Utilities implementing a smart grid need to be able to link customers, their equipment and data centers and often external organizations on a bidirectional communications network. Some utilities are looking at using telephone company communications assets to do this, but many are looking at other alternatives including laying their own fibre network. In the case of electric power utilities serving largely rural areas technologies being considered include broadband over powerlines and wireless technology.
A wireless technology that I frequently hear about from utilities is WiMAX. A major manufacturer of power utility equipment manufactures WiMAX-based smart meters. Among the companies that have been looking at or testing WiMAX technology include Australia-based SP AusNet, Energy Australia, American Electric Power, Consumers Energy, Centerpoint, National Grid, San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE), and Hydro One. A major reason for using WiMAX for the smart grid is high bandwidth which means that WiMAX could be used with major assets like substations to collect large volumes of data from video monitoring units, phasor units which collect information like voltage, current and frequency in real time, and other smart devices. WiMAX could also be used to support mobile work force applications including mapping, digital imagery and video. WiMAX is an open standard, which differentiates it from proprietary smart grid network technology often found in North America and which the European smart grid initiative is trying to avoid. (Image Hydro One)