Senior professionals at utility companies are calling for more government funding to help drive smart utility development, according to a survey of 250 U.S. utility companies.
Commissioned by Wi-SUN Alliance, a global association of companies driving the adoption of interoperable wireless solutions for use in smart utilities and smart cities, the survey was designed to test the ‘pulse’ of the utility market at a time when it is undergoing a huge transformation and facing several major challenges.
While government funding/legislation is seen as ‘very important’ for 70% of respondents, the need for more pilot projects and implementations (75%), and greater cooperation between public and private sectors (72%) is even more important to help drive development and innovation in the sector.
President Joe Biden signed the bipartisan $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) into law on Nov. 15, 2021, setting aside $65bn to support broadband coverage and adoption, $50bn to protect against extreme weather events, and $7.5bn to build a national network of electric vehicle (EV) chargers.
Jeffrey Tufts, global director of utility solutions at Cisco and a Wi-SUN Promoter member says: “There is no shortage of government initiatives that don’t come with funding, but when we do see an initiative that comes with funding it accelerates adoption. We saw this back in 2009 with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and hope to see it again with the IIJA in the next few years.”
Another Wi-SUN Promoter member For his part, Jeff Scheb, director of product management at Landis+Gyr, also adds that many utilities are already looking for ideas of what can be done and talking to vendors, but really, it’s about getting out there, doing the pilots and working out the kinks. This will help utilities prove the value of what they want to do and build a business case.
When it comes to the most exciting areas of smart utility development, energy security (79%) is at the top of the list. But as climate-related events like storms, wildfires and floods become more frequent and more damaging, there is a growing need for IoT technology designed for smart buildings and infrastructure (75%), weather and climate (73%) and disaster management (69%) over the next 12 months.
Other survey findings
In terms of key areas of focus for utilities for smart grid deployments, 74% of respondents believe EV charging will be the biggest focus this year (next 6-11 months). Outage management, advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) and distributed energy resources (DER) are also a priority for utility professionals (71%).
Proven security and reliability (83%) are ‘very important’ for smart utility networks, together with customer acceptance (75%). Open standards (69%) and multi-vendor interoperability (69%) are also important to help drive smart utility development.
About 74% of respondents acknowledge that a hybrid of two or more communications networks technologies – including cellular, power line communication, RF mesh and Wi-Fi – will be very important for future smart utility development.