Monday, May 05, 2008

Smart Power, Networking, and Lafayette

(Note: Lafayette is about to get its introduction to this topic when Terry Huval addresses the League of Women Voters tonight. Invited to talk about Lafayette's new network he says he wants to bring up ways to use that network to cut the community's electrical costs. Lafayette may be the place where the electrical and the communications networks first merge in ways that preview what will happen more widely as soon as the current, ongoing energy crisis echoes through to electrical market place.)

Want to get a sense of what that is about? Try the AP article that appeared in Sunday's Advocate that explored smart electricity.
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Lafayette's POV
It's all about peak demand. Or: It's all about saving money.

Your choice of focus depends on your Point Of View.

Network Engineers will focus on the first, peak demand. It's a constant source of irritation for neat, tidy, frugal, engineer types that they have to add hugely to the expense of their networks in order to accommodate a few days in August when all the AC units are chugging on high. The customer POV, on the other hand, focuses on saving money. With the rising price of energy this motivation looms larger every day.

And of course there are those pesky, forethoughtful sorts who claim that we can't keep on doing what we're doing to the environment and simply must burn less fossil fuels if we don't all want to sink into the Gulf faster than is necessary.

All these groups can hope that Lafayette's new community network will help lower peak demand and cut costs and usage.

Lafayette is positioned on the cutting edge of all these issues: unlike most communities we own and produce our own electricity. We are about to own our own advanced telecommunications system with fast fiber and, eventually, ubiquitous wireless. And, in a time of climate change and rising waters, we sit in a spot where the alluvial plain sinks into the Gulf. Had Rita come ashore southwest of Lafayette instead of south of Lake Charles we'd have seen storm surge in the southern half of the parish and up the Vermilion River to I-10.

Doing Less with More
We can hope to do less (use less energy, spend less money) with what we have more of (networking and community).

The AP article talks about what is being done in some locales--and neglects to mention how important a capable, pervasive network is in making its dreams possible. Without two way communication between the customer and the electrical grid none of the potentials can be realized.

What the engineers at power companies want is to eliminate the spikes in demand that drive the costs of providing service up dramatically and make the network dangerously unstable. Here in Lafayette you might be surprised to know that our Fiber To The Home network is not the most expensive public works project undertaken in last few years. In fact building a set of gas-fired power plants here in the parish to handle merely the occasional peak demand cost nearly twice as much! (Nobody much noticed that project and it sailed through the council with out much public notice or media comment.)

Saving money on that cost is something that, if you have smart communications, you can share with your customers who are willing to help cut such peak demand. Power companies have long sought a way to give customers breaks who cut their usage during such periods--but the technology simply has not been available in a world where the finest grained reading of meters is done monthly. With smart, continuously read meters and a tight connection to a household network a dramatic set of possibilities for helping the power company, the consumer, and the environment emerge.

You can simply charge more for electricity during peak usage periods. Smart consumers and especially businesses can shift their usage cycles to respond to that price savings. Big electricity users like chemical plants have had such capacity for years--and have responded well, running power-intensive processes in the middle of the night helping providers save on new capacity. Other, more sophisticated programs give the consumer a substantial break for allowing the power company the ability to reach in to the home and raise the AC temperature 2 degrees, or to turn off the hot water heater or refrigerator for an hour during crisis moments. Just being able to monitor how much running various electricity-hungry processes costs can have a surprisingly good effect on holding down wasted use.

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So, if you're interested in this sort of value-added convergence of LUS Fiber and LUS Power consider coming to this evening's LWV meeting. --The focus will be the network but expect Huval to introduce this new potential to the community.

Monday, May 5, 2008, 6:30 @ City Hall, Conference Room
(6:00 for Social/Refreshments)
Lafayette Consolidated Government Building—705 W. University Avenue

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