Back in 2015, we covered the launch of Verizon’s Grid Wide Utility Solutions platform. The 4G LTE-enabled, cloud-hosted service was aimed primarily at utilities that want to connect smart meters, grid sensors, distributed energy assets and other endpoints of the modern grid, but for one reason or another don’t want to invest in and own the information and communications technology networks to enable them.
Fast-forward to 2019, and Verizon’s Grid Wide platform is continuing to expand its share of smaller municipal and cooperative utilities — a natural target market for a capital-light alternative to the multibillion-dollar advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) rollouts of the country’s big investor-owned utilities.
This week it announced its latest win from Peninsula Light in Washington state. The electric co-op will use Verizon’s platform to manage smart meters for its more than 33,000 customers, from standard billing and remote connect-disconnect applications, to more advanced outage detection and grid monitoring.
Peninsula Light was already a Grid Wide customer, having tapped the service to manage its prepay customers, among other uses, Jay Olearain, Verizon’s director of product and new business innovation, said in a Tuesday interview. But when faced with the choice of replacing its legacy power line carrier meters with another utility-owned network, or switching to Verizon as a host, “they wanted to use the communication infrastructure that was already in place,” he said.
Verizon already supports millions of smart meters, albeit as a backhaul carrier for data being collected by the neighborhood radio-frequency mesh networks that make up the vast majority of AMI deployments in the U.S. today. Direct cellular connections to individual meters are far less common, largely because their per-endpoint costs are higher compared to mesh systems, and also because many investor-owned utilities want to own and collect a rate of return on their own smart-meter investments.
But electric co-ops are owned and managed by individual customers who don’t have any incentive to own their own telecommunications infrastructure, and tend to cover larger geographies unsuited for mesh networks.
“We’ve made great progress in the co-op space, mostly as a service” switching out existing legacy meter networks for a cellular option, with named customers including PenLight and Dakota Valley Electric Cooperative.
And, of course, there’s the scalability to consider. Over the past year, Verizon has been making its Grid Wide software development kit (SDK) available to select vendor and utility partners, to allow them to develop their own applications on top of the platform.
“It’s not just a point AMI solution. It provides them a lot of insight into their grid, not just for metering, but for measuring quality of supply," Olearain said.
Grid Wide already supports core functionalities of AMI networking, meter data management, demand response and distribution monitoring and control. But with longer-term customers like PenLight, it’s been working on new applications to deliver more timely voltage, power quality and incremental demand data to the utility to help it better manage its distribution network, he said. “As they create new applications, they can leverage those as needed.”
Hawaiian Electric on board
One of Verizon’s earliest SDK partners is also its first big-name investor-owned utility customer, Hawaiian Electric, which announced last year that it would use Grid Wide to manage its new Customer Grid Supply Plus (CGS+) solar program.
CGS+ customers must give the utility some control over how much solar power they export to the grid, which means that HECO needs to “monitor in near to real time the energy that’s being consumed from the grid for these opt-in customers, but also what’s coming back, so they can do active grid monitoring,” Olearain said.
HECO also needed to tap Verizon’s existing network rather than build its own to support this capability, he said. That’s because the utility’s current $205 million grid modernization plan will rely on “strategically” deploying smart meters to customers with rooftop solar, batteries or other behind-the-meter energy assets, and will also require near-real-time responsiveness.
Verizon, along with major AMI vendors such as Itron and Landis+Gyr, is also promoting its platform for the internet of things, which for utilities usually implies a world of behind-the-meter energy monitoring or control devices, as well as sources of data. The company is working with a number of utilities on various new applications in the electric, gas and water utility space, according to Olearain, though he wouldn’t provide any details.
HECO announced this year that it is tapping Landis+Gyr’s multicommunications, IOT-enabled platform for the $86.3 million Phase 1 of its AMI rollout.
Verizon and Landis+Gyr are partners in a pan-industry standards effort, known as Open Field Message Bus, meant to allow devices from multiple vendors to communicate with each other in the field to solve local grid disturbances that may happen too fast for centralized systems to respond.