AT&T enters smart grid sensor business

Deal with Cooper Power Systems will route sensor traffic over wireless net

While the United States isn't yet close to implementing smart grid technology on its power infrastructure, AT&T is trying to stay ahead of the curve by getting into the smart grid sensor business.

Now that the United States has committed $4.5 billion to implement so-called smart grid technology over its energy infrastructure, AT&T is trying to stay ahead of the curve by getting into the smart grid sensor business.

AT&T Wesdnesday announced a deal with energy technology vendor Cooper Power Systems to jointly sell and market sensor devices that will be activated on smart grid power networks. The sensors will run over AT&T's wireless data network and AT&T says they will deliver "real-time performance data" to help utility companies "efficiently operate their electric grids, reduce the need for on-site inspection and identify and solve problems that could cause outages or increase system energy losses."

Cooper Power Systems' Energy Automation Solutions wing concentrates mainly on developing smart grid technologies that help utility companies improve their metering infrastructure, their responses to power demands and sensors that monitor power use. Under its agreement with AT&T, Cooper Power will run two of its core smart grid technologies over AT&T's network; the OutageAvisor, which helps utility companies locate outage along their delivery lines; and the VARAdvisor, which AT&T describes as "a low-cost sensor alternative to manual inspection of equipment that controls the voltage supplied to consumers."

"Our nation's utilities are under intense pressure to provide the latest technologies to their customers in a cost-effective way," says Cooper Power Systems president Mike Stoessl, who added that his company's goal was to "help utilities streamline the way in which they gather the critical information they need to serve their customers."

Smart grid technology is typically defined as any information technology that helps power companies more efficiently monitor power demand and allocate capacity. An article published by ComputerWorld Australia last month said that while power grids are designed more like "hub and spoke" models, smart grids are designed "more like a geodesic dome, with power generation and control distributed across its various nodes."

The United States has allocated $4.5 billion for smart grid energy programs as part of the economic stimulus package passed earlier this year. Since then, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers have kicked off a project to create interoperability standards for smart grid technologies that will help power systems work with end-use applications and devices. The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology is also working in collaboration with the Electric Power Research Institute to develop standards and architecture for any smart grid built in the United States in the future.

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