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Orion, GE Smart Grid Deal Shows Disconnect Between Telco and Utility Nets

The project is expected to be finished by mid-2010, and support Orion’s network covering 8,000 kilometres and 190,000 homes

New Zealand electricity distribution network operator, Orion, has reportedly began a smart grid implementation with a solution from GE Energy. The project, claimed to be the first in the country, will deploy GE’s ENMAC Distribution Management System, which will help Orion monitor the distribution grid and give operators an accurate, real-time picture of power flow, trouble spots and potential workarounds for outages.

The project is expected to be finished by mid-2010, and support Orion’s network covering 8,000 kilometres and 190,000 homes.

“Finding proven ways to improve reliability for our customers was a driving force behind our decision to kick off this system deployment,” said Orion CEO Roger Sutton. “When severe storms hit, we’ll have the information and capabilities to prevent outages and focus crews to quickly restore power to more people. This is a huge investment for Orion, for the ultimate benefit of all central Canterbury residents who rely on us around the clock to provide a reliable, secure and efficient electricity network.”

The interesting fact missing from the announcement is the method in which information from the GE system is communicated back to Orion. There is a complete absence of reference to anything to do with communications, but communications is what the solution enables - although the application and the software intelligence is what gives it value in the face of Orion.

This is a clear example of the traditional disconnect between telecoms and utility networks. Many power companies build fibre along their power lines - with some, such as PowerTel in Korea, becoming full fledge telcos in their own right, but not many actually make that jump.

While Orion’s smart grid deployment doesn’t require any connectivity to the public telecoms network since it is focused primarily on the distribution network and maintaining its performance, emerging grid-related applications, Google’s PowerMeter, for example, will require a more integrated approach between the global telecoms network and the local electrical grid. The good news is that at least some telecoms operators in the US and Europe have started to sign deals with utilities to supply the connectivity for their smart grids and smart meter infrastructure.

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More Stories By Tony Chan

Tony Chan is the founder of the Green Telecom Live website and a seasoned journalist based in Hong Kong. He is currently an editor at CommsDay International, a daily, subscription-based newsletter covering the business, technology, regulation and market developments of the telecommunications industry in Asia and the world.