EPB, Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs partner for smart grid via FTTH

EPB, the electric power distributor in Chattanooga, TN, that made waves last year by offering 1-Gbps services over its new GPON FTTH network, has strengthened its ties with its GPON equipment supplier, Alcatel-Lucent (Euronext Paris and NYSE: ALU). The two companies have partnered to develop smart grid energy management services using the GPON FTTH network, with the analysis of energy usage as an initial step.

A growing number of utilities see FTTH networks as a means to support their smart grid efforts (see "Fiber-enabled smart grid initiative launched on Prince Edward Island" and "Central Indiana Power deploys FTTH-based smart grid" for examples). Speaking with Lightwave at last year’s FTTH Conference in September, EPB Executive Vice President and COO David Wade and EPB Fiber Optics Vice President Katie Espeseth made no secret of their desire to leverage the GPON infrastructure for smart grid applications as well as communications services (see “Who needs 1-Gbps FTTH” from the November/December 2011 issue of Lightwave).

Thus, in addition to connecting homes, EPB also is using the GPON network as a backbone to connect sensors and control devices at locations throughout its electrical grid. This will provide EPB with a high-bandwidth platform through which it can measure, monitor, and control its electricity distribution network in real time.

"With today's power grid infrastructure model, most electric power customers pay one rate per kilowatt hour — regardless of when the power was generated. But the cost to generate power can vary from time of day, time of week, and time of year. Plus, today's electric meters can give us only limited after-the-fact information,"said Harold DePriest, president and CEO of EPB. "Our smart grid is intended to not only provide customers the ability to better manage their energy use, but also alert us, and the user, in real time to any spikes in usage, so that immediate action can be taken if there is a problem within a home or business. To do that, we need to be able to analyze the network at far greater levels of detail than has been possible before."

Alcatel-Lucent's Bell Labs aims to help EPB with such analysis through the development of analytical techniques and tools to better sift through the data it now can access from smart meters, Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems, and other sources. The hope is that EPB can leverage its GPON network to better detect and fix distribution grid anomalies before they degrade services, more efficiently manage power purchases from outside electricity suppliers such as the Tennessee Valley Authority, and offer customers energy management services of their own.

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