What can WiMAX bring to smart grid program?

GE exec Mark Hura looks at ambitions for smart grid program

GE takes a look at what WiMAX can bring to smart grid technology.

GE last week announced that it has launched a pilot program to implement smart grid technology that uses Clearwire's WiMAX network to deliver data to both customers and utility companies.

What makes a carrier green?

GE says that it will work with utility company Consumers Energy to deliver WiMAX-based grid sensors and energy meters to more than 6 million customers in Michigan. Smart grid technology is typically defined as any information technology that helps power companies more efficiently monitor power demand and allocate capacity. GE says that this particular smart grid pilot project is intended "to demonstrate how real-time wireless communications between meters in the home and the utility's network management and control systems can improve efficiency and reliability for all."

In Network World's interview with Mark Hura, GE Energy's smart grid commercial leader, we discuss GE's broader ambitions for its smart grid program, its timeline for deployment and its reasons for choosing WiMAX over LTE.

What do you hope to achieve with this pilot program?

Our WiMAX smart grid deployment is an opportunity to showcase the advantages of leveraging 4G communications for smart grids for both utility companies and consumers. It allows utilities to have a standard communications technology that includes the proper security protocols. WiMAX technology is based off of standards that are already being used in the industry.

This is a communications standard that has the appropriate amount of bandwidth and latency, and that allows utilities to use their networks for more than automated metering and communicating with metered devices. It also allows for enabling renewable energy sources on the grid. It has more capabilities than the infrastructures that exist today and they allow for new applications on the networks such as alternative energy sources and storage technologies on a community level.Can you give a timeline of what we can expect to see implemented and when?

Our timeline is going to be based on utility decisions of how quickly they are going to implement their own road maps for deploying this technology on the grid. The important thing to remember when we look at WiMAX technology is that it will be widely deployed by end of 2010, covering all major markets across the U.S. So based on that I think you'll start to see deployments picking up in late 2010 and then accelerate over the next two to three years.

Why should consumers and businesses care about WiMAX-enabled smart grid technology?

Consumers and businesses will have the opportunity to understand how they use their energy and to understand how to manage their energy consumption more effectively. Having a communications platform based on 4G technology can provide real-time information back to consumers. It can tell you what your usage is at a particular moment and that can help project what your usage may be into the same day or the next day. So for instance it can tell you how you can use different energy sources for different times of the day. It can tell you how to best program devices that perform energy-intensive tasks to work only at off-peak hours to save money.

Why did you decide to go with WiMAX instead of waiting for LTE?

We took a look at the two real 4G paths that carriers are deploying, WiMAX and LTE. LTE has not been released commercially yet, whereas WiMAX is based on an IEEE standard and is commercially deployable right now. It also has a huge ecosystem all around the world. Eventually we see a future ability for appliances to leverage both WiMAX and LTE but for right now we think this is a good opportunity to leverage an existing network technology to benefit both consumers and businesses today.

Learn more about this topic

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Verizon part of smart grid technology team

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Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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