2007 Global BPL - Utilities Moving Towards Broadbanded Smart Grids

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Last updated: 11 Jul 2007 Update History

Report Status: Archived

Report Pages: 130

Analyst: Stephen McNamara

Publication Overview

This annual report offers a wealth of information on the worldwide development of Broadband Power Line. Information on a regional level is also provided for the Americas, Europe, Africa, Middle East and Asia Pacific. The report includes analyses, statistics and trends. It provides information and statistics on BPL development, including information on deployments. In particular the report examines BPL in terms of Smart Grids. Detailed technical information on BPL technology is also provided.

Subjects covered include:

  • BPL trends and developments;
  • Smart Grids and Energy Management;
  • Multi-utility market;
  • BPL deployment;
  • Home Plug and Demand Side Management (DSM);
  • Regional Overview;
  • Technical information including architecture, standards, access systems and interference.

Executive Summary

It is important to realise that Broadband Power Line (BPL) is more than a simple access technology and because of this it is not necessarily competing with other forms of broadband access such as DSL and wireless. A key differentiator is that these other technologies end at the switchbox in the premises, while BPL delivers to every power point in the house or business.

Furthermore, BPL can be a third access technology after telecoms and broadcasting. It has a range of extra opportunities that the other technologies don’t have. New developments in Demand Side Management (DSM) with home automation and home management are opening up. One example includes Automatic Reader Meter (AMR) facilities (ie Smart Meters), which would be of advantage to both the utility and end-user. For more information, see chapter 3, page 27.

These opportunities have led to the focus of BPL changing over the past year or so; from broadband connectivity to smart meters on broadband infrastructure. Global warming issues and the emerging energy crisis have also propelled some governments and utilities to look at the national rollout of energy-saving smart meters.

Our prosperity and way of life depends upon efficient and affordable energy. Based on current forecasts, the world will invest trillions of dollars in new (conventional) electricity grids. These investments are simply needed to meet expected growth. However the production and use of electricity accounts for around 40% of greenhouse gases, making the industry the single largest polluter. Smart meters would allow householders to reduce energy costs and energy companies to better manage their network.

This meter overhaul is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to propel utilities to the forefront of BPL development. BuddeComm advocates that a smart grid is needed as it could save energy costs, be good for the environment, cut operational network costs and open up opportunities for new home automation and home networking business opportunities. For more information, see chapter 1.2, page 14.

The next step for BPL is to make the transition from the current trial status to the commercial arena, and this will require the establishment of an appropriate regulatory framework. In general terms, positive developments on that level are taking place around the globe. But as with most new technologies, progress is slow with full standardisation not expected until 2008. Although equipment prices have dropped drastically already, the key problem in 2007 still remains the high equipment costs. While some relief is expected, large scale rollouts will not occur before full standardisation has taken place. For more information, see chapter 1.1, page 1.

This report provides an insight and analysis into the trends and developments occurring in the BPL sector, with a focus on Smart Grids/Smart Meters. A global overview of the progress of BPL is provided, as well as information on a regional level including North America, Latin America, Europe, Africa, Middle East and Asia Pacific.

Key Highlights:

  • The telecoms developments in the utilities market have come full circle. In the 1980s the utilities started talking about DSM and looked towards telecoms facilities as a way to provide more utility applications. Twenty years later we have come full circle with telecoms (now broadband) again a focus of the utility sector. For more information, see chapter 1, page 1.

Smart grid applications

For utilities companies:
  • Outage identification and reporting;
  • Automated electric and water meter reading (AMR);
  • Demand response management;
  • Video surveillance through BPL-enabled video cameras placed on the power grid;
  • Street light management;
  • Solar power system that integrates energy storage technologies, load measurement and control devices and renewable energy sources;
  • Line sag detection, to remotely sense when distribution lines drop to potentially hazardous heights.
For consumers:
  • Home energy management;
  • Internet access and standard ISP service;
  • Voice over IP telephone service;
  • Security and intelligent home service through an always on, monitored wireless system.
(Source: BuddeComm 2007)

  • Looking to the future, utilities cannot fail to see the potential business opportunities in the telecommunications market as their Customer Access Network (CAN) infrastructure has a similar coverage to that of the incumbent telco. Utilities are uniquely positioned to roll out state-of-the-art broadband networks by leveraging off their existing infrastructure. Utilities are also unhampered by the legacy of a large copper-based network. For more information, see chapter 2, page 21.
  • Around the world in 2007 around 100 commercial BPL trials are taking place (similar to 2006), with around a third of these under way in the US.
  • In the US, despite imposing competition from cable and fibre deployments, there remains positive interest in BPL, most recently with DIRECTV alluding to possible trials. For more information, see chapter 4.2.1, page 36.
  • In Canada, BPL deployments are relatively rare with most commercial BPL deployments being in the form of low-voltage BPL solutions within hotels. For more information, see chapter 4.2.2, page 37.
  • Power line reached some 450,000 European households in mid-2007, yet the number of people taking broadband through technology remained small, at around 30,000. For more information, see chapter 4.4.1, page 40.
  • In most African countries, the power grids connect far more households than the fixed-line telephone networks, potentially creating a huge market for Power Line Communication (PLC) based services. For more information, see chapter 4.5.1, page 42.

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