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Modernizing the Grid: a Conversation with Cisco’s Connected Energy Customers and Partners

January 17, 2012 - 4 Comments

Cisco recently sat down with Richard Creegan of Itron, Gary Murphy of BC Hydro and Dave Geier of SDG&E to discuss the current state of the smart grid transition and to get their perspectives on the new set of offerings in Cisco’s Connected Grid portfoli0. Through a host of new solutions, services and partnerships for utilities, Cisco aims to provide a common communications and network platform to help utilities move forward with grid modernization efforts.                                                                                     

We began with Itron, which joined with Cisco in 2011 in an effort to combine expertise and offer a fully-compliant IPv6 Field Area Network (FAN) solution to the industry. 

CiscoThe alliance between Cisco and Itron has produced its first solution for the utility industry. Can you talk a little about why you felt this union made sense?

Itron: Both Cisco and Itron have their own unique expertise. When it comes to Cisco, information technology is core to what they do and it elevates the value of what we offer to customers. Combined with Itron’s proven expertise in delivering operational technologies that utilities use to run their businesses, this partnership established a vision to create a smart grid platform that will help move both companies forward.  

 Next we turned to BC Hydro and SDG&E, two utility companies who are both utilizing Cisco’s new FAN solution. 

Cisco: Can you talk a little about your current grid modernization efforts?

BC Hydro: We’ve been in the planning phases of our grid modernization initiative for quite some time now. The implementation phase is now in effect. Our modernization efforts include all aspects of our electrical system, from generation to transmission facilities and the distribution system as well. We’ve also embarked on an ambitious program to deploy our advanced metering system, putting in place 1.8 million smart meters.

SDG&E: It’s pretty exciting times and we’re well on our way with our grid modernization plan. We’ve installed smart meters for all of our 1.4 million customers. We are also in the process of installing condition-based maintenance equipment to operate our substations more efficiently. Additionally, we’re rolling out a micro grid what will incorporate a variety of tools to improve reliability for our community.

Cisco: What are some of the reasons that you chose the new Cisco Field Area Network offering, which includes Itron’s smart grid solution and a ruggedized, pole-top router? BC Hydro: When you combine Itron’s utility and metering experience with Cisco’s network expertise, you clearly have two world-class organizations coming together. We were looking for a long-term partnership, and this union was very compelling to us. We wanted to be able to establish an initial foundation to support a smart metering network and be able to leverage that for all our distribution and automation applications, as well as home area network applications and distributed generation applications.

SDG&E: We realized from a technology point of view that we needed a rugged, cost-effective router that can be put into the field and relay information back to SDG&E. Cisco’s Connected Grid Router was a solid fit for the field trials in our grid communication system. Cisco provided us a great opportunity to work with their engineers and designers on the specifications of this device. We believe this led to a product that will work really well in the utilities industry. We also know that Cisco is in it for the long run when it comes to the development of the Smart Grid and this is something we’re equally committed to. 

Cisco: In what ways do you see these new offerings adding value to your organizations?

BC Hydro:  We are able to leverage one open, unified network as the backbone of the grid, for our metering infrastructure and all of our distribution/automation assets. All of those devices out in the field that help us optimize the performance of the grid need a reliable, secure, high-performing network to get the information back to BC Hydro. The Cisco network that we’re putting in place is an incredible long-term investment. Additionally, we’re only beginning to explore the potential of the cost effectiveness that we’re able to achieve from this multi-tiered, multi-functional network.

Itron: In working to support BC Hydro, we definitely felt interoperability between applications and devices in an open standards environment was “Job 1.” On the other hand, once all these things came together, we had to think about how we were going to manage them and the future extensibility of the platform.

Cisco: To Itron’s point, we made certain that the GridBlocks Architecture provided utilities a framework to design and deploy comprehensive grid management and security solutions across the entire grid. In terms of scalability, our Connected Grid Services aimed to help utilities design a scalable communications infrastructure that is based on evaluating various business and technical deployment scenarios holistically, as opposed to individual projects.

Cisco: What are some of your thoughts on the implications of these new offerings on the smart grid industry as a whole?

BC Hydro: We are in an IP-enabled world these days and that is the direction the smart grid industry is moving towards as well. Applying an open, standards-based platform which provides security and high performance to the grid is a logical extension of the grid today for future projects.

Itron: In terms of the Itron and Cisco partnership, we’ve realized that no single vendor can bring the smart grid to reality.  Key to this effort is the ecosystem of partnerships and relationships that must work together in creating a common platform that the industry can rally around.

Cisco: Any final comments?

BC Hydro:  The service that we’ve had to date from Cisco has been extraordinary. It’s just a wonderful team of folks that we’re working with. They are on the front lines with us and have rolled up their sleeves and joined us as one team. We’re looking forward to the challenges and succeeding next year with this team and also the long term relationship we expect to have with Cisco going forward.

The Cisco 1000 series Connected Grid ruggedized router

Designed specifically for the harsh utility environment.

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