borrego Springs demonstration project is one of the largest microgrid projects in North America.

Southern California Edison (SCE)

With the highest peak load of any California utility, it comes as no surprise that SCE has one of the largest and most comprehensive demand response programs in North America with just over 1,600 megawatts enrolled -- roughly two-thirds of total curtailable loads in California. More than 20,000 businesses and 323,000 residential customers participate in SCE's voluntary demand response program. The company plans to grow the program to 1,900 megawatts by 2014 through increased automated load control. The utility’s impressive load shedding capability has been enabled via more than three million Edison SmartConnect meters, which are equipped to support peak time rebates and critical peak pricing.