September 01, 2011

Silicon Valley Power Leverages Fiber, Wi-Fi, Smart Grid to Better Serve Customers

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 2011 issue of Next Gen Mobility

Silicon Valley Power has been around since 1896. But, as they say, this isn’t your grandfather’s electric utility. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based municipal electric utility has been extremely forward-thinking in adopting new technologies to better serve its customers and sustain its operations.

To increase the organization’s reliability, it built fiber between subsystems. But Silicon Valley Power overbuilt that network, which enables it to lease dark fiber to the school district and service providers via its SVP Fiber entity. Larry Owens, manager of customer services at Silicon Valley Power, calls SVP Fiber an “active business”.

To expedite the use of solar power within the community, meanwhile, Silicon Valley Power has streamlined the application process for solar panel installs. Owens says it made perfect sense given 90 percent of the applications it reviews for solar are “cookie cutter”. As a result of the streamlined application process, it now takes minutes as opposed to weeks for most approvals, he says, adding that this move has attracted installers of solar equipment into the area like never before.

Silicon Valley Power now is moving into the smart grid arena.

The company is working to launch what it calls SVP Meter Connect. The program aims to equip businesses and residential dwellings throughout Santa Clara with smart meters to enable remote meter reading – which will eliminate costly truck rolls for Silicon Valley Power and the city, and provide data to populate a customer website through which residents and businesses can view their energy use and project their energy bills.

Elster will provide the meters and Tropos has been selected to provide network infrastructure. The electric company purchased MetroFi, a free Wi-Fi services company that fell on hard times, to connect those meters to its offices. Those Wi-Fi assets also are being leveraged to offer free outdoor Wi-Fi access within Santa Clara.

Choosing Wi-Fi technology means Silicon Valley Power and its customers will have a reliable and secure solution, says Owens. It also means there is room for 16 SSIDs, and only one of them needs to be used for smart metering, he adds. So the 802.11gn system can also be leveraged for a variety of other uses, potentially including police and fire communications, video traffic surveillance, water system management and more.

The plan is to launch the system, which will deliver 2mbps connectivity throughout the city, within the next few months.

However, Owens emphasizes that this isn’t going to be a rush project. Instead, his focus is to do things right the first time; take the time to educate the populace about what Silicon Valley Power is doing on this front; and consider and respond to any and all concerns from the community about this effort.

“My promise is that I’m not going to be dismissive,” he says.

To make that point clear, the organization has issued what it calls the SVP Meter Connect promise, which states that it will upgrade its technology to support widespread adoption of solar energy, smart appliances and electric vehicles; it will follow a careful process and verify accuracy at every step; it will protect your data and your privacy; it will keep its system secure; it will utilize tried-and-true meters deployed successfully in millions of homes and businesses worldwide; and it is committed to a fair resolution of any issues or concerns that arise.

Edited by Jennifer Russell

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