TXU, Current team to create BPL “smart grid”
TXU Electric Delivery and broadband-over-powerline (BPL) vendor Current Communications today announced an agreement to transform TXU Electric Delivery’s network into a broadband-enabled “smart grid” designed to provide customers more reliable electricity and a last-mile broadband alternative.
TXU Electric Delivery will pay Current $150 million over 10 years to design, build and operate a BPL network covering most of the wholesale power company’s service area in the north Texas area. Current will oversee broadband offerings to residential and business customers, as well as “smart grid” applications such as automated meter reading and remote monitoring for TXU Electric Delivery.
“It’s not just about broadband, which tends to have the sex appeal,” said Current Chairman and co-founder Bill Berkman. “This is about the smart grid.”
Indeed, TXU Electric Delivery will not market consumer data services but will actively market the smart-grid applications to its electric retail customers, TXU Electric Delivery Chairman and CEO Tom Baker said.
“The smart grid is going to enable us to have the grid itself to talk back to us on a regular basis and tell us where its problems are–where it has outages, give us data from meters, tell us what voltage fluctuations may exist, and direct us where to do maintenance, so we don’t have to go out and find it in a truck,” Baker said. “It will let us get our reliability up to 21st century standards, which are much more extensive than they were even just 15 or 20 years ago.”
Current will offer consumer broadband services as a both a direct retailer and as a wholesaler to ISPs looking for high-speed connections to customers, said Jay Birnbaum, Current’s vice president and general counsel. When asked if big-name ISPs like AOL, MSN and Google would be possible customers, Birnbaum said they fit the mold but emphasized no deals have been cut yet.
“There are companies out there that don’t have a broadband solution and need one,” Birnbaum said. “On the other hand, we’re a company with a broadband solution that doesn’t have the brand recognition of some of these other companies.”
Birnbaum did note that Google is an investor in Current, something TXU Electric Delivery also will be after making an undisclosed equity investment in the BPL vendor. Current’s controlling shareholder will continue to Liberty Associated Partners, which includes Liberty Media.
Current’s largest BPL deployment to date is with Cinergy in Cincinnati, where the broadband network passes 50,000 homes and businesses. The TXU deployment is expected to dwarf that effort, passing more than 2 million households and businesses.
Berkman noted that Current’s BPL solution in Cincinnati has not generated a single complaint from the amateur-radio community, which has been outspoken in its concern about possible interference created by some BPL technologies. Current’s technology does not use the frequencies utilized by ham-radio operators, so interference is not an issue, Berkman said.