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The following is from Grady Smith, CEO of Cullman Electric Cooperative, in Cullman, AL.

In the 1930’s only 10 percent of rural American households were served by electricity. As the REA and the TVA brought power to unserved regions, public power companies were faced with a double challenge. Not only did we have the duty of building infrastructure that would take electricity to the countryside, but we also had to educate our communities on how this new technology could be applied to enhance their lives.

Seven decades later, we face the same challenge. But instead of electricity, it is broadband service that is on course to change our lives. The delivery of voice, data and even video at high speeds is the culmination of years of research and development that began with basic consumer dial-up service in the early 1990’s. I do not believe it is an exaggeration to say that broadband service is the single most important technological issue of this generation, and that it will have the greatest impact on society since basic electricity and telephone service.

At Cullman Electric Cooperative, we have kept a watchful eye on an emerging technology known as ‘broadband over power lines,’ or BPL. The possibilities are incredible. As Michael Powell, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, told BusinessWeek a few years ago: “Think about it… if every electrical plug becomes a broadband port, that would be huge.”

Our interest in this issue naturally stems from the fact that it could dramatically impact our industry. But beyond that, we see BPL as a technology that could become particularly important to homes and businesses in rural areas like those served by Cullman Electric Cooperative.

The industry has moved beyond the question “can voice, data and video be transmitted effectively, safely and rapidly over power lines?”. Research has provided an affirmative answer. Now the questions are “can this technology be deployed to the masses economically?” and “will the equipment stand the test of time?”.

To help answer these questions — and new ones as they arise — Cullman Electric Cooperative is involved in one of the few live BPL pilot programs going on in the nation. We have partnered with IBM and International Broadband Electric Communications, Inc. (IBEC) of Huntsville, Alabama, to turn our lines and poles into a research facility. IBM and IBEC’s knowledge of BPL technology is joining forces with our experience and expertise as an electric utility to validate two distinct BPL applications.

The first is distribution system security through video surveillance. IBEC’s equipment is consistently sending real-time video of a stretch of power line and our headquarters back to a designated central monitoring facility. This could prove invaluable as our industry moves toward more stringent security regulations, allowing us to forego considerable costs by using existing infrastructure to transmit video.

The second application is broadband Internet service to locations within our system. I am pleased to report that several of our members are involved in this pilot, and that they are successfully uploading and downloading data through an ‘always-on’ Internet connection via an electrical outlet.

There are still other applications of this technology to explore. Cullman Electric Cooperative could one day monitor and control our remote equipment through BPL. This technology could also allow us to read our meters remotely.

Another exciting possibility is a wireless network that would allow any customer with a password to access the Internet from any location that was near a power line — in their home or office, on the road or on a park bench.

Studies estimate that 37 percent of Americans live in areas that most likely will never be served by broadband service via cable or DSL. I believe our customers should be able to enjoy the benefits of rural life without being left behind in terms of technology. BPL may well be the means whereby public power companies once again take bold steps — just like we did 70 years ago — to bring the power of technology to rural America and thereby change people’s lives for the better.

Grady Smith is the CEO of Cullman Electric Cooperative in Cullman, AL

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“The first is distribution system security through video surveillance. IBEC’s equipment is consistently sending real-time video of a stretch of power line and our headquarters back to a designated central monitoring facility. ”

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I’m going to have to agree with “George the Animal” (great name by the way) because I would assume that an exponentially greater amount of people use the internet than other “lesser” signals. I would also assume there is some way to meet in the middle though and make everyone happy. Who knows though?


Posted by: Mitchell
 
October 18, 2010
9:06 pm

Seems to be me broadband wireless is still the better alternative for rural areas.


Posted by: David
 
July 12, 2009
11:26 pm

Who cares about interfering with the other signals I want fast internet. Thats all I care about! Screw amateur radio nerds! They need to do some exercise.


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June 6, 2009
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ds2 I will tell you this is a great advantage compared to dail up. The IBEC/REA smart grid is great. I hope other places like us can recieve this! Instead of waiting sixty minutes for something to download it is about five minutes.


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May 31, 2009
8:57 am

There are similar trials underway elsewhere in the US
http://blog.ds2.es/ds2blog/2009/04/ibec-and-ibm-bring-smart-grid-technology-to-washington-island.html

Cisco is also declared in this area
http://www.smartgridnews.com/artman/publish/companies/Cisco_Certifies_Smart_Grid_as_the_Next_Big_Thing-583.html

Trilliant has also expanded its consumer offerings lately.

Most utilities have a clear incentive program in place for power conservation and peak levelling, which is much easier to achieve if all AC devices are participating in a common network. The SCADA information is only a start, true demand side management (DSM) is no doubt coming with capabilities similar to those EnerNOC/Comverge offer now. Wireless is not the long term solution for anyone, it’ll probably become the backup when the wires are down.

The case for rolling out consumer broadband using the ITU-T G.hn standard over AC power lines is compelling. First there are minor savings like integrating G.hn gateways (to more than one network, possibly, overcoming objection to mixing consumer and utility bits) and ANSI-standard smart meters into one device per transformer (BPL can’t get past the transformer). More economically significant, electric companies can justify subsidiing massive over-provisioning with DSM and grid monitoring, paying for those expensive initial bits with watts and negawatts, and later passing the savings on to the customer – neither a telco nor a cableco can do that.

Here’s an outline of the business case for home BPL, with fibre coming no closer to the premises than the transformer, it’s much more compelling than pure fibre
http://policywiki.theglobeandmail.com/tiki-index.php?page=BPL+and+smart+grid+briefing+note

Gigabit AC outlets only seems natural to people already recharging phones and cameras with USB and plugging in their WiFi transceivers and so on to powered Ethernet. Once we combine data and power, we’ll wonder why they were ever separate. Combine G.hn over AC with 802.3at to replace “wall warts” and you’ve got the AC and DC devices all co-operating, every appliance with an iSCSI address – and a level playing field for all home control, security, fire safety, medical monitoring and resilience services. Could be pretty vulnerable unless PKI is everywhere also.

From the utility’s perspective, selling voice/data/TV to the public over the same wires is the easiest way to pay for the network rollout, since consumer services require a lesser degree of reliability and monitoring and backup than the utility itself. A 100 megabit network could be upgraded to a gigabit and the entire thing paid for by the consumer subscribers. Some of this is already going on in Atlantic Canada. Two case studies were published by Aliant XWave, which serves a lot of Canadian utilities
http://xwave.com/key_industries/industry.aspx?IdKey=7&IdPage=89

In New Brunswick, XWave put a 100 megabit network up on the poles to improve NB Power monitoring and maintenance. In Newfoundland and Labrador, NL Hydro is rolling out voice and data to its customers on its poles.

Maybe the more remote areas will pioneer this technology as they have the worst power grid monitoring and outage problems and their customers have poor broadband access and often rely on expensive satellite TV and Internet. They also often have champions such as the CEO above, who are aware of the issues with Motorola Canopy and so on.


Posted by: Craig Hubley
 
May 29, 2009
1:43 pm

“These signals can and do interfere with other radio signals”

Learn to check what you are talking about before you post. This is an old, solved, problem. Finished. Done with. Fixed.

Modern G.hn BPL detects the actual spectrum in use around the powerline and avoids interfering with any of it, which is a far superior and more reliable approach than any other networking technology.


Posted by: just correcting
 
March 3, 2009
3:51 pm

BPL transmits radio frequency signals in the High Frequency radio spectrum (3-30 MHz) over very long antennas (power lines). These signals can and do interfere with other radio signals all across the HF spectrum, not just locally but can interfere world wide. So let’s trash a large part of the radio spectrum just to satisfy getting Internet to a few rural individuals. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.


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