Smart Grid - A Necessity for Rural Utilities

Rural utilities need the smart grid to establish a secure and sustainable electricity service.
Published: Thu 17 Apr 2014

The smart grid has transformed the way utilities generate, manage and deliver electricity. It has also changed the way utilities and customers interact. With the help of smart grid technologies, utilities can save time, money and resources, and they can improve overall customer service. This is according to Greg Myers, vice president of marketing at Sensus.

Rural utilities are no exception when it comes to the benefits of smart grid technologies.

Rural utilities often have large and sparsely populated areas to serve. Often, an unbalanced customer-to-territory ratio increases the cost of service per customer rate. In the US, this can be as much as 275% above the national average.

Smart grid technology can lower the cost of meter reading, which is particularly expensive for rural utilities that serve broad geographic areas. The technology can also support energy efficiency goals and improve customer engagement.

"Smart grid technology is no longer an option for rural utilities; it is a necessity," says Ed Drew, vice president of utility solutions at The National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (NRTC).

Smart grid offers reliability and resiliency

While smart grid offers financial benefits, smart grid technologies provide a robust defence mechanism against potentially devastating power outages and natural disasters. These applications include a communications network with speed, reliability and strong security.

Rural utilities need a communication network that is standards-based and that enables them to prioritize the data collected from applications on the system. For example, data on system integrity and outage management ranks higher than meter readings.

In the event of a natural disaster, a resilient communications network forms an important part of any utility's emergency preparedness plan. Smart grid technology provides backup support so rural utilities have the power and technology to soften the impact for customers.

A properly managed smart grid can help rural utilities collect and access real-time data from smart sensors that provide an in-depth view of a utility's infrastructure. This critical information will help utilities restore electrical services faster, avoid extra damage to the system and improve the safety of living and working conditions for customers and utility repair field teams.

Funding Change

As government leaders and lawmakers address growing environmental concerns, new economic initiatives are in place to support the widespread implementation of the smart grid, specifically for rural utilities.

For example, in July the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced funding initiatives, including US$18 million in smart grid funding to upgrade rural electric infrastructure and strengthen the grid's efficiency and reliability.

Utility regulations have begun to change in response to recent government initiatives. Utilities have to comply with new sets of federal and state laws to maintain required energy efficiency and environmental standards.

A smart grid helps rural utilities comply with these new standards by taking meter readers and trucks off the road, eliminating thousands of gallons of gas and emissions each year through remote meter reading. Smart grid also allows for remote connect and disconnect, meaning utilities can connect or disconnect customer service without being on-site. This application is especially important in areas with a more transient population, such as popular tourist spots and university campuses.

Enhanced Customer Engagement

With smart grid technology, rural utilities can help their customers take more control over their consumption and make smarter energy decisions.

This increased access helps customers understand their electricity consumption patterns better and they are then empowered to reduce their own environmental footprint and monthly bills significantly.

A Smarter Future

Smart grid technology is driving operational, economic and environmental benefits for rural utilities across the US and the rest of the world.

Smart grid technology is helping rural utilities save time, money and resources, and it is also enhancing customer service by enabling their members to make more intelligent energy usage decisions.

Part of this success can be attributed to the deployment of a flexible communication network—one that can support multiple applications that will serve the needs of utilities and their customers for decades.

“The smart grid provides unparalleled solutions for rural customers. The solutions have the potential to improve customer satisfaction, allow customers to take a role in energy conservation, and protect vital utility capital and infrastructure investments,” explains Mr Myers.

With the smart grid, rural utilities and consumers can take control of their electricity usage and contribute toward a smarter, greener future, says Mr Myers.