A: YES! And it’s substantial! Southern Company and others entities studied this issue in the aftermath of Katrina and unequivocally came to the same conclusion – utilities build utility-grade networks that provide substantially higher levels of reliability than public networks.
Southern Company, an Atlanta-based IOU servicing 4.4 million customers, filed a formal recommendation with the FCC February 5th, related to the development of the National Broadband Plan and specifically about Smart Grid communication technologies. In the filing, Southern compares the performance of commercial cellular networks post Hurricane Katrina with that of its wholly owned subsidiary, Southern LINC Wireless. The primary focus of Southern LINC Wireless is to deliver reliable communications for utility operations; secondarily it offers commercial wireless service.
Bottom-line: SouthernLINC’s network was designed to meet utility-grade standards for network reliability with multi-level redundancy and back-up power built into the design…attributes not designed into typical commercial cellular communications networks. Why? Fundamentally building in this layer of protection is more costly and incompatible with public network business plans. An industry study referenced in the filing states “…such construction would be cost-prohibitive for a commercial system.”
Some highlights from the Southern filing include…within three days of Katrina making landfall, SouthernLINC had restored 98 percent of its operations. USA Today reported on October 10, 2005, that “for the first 72 hours, [SouthernLINC Wireless] radios were virtually the only way to communicate on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast.” A week post-Katrina, other commercial cellular carriers were still hampered by extensive loss of service in many areas. Even two weeks later, public cellular services were not restored in many areas.
Power is a critical resource we rely on in some way almost anywhere at home, work and play. Shouldn’t the Smart Grid be built with high reliability as a key requirement? Utilities need to develop their strategy for a Smart Grid communication infrastructure that meets the requirements for all current and planned applications that will run over the network – this brings to mind attributes such as performance, latency, security, control, scalability….and yes, reliability.