EPB installs final piece of Smart Grid

EPB installs final piece of Smart Grid

April 25th, 2012 by Ellis Smith in Business Around the Region

EPB worker David Handley installs the last Intelliruptor, a device that reroutes electric power to prevent outages, on utility poles along Patton Edwards Drive in East Ridge on Tuesday.

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

EPB couldn't have paid for a better backdrop than sunny East Ridge to install the last piece of its Smart Grid.

Workers hoisted the 1,170th Intellirupter to the top of a new pole Tuesday, as officials praised EPB's effort to advance the science of 21st-century power delivery.

More than 700 of the Intellirupters, which automatically reroute power in case of a disruption, already are communicating with each other over EPB's fiber-optic network.

Chattanooga's city-owned utility has installed more of the devices than any other utility, and boasts one device for every 140 customers -- the densest installation of any utility, officials said.

Outages used to cost Chattanooga-area businesses an average of $100 million in a given year. EPB's Smart Grid will reduce that by at least $40 million, said Joe Ferguson, chairman of EPB.

"If we are to compete globally the way we want to, we've got to upgrade, we've got to modernize," Ferguson said.

During the April 2011 tornadoes that swept across the South, 130,000 homes and businesses served by EPB lost power, or about three of every four customers. EPB President Harold DePriest estimates that if all of the Intellirupters had been in place and connected at that time, power outages could have been avoided or cut shorter for at least 70,000 of those customers.

The technology does more than just keep the lights on, said Patricia Hoffman, assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy.

"It supports economic growth and manufacturing," Hoffman said.

Tom Edd Wilson, president of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, said EPB's fiber optic network helped convince HomeServe USA to build a customer service center in Chattanooga two years ago to serve its growing emergency home repair service. The gigabit-per-second speed on EPB's fiber optic telecommunications network won over company executives.

"We were able to tell them that the speed of our Internet service to homes in Chattanooga is faster than what the company had at its call center," Wilson said. "I'm convinced there are businesses that have located or expanded in Chattanooga because of EPB's fiber optic network."

EPB benefited by more than $111 million of federal stimulus grants to help build its smart grid and high-speed telecom system. For its size, the Chattanooga utility received the biggest smart grid grant in the country.

Hoffman said the federal aid helped speed the roll out of the smart grid across Chattanooga and EPB is now testing systems that should be beneficial to utilities across the country.

"This utility's technology for recovery from disruptive tornado events has driven emergency management systems," she said. "EPB has advanced the technology."

The city continues to work with its installed base of smart meters -- the household devices that automatically communicate real-time power usage back to EPB -- to allow customers to view their own power usage.

Business Editor Dave Flessner contributed to this report

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