Smart Grid Case Studies: Cities Revitalized by Smart Grid Development

Studies show that smart grids can help cities thrive.[1] Despite this, very few have implemented them.

These next-generation electrical grids are designed to meet the rapidly growing energy demand seen around the US and the world at large, bringing improvements to virtually every aspect of traditional power generation and transmission.

In particular, the nexus of smart grid technologies and utility-owned broadband networks offers significant benefits to communities. Here are three case studies demonstrating how smart grid and broadband networks are helping to revitalize communities and drive new growth in local economies.

Smart grid case studies

Chattanooga has long been an innovative city in the world of tech, and their wholesale adoption of the smart grid is a perfect example of how transformative the technology can really be.

EBP (Chattanooga, Tennessee)

Chattanooga’s Electric Power Board (EBP) began deploying smart grid technologies aimed at monitoring the city’s electric grid in the 1990s, including the build-out of a fiber optic network. The project gradually expanded to allow EBP to begin offering enterprise broadband services to local business. The project received a $111 million grant from the Department of Energy which, in addition to $229 million in revenue bonds and a $50 million loan, was used to expand its smart grid technologies and further build out the fiber network in order to offer fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) services to residents.[2]

The resulting smart grid and broadband network, which has been in operation since 2009, has been heralded as a wild success and a model for cities around the country looking to update grid infrastructure, expand access to competitive broadband services and attract new business. In 2012, EBP was recognized by GTM for its distribution automation
technologies.[3]

The smart grid project included deploying smart meters to 170,000 electricity customers and 2,000 smart switches along its lines, which help to re-route power during outages. EBP also launched time-based pricing to incentivize customers to modify their energy consumption behaviors. After a severe weather event in November 2016, EBP announced its smart grid had helped keep the power on for about 90% of Chattanooga’s electricity users. Smart grid automation either prevented or automatically restored more than 23,000 customer outages, according to EBP.[4]

In February 2018, EBP partnered with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to deploy sensors that collect real-time data on grid fluctuations that allow operators to balance the electrical load. EBP and ORNL deployed the sensor arrays at substations around the perimeter of the utility’s service territory.

In addition to measuring electrical system operation, the sensors also collect data on environmental factors such as humidity levels, wind and sunshine, and they provide information on cybersecurity issues such as sensor network intrusions and the presence of cell phone signals. The data is then delivered to a control room via the broadband network and fed into EBP’s supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system. The project will help researchers test a variety of sensors and their effectiveness in such deployments, and explore ways to protect smart grid technologies from cyber attacks.

In addition to offering gigabit speeds to residents in the city (and battling several lawsuits from Comcast and local pay TV operators), the mid-sized southern city has since gained a reputation as a center for innovation. City officials have claimed that the FTTH broadband network has attracted a handful of companies to open offices and facilities in the city, including Volkswagen, creating new jobs and driving economic growth in the city.[2]

Northern Georgia has already seen incredible results as entire communities are revitalized as part of the state’s ongoing transition to a fully “smart” energy grid.

Habersham EMC (Northern Georgia)

Georgia electric cooperative utility Habersham EMC (HEMC) has deployed a fiber optic broadband network across parts of Northern Georgia to support its smart grid initiatives and provide gigabit speeds to residents within its service footprint. HEMC initially built its fiber network in response to requests from local schools and governments wanting access to high-speed broadband.[6]

HEMC’s underlying network provider, North Georgia Network Cooperative (NGN), received a $33.5 million grant from the NTIA in 2009 to help it build out the broadband network, along with $9 million in matching funds.[7] NGN built out a 260-mile high-speed fiber optic ring which connects with existing fiber networks to form a 1,600-mile loop in the region.

In 2013, HEMC partnered with three commercial companies to pilot a bundled intelligent energy management platform, which uses customers’ own home broadband networks to access information about power consumption from various appliances, such as air conditioners and water heaters. Those companies were Emerson, a company provides power and building control systems, smart-grid connectivity provider EnerSphere and Hong Kong-based energy management company Jetlun. HEMC utilized $616,000 in funds awarded by the USDA for the smart grid project.[8]

The pilot project connected thermostats and water heaters to a ZigBee gateway that relies on the customer’s home broadband service, enabling customers to access and manage their energy consumption data online through browsers and smartphone apps.

Through the program, HEMC launched a smart thermostat and home energy management pilot, which used Emerson’s Electric Water Heater Control devices that utilities are able to control in order to reduce household power loads during peak demand times.

Other smart grid technologies include reliability improvements and increased efficiency throughout the grid, power re-routing during outages, real-time data collection to monitor system and equipment health, HEMC offers gigabit broadband service to over 2,000 residents.[9]

The network has been touted by local politicians as helping to revitalize a community that was increasingly struggling in the digital era without sufficient access to broadband. The broadband service has been so successful that in 2017, Habersham launched an expansion program aimed at building out the existing fiber network to surrounding communities without using federal or state grants.

Lafayette is a perfect example of a city that has seen promising results from building out its own fully fiber-enabled municipal broadband network. Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

LUS (Lafayette, Louisiana)

Lafayette’s public electric utility LUS was one of the first to build out a municipal-owned fiber-to-the-home broadband network for residents. The utility began the process in 2005, after the city government asked both the local telco and cable operator to upgrade the community’s broadband.

LUS later received an $11 million stimulus grant from the federal government to launch a smart grid project that utilized the fiber network for communications backhaul.[10] The smart grid grant was part of the 2009 stimulus package and was matched with $22 million in funding from other sources. The project was aimed at improving the reliability of the grid, reducing outage durations during storm seasons, and helping to reduce peak demand across its service territory by facilitating customer management of energy usage and costs.

The smart grid project included installing advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), distribution automation (DA) equipment, and advanced monitoring equipment such as Phasor Measurement Units (PMU) for the transmission system. LUS also deployed radio frequency (RF) communications assets along its transmission and distribution networks for enhanced system monitoring.

The project also involved installing 3,000 “learning thermostats” that provide customers with information about their energy usage and enable remote energy management. LUS is now recognized as one of the most reliable electricity grids in the state of Louisiana, which is frequently plagued by severe summer storms and hurricanes.[11]

LUS’s fiber network has helped the former oil city diversify the local economy by attracting new business in technology, healthcare and manufacturing sectors. The LUS fiber network enabled the creation of the Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise (LITE) center, which offers high-performance computing capabilities and advanced visualization, open to both the public and private sector. LITE is one of only a handful of facilities in the world offering those capabilities.

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