Utilities call for government to fund smart development

  • February 27, 2023
  • Steve Rogerson

Utility companies are calling for more government funding to help drive smart development, according to a survey of 250 US utilities, combined with interviews at the Distributech exhibition in California earlier in February.

Commissioned by the Wi-Sun Alliance, the survey was designed to test the pulse of the utility market at a time when it is undergoing huge transformation and facing major challenges.

While government funding and legislation is seen as very important for 70% of respondents, the need for more pilot projects and implementations (75%), and greater co-operation between public and private sectors (72%) is even more important to help drive development and innovation in the sector.

The US government passed the bipartisan $1.2tn Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act (IIJA) in November 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.

“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,” said Jeffrey Tufts, global director for utilities at Cisco. “We saw this back in 2009 with the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and hope to see it again with the IIJA in the next few years.”

Jeff Scheb, director of product management at Landis+Gyr, added: “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 such as 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.

In terms of key areas of focus for utilities for smart grid deployments, nearly three-quarters (74%) of respondents believe EV charging will be the biggest focus in the next six to eleven 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.

Around three-quarters (74%) of respondents acknowledge that a hybrid of two or more communications networks technologies – including cellular, power line communication, RF mesh and wifi – will be very important for future smart utility development.

“The utilities industry has been criticised for being slow to change, but the need to upgrade ageing infrastructure and to adopt new ideas and technologies has never been greater as it faces some of its biggest challenges yet,” said Phil Beecher, CEO of the Wi-Sun Alliance. “But with change comes opportunities for smart grid applications and devices that can help solve problems and drive the industry forward.”

Censuswide conducted the online survey of more than 250 senior decision makers working in IT, operations and production at US utilities in January 2023, supplemented by interviews at Distributech, an event for utilities and technology providers in San Diego, California, from February 7 to 9, 2023.

The Wi-Sun Alliance is a global non-profit member-based association. Its mission is to drive the global proliferation of interoperable wireless technology for use in smart cities, smart grids and other IoT applications using open global standards from organisations such as IEEE, IETF, TIA, TTC and Etsi. It has 300 members worldwide, and membership is open to industry stakeholders and includes silicon vendors, product vendors, services providers, utilities, universities, enterprises, and municipalities and local government organisations.