Cities and utilities: Now you can get smart energy gear with built-in communications

Fri, 2015-02-06 06:00 -- Jesse Berst

In the early days of the smart grid, cities and utilities that bought smart devices often had to roll out their own communications network. And that meant many months and many millions of dollars. Increasingly, however, device makers are building communications right into their gear. GE, for instance, has forged a partnership with AT&T so its meters and street lights will connect to the AT&T network right out of the box, as you will read below.

Before you buy smart gear, therefore, you want to be asking yourself:

  1. What communications networks are in place already? (You may be surprised what you find when you nose around between utilities, police, fire, emergency response, public works, etc.)
  2. Can I hook this device up to one of those networks rather than building or renting one of my own?

The partnership between Council Lead Partner GE and AT&T is focused on next-generation smart energy solutions to help improve the way the energy industry works.

"Our innovations are resulting in a host of new applications, from smart grid solutions to machine-to-machine communications," said John Lavelle, vice president, GE Digital Energy. "By aligning GE's leadership in secure wireless technology and utility software solutions with AT&T's extensive connectivity, we're propelling our shared vision for a more cohesive energy network. In short, we are connecting brilliant machines to the Industrial Internet."

Many of GE's machines and assets, such as locomotives, fleet, aircraft engines and, most recently, smart grid infrastructure, are already connected through the AT&T global network. Now, combining advanced solutions from GE with the AT&T Internet of Things (IoT) infrastructure, utilities can seamlessly connect grid assets with critical software applications such as GE's Grid IQ™ Connect or GE's Predix™ analytics engine. The idea is to simplify asset connectivity for the grid.

Putting ideas into action
The companies are jointly working on proof of concepts at the AT&T IoT Foundry in Plano, Texas. Among them:

  • An advanced meter solution that merges GE's innovative smart meters and wireless solutions, including jointly developed communications hardware, with AT&T's secure cellular technology. The solution is being piloted with two North American renewable energy customers.
  • Intelligent lighting solutions that combine GE Lighting control systems and advance GE Wireless solutions. This combined solution will enable cities to remotely monitor and control lighting on public roadways.  A web-based interface linked to the lighting controls allows municipalities to instantly identify usage and performance of street lights in specific locations.

Download Smart Street Lighting 101 to read more about lighting control systems

"We are continuing to innovate, find new ways to work together and bring opportunities to the marketplace," said Chris Penrose, an AT&T senior vice president. "We see our pilot projects as just a precursor for what's to come."

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Jesse Berst is the founding Chairman of the Smart Cities Council. Click to learn about the benefits you receive when you join the Council for free. Follow @Jesse_Berst and connect on LinkedIn.

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