Survey: US utilities call for government funding and new pilot projects

Survey: US utilities call for government funding and new pilot projects
City skyline photo. courtesy WiSun Alliance via pxhere.

Senior professionals at utility companies are calling for more government funding and pilot projects to help drive smart utility development, according to a survey of 250 US utility companies, combined with interviews at DISTRIBUTECH 2023 earlier this month.

Commissioned by Wi-SUN Alliance, a global association of industry leading companies driving the adoption of interoperable wireless solutions for use in smart utilities and smart cities, the survey was designed to test the ‘pulse’ of the utility market at a time when it is undergoing huge transformation and facing a number of major challenges.

While government funding/legislation is seen as ‘very important’ for 70% of respondents, the need for more pilot projects and implementations (75%), and greater co-operation between public and private sectors (72%) is even more important to help drive development and innovation in the sector.

When it comes to smart utility development, energy security (79%) is at the top of the list. But as climate-related events like storms, wildfires and floods become more frequent and more damaging, there is a growing need for IoT technology designed for smart buildings and infrastructure (75%), weather and climate (73%) and disaster management (69%) over the next 12 months.

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President Joe Biden signed the bipartisan $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) into law on November 15, 2021, setting aside $65 billion to support broadband coverage and adoption, $50 billion to protect against extreme weather events, and $7.5 billion to build a national network of Electric Vehicle (EV) chargers.

According to Jeffrey Tufts, global director of utility solutions at Cisco, a Wi-SUN Promoter member: “There is no shortage of government initiatives that don’t come with funding, but when we do see an initiative that comes with funding it accelerates adoption.

“We saw this back in 2009 with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and hope to see it again with the IIJA in the next few years.”

Jeff Scheb, director of product management at Landis+Gyr, also a Wi-SUN Promoter member, added: “Many utilities are already looking for ideas of what can be done and talking to vendors, but really it’s about getting out there, doing the pilots and working out the kinks. This will help utilities prove the value of what they want to do and build a business case.”

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Additional survey findings

In terms of key areas of focus for utilities for smart grid deployments, nearly three-quarters (74%) of respondents believe EV charging will be the biggest focus this year (next 6-11 months). Outage management, Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) and Distributed Energy Resources (DER) are also a priority for utility professionals (71%).

Proven security and reliability (83%) are ‘very important’ for smart utility networks, together with customer acceptance (75%). Open standards (69%) and multi-vendor interoperability (69%) are also important to help drive smart utility development.

Around three-quarters (74%) of respondents acknowledge that a hybrid of two or more communications networks technologies – including cellular, power line communication, RF mesh and Wi-Fi – will be very important for future smart utility development.

Phil Beecher, president and CEO, Wi-SUN Alliance, commented on the survey: “The utilities industry has been criticised for being slow to change, but the need to upgrade ageing infrastructure and to adopt new ideas and technologies has never been greater as it faces some of its biggest challenges yet. But with change comes opportunities for smart grid applications and devices that can help solve problems and drive the industry forward.”

Censuswide conducted the online survey of 250+ senior decision makers working in IT, Operations and Production at US utilities in Jan 2023, supplemented by interviews at DISTRIBUTECH 2023.