Utilities call for wireless spectrum for the Smart Grid

Spearheaded by American Electric Power, the massive utility covering the Midwest, Appalachia and parts of Texas, appealed to the Federal Communications Commission yesterday for the government to dedicate licensed radio spectrum to Smart Grid operations, reports Earth2Tech. To do so, the commission would have to ban other types of users from using selected airwaves.

In order for major smart metering initiatives (and there are a lot of them in the works) to be effective, utilities will need to tap into wireless networks to beam energy consumption information between them and their customers. The scarcity of these wireless networks is a major hurdle for smart metering efforts. And that’s the argument AEP presented during a workshop on Smart Grid technology.

Utilities can’t just use any wireless spectrum either. While some are willing to rely on unlicensed, unexclusive spectrum, others are wary that these airwaves — used by countless other companies for varied purposes — could be plagued by interference. And energy delivery is one business where that’s unacceptable. So far, there’s no hard proof that this is the case, though the Electric Power Research Institute says it will do some testing in this area.

In its request, AEP is echoing arguments made by the Utilities Telecom Council, a consortium of utilities that has long been asking the government to dedicate about 30 MHz radio spectrum for grid upgrades. Mostly, their pleas have fallen on deaf ears. But now, with applications flowing in for $4.2 billion in stimulus funds, Smart Grid has been thrust into the spotlight. Maybe these arguments will be taken more seriously once utilities have solid financing behind their smart metering strategies.

This is the second time in a week that the FCC has heard from concerned utilities. Recently, AEP, Duke Energy, Southern Company and Xcel Energy filed a petition with the commission to charge cable operators providing VoIP services the regular telecom rate rather than the lower cable rate. They claim that, as is, their customers that only consume electricity are being forced to subsidize VoIP services for a minority of users from vendors like Comcast and Time Wartner Cable. These cable companies and their peers have shot back that the utilities will be fairly compensated under the current rate structure.

[Image from the Houston Chronicle]