Broadband Access Can Drive Citizen Participation in the Smart Grid

One of the six goals in the US National Broadband Plan (NBP) is

Goal No. 6: To ensure that America leads in the clean energy economy, every American should be able to use broadband to track and manage their real-time energy consumption.

The United States must lead by encouraging renewable power, grid storage, and vehicle electrification. Real-time data can also inform automated thermostats and appliances, allowing consumers to save energy and money while reducing the need for expensive new power plants. Consumers should be able to access real-time usage information from smart meters and historical billing information over the Internet.

This is powerful goal - and not just for the US - because it reaches beyond an institutional approach to sustainability to direct consumer participation in the Smart Grid. Every community can aspire to citizen participation in its Smart Grid.

More about NBP's Energy and the Environment component.

Note that aggressive broadband expansion will itself contribute significantly to CO2e growth unless the expansion is implemented with robust Green ICT technologies and practices.

Update 2010.04.06:
The FCC's loss today in Federal Appeals Court over its power to regulate broadband may have dealt a blow to "net neutrality" in the US and to the ability of the FCC to advance the NBP. It is too early to tell for sure and the court did encourage alternative approaches to an open Internet, but it is now even more critical that communities work for open fiber infrastructures if they going to be assured of implementing Smart Grid and other public services.

Update 2010.04.22:
The city of Stockholm has a publicly-owed open fiber utility, StokAB. Blogger "The Green Frog" notes after visiting: "The idea was simple: only dig the streets once, own the ducts and spur the development of an information society for all by making fiber easily available. It is a success story copied now around the world. Many Governments like Singapore and Australia visited before deciding on an open fiber infrastructure to minimize impact and favor competition." Read the Green Frog's whole post. It contains good information about the benefits of community fiber.

Update 2010.04.26:
The FTTH Council's April 2010 Fiber-To-The-Home: North American Market Update notes that overall take-rate for non-RBOC offerings has held at ~52% for the past 3.5 years. But FTTH is available in the USA to only ~16% of households (HH), a situation that initiatives like Google Fiber and the National Broadband plan are designed to improve. Right now, the ~5% of HH connected to fiber puts USA at about #10 worldwide.

Update 2010.09.13
The City of Chattanooga (TN-USA) has a publicly owned electrical utility, EPB, which offers what it calls the "Nation's Only 150 Mbps Residential Internet" service." EPB notes,"Access to the 100% fiber optic network will be available to everyone in EPB’s service area by the end of 2010." The New York Times reports that the city now plans to offer a 1 GB service option by the end of this year to all residential and business customers at a cost of $350/month. The Times quotes EPB's CEO, “We don’t know how to price a gig. We’re experimenting. We’ll learn.” Given that Chattanooga's broadband provider is its electricity utility, it is no surprise to read it EPB's press release that EPB, "is using its fiber-to-the-home network as the backbone for its Smart Grid."

Update 2010.12.02
Bill St. Arnaud advocates for "a wired and wireless National Public Internet (NPI)– that is committed to the principles of an Open Internet" which he calls an "important role for R&E/community networks ". St. Arnaud's NPI definition: "To my mind a NPI is more than deploying a network, but should also about providing services like Transit exchanges, Peering routes and free Internet at all public institutions. New technologies such as 100G and 1000G wavelengths will insure that there is plenty of bandwidth on the backbones, and technologies like distributed federated forwarding tables will allow deployment of low cost routing (and hopefully zero carbon) using hundreds, if not thousands of ordinary PCs, much in the same way Google revolutionized data center computing…By obtaining its own IMSI codes [1]…and open source GSM base stations, coverage to most citizens and machines (e.g.sensor networks, grids etc) should be within the realm of possibility."

[1] The IMSI (International Mobile Subscriber Identity) is a unique 15-digit code used to identify an individual user on a GSM network.

Cloud services

Good review of regulation and practices. One of the emerging vector to use ICT to reduce carbon emission is the use of "cloud" services. With broadband in place, carbon emitting infrastrure can be better managed like cloud computing, teleworking, etc.

Resistance to Smart Meters!

Here in Marin California, PG&E have run into some fierce opposition to their smart meter program from local energy advocates.

The issues run wide - from health concerns and accuracy to more emotional accusations of government conspiracy. open4energy has created a discussion thread on smart meters, with some scientific data to help readers be more "technically educated" on the issues.

Sadly the supporters for smart meters are doing as much damage to themselves as their opponents. Calling them "smart meters" does not make them much more than digital meters with radios. They will do a fine job of measuring the amount of electricity a consumer uses, they will (eventually) do a fine job of eliminating the need for a person having to visit the meter to take its reading.

But as we have said so often, watching how much electricity you use does not save electricity. Yes, there is some correlation between watching and acting, but it is still only acting that saves.

Smart meters are not "magical meters" - would the opponents please stop accusing them of things they do not do, and would the advocates please stop saying they can do things that the do not!

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