New report looks at telecommunications development in the Australian electricity market


Dublin, Ireland — (METERING.COM) — July 19, 2007 – A new report by consultants Research and Markets – 2007 Australia – Smart Grid – Energy Management and Broadband – examines telecommunications developments in the Australian electricity utilities market. The subjects covered in the report include:

•    The market in 2007
•    Forecasts of opportunities in this market
•    Major players, projects and cooperative models
•    Demand side management
•    Broadband power line
•    Network architecture, standards
•    Interference issues and challenges.

The report notes that telecommunications is not new to electricity energy utilities. ‘Ripple wave’ communication was invented back in 1896 and has been used ever since in the electricity grid – for instance, to switch hot-water systems on and off. This was later developed into power line communications (PLC) and for more than two decades, utilities have been looking at utilizing this technology to develop new applications, especially in the area known as demand side management. However, very little progress has been made and only in recent years have we seen the rollout of so-called smart meters over this (still not very smart) narrowband technology.

In a rapidly deregulated market, utilities were forced to become more sophisticated in their business management in order to increase their revenues. Still heavily regulated in relation to the prices they are permitted to charge for electricity, they looked at using unregulated assets to generate revenues that would be unaffected by regulation. This led them to look at the telecommunications market.

Many utilities began to make access capacity on their communications networks available to the telcos; others made their pole and wire infrastructure available – for example to cable TV companies – to string their cables next to the electricity wires. New opportunities arose when the PLC technology was developed into a broadband version – broadband over powerlines (BPL). This caused excitement in the market, since BPL could be offered as an infrastructure-based service in competition with the telcos. The utilities are far more comfortable with this as BPL could be an integral part of their own electricity network. However, the technology costs remain high and global standards are still a year away.

In more recent times, global warming has become a hot political issue. Electricity generation and usage accounts for 40% of carbon emissions and it became clear that the utilities would have to get serious about this issue. Most utilities do not have an intelligent network in place that can alert them about outages or problems with the wires. They have no capability to manage demand and supply. All of this will be essential if they want to become serious about energy saving, and their carbon bill could quickly become the highest cost element of their business.

This has led to the concept of smart grids – building an IP-based, intelligent, carrier-grade telecommunications network over the electricity grid, with sensors and routers that will allow them to better manage the network. This would assist them in limiting their carbon reductions and provide them with a lucrative position on the carbon trading market.

A smart grid can be extended to people’s homes and businesses through BPL, but also through wireless, fiber and copper-based DSL technologies. Customers will get an information panel (a true smart meter) in their homes, which will provide them with information about their energy use, about pricing – especially in peak periods, when prices will go up – and they will be able to interactively communicate with their utilities to limit their energy use, shift their use and even insert their own wind or solar power into the grid.

The industry (telcos and utilities) is collaborating with the government in developing plans for the introduction of smart grids in the country. Sydney-based Energy Australia launched the country’s first smart grid in mid-2007.