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