Motorola, Grid Net and GE Energy Services are among a number of partnering companies tapped to develop a WiMax-based smart metering program in Australia.
The program, which aims to bring smart meters to almost 700,000 homes and businesses in the state of Victoria, will be the first WiMax-based 4G smart grid solution, according to the companies.
The plan developed by SP AusNet, an Australian energy delivery company, calls for the smart meters to be installed by the end of 2013. A communication network also will be set up enabling the smart meters to communicate with SP AusNet's smart grid network.
"This smart grid solution will help [SP AusNet] enjoy the immediate benefits of smart metering, while providing them with a powerful platform to readily adopt additional smart grid technologies to further improve energy efficiencies, improve reliability, empower consumers with information and integrate cleaner energy sources," Bob Gilligan, vice president of GE Energy Services' transmission and distribution business, said in a statement Oct. 22.
Smart grids have become a key focus for some IT vendors, which see them as a good fit for their technology and a boom market in the future.
Cisco Systems and IBM both have aggressively pursued smart grid projects across the globe. Cisco officials in May announced a smart grid push, touting Cisco networking products as a key to developing highly intelligent and manageable electrical distribution systems from the home to the power source. They said smart grids could grow into a $20 billion business within five years.
IBM's smart grid efforts are part of its larger Smarter Planet initiative to bring intelligence into a variety of systems, such as railroads and utilities.
Other vendors, such as Silver Spring Networks, are also looking for traction in the space.
The SP AusNet project is part of a push by the Australian government to enable more than 2.2 million homes and 300,000 businesses to better manage their energy needs and consumption.
In the SP AusNet initiative, GE will provide the WiMax 4G-based meter communications technology across the entire network, as well as half of the smart meters that will be installed. Grid Net will bring its PolicyNet network management software suite to help manage the meters, controllers, switches and other devices on the smart grid network, and Motorola is supplying its mobile broadband technology.
Motorola will deploy WiMax WAP 650 base stations, as well as its Access Service Network Gateway and new microwave systems to extend the WAN to new coverage areas.
"This is the first time WiMax technology will be used in smart metering for an electrical utility company," Eric Starnes, vice president of sales and operations for Motorola's Home and Networks Mobility business in Asia, said in a statement.
The key to the solution is that it's carrier-grade and standards-based, Starnes said.
The smart grid architecture will enable the utility to monitor the health and status of the smart grid devices in real time, and will allow SP AusNet to provide variable pricing throughout the day. With this capability, consumers will be able to manage their energy consumption and move their power-intensive activities to lower-cost off-peak hours, according to GE.
IDC analysts say smart grids will continue to grow in importance.
"Smart metering deployment has the potential to be one of the most significant changes in the energy world, not only for utilities, but also for consumers," Roberta Bigliani, research director for IDC Energy Insights EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Asia), said in a statement.
IDC released a study Oct. 23 about a smart metering project in Spain involving The Gas Natural Group, which distributes natural gas in parts of Europe and Latin America.