After Years In The Dark, Utilities See The Light

Lisa DiCarlo, 03.18.05,

NEW YORK - In February the New Millennium Research Council, a Washington, D.C., policy group, pronounced that 2005 could be the breakthrough year for a technology called broadband over power line, or BPL, where utility companies use standard power lines to deliver broadband connections to anyone with a power outlet.

It is compelling technology that could provide meaningful competition to cable and to broadband service providers for digital subscriber lines. But that might not even be the most interesting thing about BPL. What's groundbreaking is that utility companies are, for the first time, using modern technology like BPL to automate critical functions and manage their networks.

In most cases, there is little or no "intelligence" between an electric substation and a power outlet. That means that utility companies provide electric power pretty much the same way they did a century ago.

But that's changing.

Several municipal and investor-owned utilities are deploying BPL services to consumers to leverage their valuable infrastructure and drive new revenue, but also to manage their networks. The result will be better customer service, faster response to problems, lower costs and better profit margins.

nIn Manassas, Va., the municipal utility is using BPL for tracking power outages in real time, automated meter reading and remote switching, even turning on Wi-Fi hot spots.

"We can use the [BPL] infrastructure to serve multiple purposes," says John Hewa, director of utilities for the city of Manassas.

Those purposes could also include automated customer service, remote monitoring and remote control of substations.

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