Monday, January 28, 2008

Going Green: Broadband over Power Line (BPL)

Stacey Higginbotham at Gigaom wrote an interesting article on Friday titled BPL Goes Green. In the piece she discusses how companies in the United States have shifted Broadband over Power Line (BPL) strategy from pushing broadband to providing demand response systems to electric utilities.

You may recall - in 2004 - the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and venture capitalists were looking at BPL as a competitive broadband delivery technology to cable and ADSL. Although technically do-able, BPL never got beyond the trial stage in most U.S. markets. As an example, a local power company here in Western Massachusetts launched a successful trial, running broadband over power lines to wireless access points mounted on the same utility poles that carry the power wires. Customers, with proper user-names and passwords, could then access the final connection wirelessly.

Why didn't this Western Massachusetts power company roll it out? Power companies have made, what I believe to be, a business decision not to go into the consumer broadband market because they would have to build, market and maintain a system that would be in direct competition with mature systems the cable and telecom companies already have in place.

Instead of abandoning the technology though - the power companies may have figured out a way to use BPL to provide services that the cable and telecom companies cannot offer.
Stacey's article mentions a few companies working with the utility providers - specifically Current Communications, Telkonet and BPL Global. These companies are developing products in response to the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 that requires both the federal and state governments to modernize the electric grid using Smart Grid systems. What's a Smart Grid system? Here's a quote from the Current Communications website:

Smart Grid combines advanced sensing technology, two-way high-speed communications, 24/7 monitoring and enterprise analysis software and related services to provide location-specific, real-time action-able data to all departments in a utility.

Does it work? Here's another quote from Stacey's article

The head of corporate planning at Con Edison in New York once told me that BPL was a boon for the utility because it allowed the company to know when problems in the grid occurred, sometimes before they caused outages. Prior to BPL, the system’s only feedback came in the form of angry phone calls from customers.

More efficient power grid management and happier customers - perhaps BPL has found a niche.

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