Department of Agriculture Secretary Thomas J. Vilsack last week announced loan guarantees for rural electric co-ops and other utilities in 12 states. Loan guarantees reaching $8 million will be available for general infrastructure and smart grid enhancements. Beneficiaries include Cotton Electric Cooperative in Oklahoma, which will receive a $1.3 million loan for smart grid projects. Other states with utilities benefiting from the new loans include Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota and Texas. The smart grid loan guarantees are part of a larger $330 million package for rural utilities.
The smart grid commitment compliments the department’s recent efforts at the FCC to “ensure that broadband deployment in rural areas continues to be sustainable…” During a February 8, 2013, meeting, Vilsack and Rural Utilities Service (RUS) Acting Administrator John Padalino met with FCC Chairman Julius Genchowski and urged, among other issues: the creation of a Connect America Fund for rural providers; correction of regression analysis errors; and modification of rules that apply to investment made prior to the adoption of those new regulations. Outstanding RUS loans to rural communications providers have been identified in concerns relating to new high-cost support regulations.
The new smart grid funding enhances rural electric providers’ abilities to participate in Smart Rural Community initiative. An upcoming March 12 NTCA webcast featuring Martha Dugan, senior principal, regulatory affairs, NRECA will explore the collaborative efforts broadband and power providers can undertake in the creation of smart rural communities.
Click here to download a printer-friendly PDF of the entire five part series.
Resources: Places to Go to Learn More
- The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP)
- Electric Power Research Institute
- Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)
- National Broadband Plan, Recommendations on Energy and the Environment
- National Information Solutions Cooperative (NISC)
- National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
- National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA)
- National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (NRTC)
- NTCA’s October 2, 2009, comments submitted to the FCC on smart grid
- Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
- U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) Smart Grid Overview
- Utilities Telecom Council (UTC)
Crucial to the smart grid ecosystem is the development of an open architecture defined by clear, accepted standards for interconnection, interoperability, performance and monitoring. These standards will provide a necessary foundation for an intelligent network and the many devices which will interface with the grid.
The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) is intimately involved with the standards development process. “We need uniform ways of communicating for the smart grid network to be successful,” said Bob Saint, principal engineer at NRECA. “Electric cooperatives don’t have the staff or resources to customize solutions. We need a device that is plug-and-play, or as near plug-and-play as possible for a variety of network architectures.”
The U.S. Department of Commerce National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST), which started working on smart grid standards in 2007 when it was tasked to do so by the Energy Independence & Security Act, is spearheading national standards efforts. To carry out its mission, NIST received $15 million through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). Read more
To operate a smart grid, rural utility providers will need last-mile broadband infrastructure connecting smart meters with remote locations and central offices. As utilities evolve and interconnect their networks, they will also need large-scale connectivity between their aggregation points.
Utilities looking to develop a smart grid have several options. They can build their own last-mile and core broadband network, partner with an existing network operator to provide the infrastructure or meet somewhere in the middle, deploying last-mile connectivity while working with a backhaul aggregator. The decision is based upon a variety of factors including the utility’s unique needs and the local regulatory environment as defined by each state public utility commission. Read more
Traditionally, the nation’s electric system is built on a centralized architecture, where power is generated by high-voltage units.
The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) represents 900 member cooperatives, which serve 42 million people in 47 states. Only a handful of the NRECA’s members own and operate generation units. The majority of rural electric providers, approximately 95%, manage substations and the infrastructure which distributes electricity directly to end users. This is analogous to rural telcos which distribute connectivity directly to their customers, and then connect upstream with the IP backbone or long-distance network.
The central office or substation of the electric provider is connected to remote locations, analogous to telco remote terminals or hubs. These remote locations are connected via powerline to utility meters on the side of the consumer’s home or business.
NRECA Principal Engineer Bob Saint noted that this conventional architecture is changing as utility providers install intelligent technology to interconnect their operations. “The smart grid will provide the ability to obtain data about the system, automate processes and operate more efficiently,” Saint said. “Rural electrics have implemented a smart grid network when it has made business sense, and where it has been cost-effective.”
The smart grid will not be implemented all at once but rather as an evolutionary process. Read more
NTCA presents this series of articles on the smart grid. Over the course of the next few weeks, the series will explore the nature and components of a smart grid system; the benefits and drivers of an intelligent grid; the evolving architecture of a rural electric provider who implements a smart grid; the telecommunications requirements for developing a smart grid broadband network; and the development of standards for a viable network architecture.
NTCA has been working with key rural organizations, including the National Information Solutions Cooperative (NISC), the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), and the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (NRTC), who, like NTCA, seek to inform rural cooperatives and commercial companies about the smart grid and its technical needs.
An intelligent electrical grid, commonly known as the smart grid, unites broadband and IP networking with the existing electrical grid. The smart grid was first introduced more than 10 years ago but, thanks to recent federal interest and investment, the concept has now moved from pilot projects to full-scale deployments.
Congress allocated $4.5 billion in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) for smart grid activities. Of this, $3.5 billion is set aside for a Smart Grid Investment Grant Program administered by the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE). As of June 2010, more than 100 projects in 49 states have received smart grid investment grants. Additionally, Congress set aside $620 million in ARRA funding for Smart Grid Demonstration and Energy Storage Projects. The DoE is coordinating these 32 projects. Finally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Utilities Service (RUS) Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) has awarded grants for broadband infrastructure which may support smart grid activities. Read more