Smart grid delivers more than reliable power (think investment capital and jobs)

When EPB embarked on its smart grid upgrade, the utility may or may not have anticipated the benefits that were to come beyond more reliable, cheaper electric service and ultra-fast Internet for the 169,000-plus residences and businesses in its service area.

Danna Bailey, EPB’s VP for corporate communications, explained its smart grid reach during a Chamber of Commerce meeting recently. She commented that estimates indicate the annual cost of power outages is roughly $80 billion, and added that those costs could reach $100 million in EPB’s territory alone, according to a Northwest Georgia News article.

That led the municipal utility, among the largest munis in the country, to budget a little less than $227 million for a smart grid based on a fiber optic communications infrastructure. (A little less than half was a Recovery Act smart grid investment grant.)

It’s not just about power outages
Part of the upgrade included enlisting the services of Council Lead Partner S&C Electric, which provided its IntelliRupter PulseClosers. The technology is able to spot a problem within milliseconds and shuttle power around it. As a result, the duration of EPB’s outages has dropped by 55%, Bailey said. The utility estimates it saved about $1.4 million in reduced power outages during one storm alone.

She also pointed out that while outages may be a rare occurrence, the fiber optic network benefits customers daily because it enabled the high-speed Internet access the city is so proud of.

And there have been other tangible economic benefits. For example:

  • The state-of-the-art Internet service has brought international interest to the community
  • Chattanooga drew in over $50 million in investment capital last year. Six years ago, there was little outside investmen.
  • The city has been attracting startups and over 1,000 new jobs since 2009
  • Air quality in the region has improved dramatically

Benefits extend to other cities, too
EPB has partnered with Oak Ridge National Laboratory to be a test bed for smart grid research and development. The outcomes of those R&D projects will be used to develop a framework that eventually will be shared with other cities that want to provide smart grid services and benefits to their customers.

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Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.

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