Those able to design and build wireless sensor networks are increasingly in demand as utilities move forward with plans to build out “smart” grid infrastructure. The abrupt downward revisions to electricity demand forecasts resulting from the financial crisis and recession have added to the already heightened uncertainty utilities have been facing due to higher than average volatility of fuel prices, greater uncertainty with regard to securing fuel supplies, and regulatory requirements calling for sharp reductions in CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions.
These factors and ongoing advances in technology have prompted utilities to find ways of incorporating the “demand side” of the electrical power market into grid management in a bid to conserve energy and improve the efficiency of their transmission networks. Wireless sensor networks are integral to their automated metering infrastructure (AMI) and smart grid plans.
Couple this with the infrastructure spending and incentives included in the Congressionally revised version of Pres. Obama’s “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act” and companies able to design and build them look like a bright spot in an overly gloomy economic forecast.
Case in point: Mid-Atlantic utility and energy services provider Pepco Holdings (NYSE:POM) last week announced that it had chosen Redwood City-based Silver Spring Networks to provide the hardware, software and services required to build a smart grid network that the utility anticipates will eventually serve some 1.9 million customers across Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland and New Jersey.
WSNs, Utilities & Smart Grid Infrastructure
New regulations and the global energy crisis will drive spending on wireless sensor network technology for smart metering and demand response to $1.6 billion in 2011, according to an ON World forecast. While most of that will be devoted to advanced metering infrastructure, in-home “home area network” applications and devices that interoperate with smart meters for energy savings and conservation also have great developer potential, according to the San Diego-based emerging wireless technology research provider.
Moreover, “aligned with government’s top priorities, Wireless Sensor Networking (WSN) is attracting hundreds of millions of R&D funding in several recession-proof markets” according to a January ON World report. The authors forecast that overall public and private sector R&D spending on WSN will reach $1.3 billion in 2012, up from $522 million in 2007.
“With markets reeling, businesses and investors are relying on the public sector more than ever to set the priorities to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship that will lead to an economic recovery,” ON World’s research director Mareca Hatler said. “By providing needed solutions for energy, the environment, and health care, WSN continues to be a one of the fastest growing research and development areas.”
Pilot Roll Outs Under Way
Pepco Holdings is one of a growing number of utilities and energy services providers driving this trend. Earlier this week it announced that it is seeking regulatory approval from the Maryland Public Service Commission to launch a smart grid pilot test program that entails installing smart meters in thousands of homes in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase and Fort Washington-Tantallon areas, the Baltimore Business Journal reported.
If approval is granted the company will install 1,200 to 1,700 smart meters in residences across neighborhood. These would record how much power homeowners use at any given time. Some homes would have “smart” thermostats installed that display current electricity prices and enable residents to tell what time of day rates are highest. Others would have displays installed informing them of the amount and price they’re paying for power since their last bill.
Residents would be offered the opportunity to sign up for a new rate system that includes incentives to save energy and separate on- and off-peak pricing, according to the news report. The result, according to a local council member who worked with Pepco on the plan would be fewer outages and lower utility bills.
“Smart grids are the future of energy distribution,” Tom Graham, president of the Pepco region in Maryland and D.C., was quoted as saying. “Smart technology increases the ability of Pepco customers to save money by saving energy while improving system reliability.”
In addition to providing Pepco with the wireless sensor networking technology and expertise it needs to see its pilot smart grid project through to fruition, Silver Springs Networks is also working with Florida Power & Light to install and network 100,000 smart meters, a project that when completed is expected to result in one of the largest IP-based AMI networks in the country.