MIT Technology Reviews China’s Smart Grid Project


Technology Review published this report entitled, “China tests a small smart electric grid.”

Chattanooga, Tennessee is mentioned in the article, as pertains to it’s smart grid hook-up via the Electric Power Board’s Fiber optics installation.  Phil Muncaster wrote the review, reporting that China’s new smart grid technology will not only make the system “more reliable and efficient” but could also “deliver high speed internet, TV, and telephony”.

Muncaster writes:

The State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC) is running the smart-grid project using passive optical networking (PON) technology—a high-bandwidth data wiring that can be run inside electric power cables without interference. Around 86,000 premises in China have so far been connected to the grid; if the project goes nationwide, it would cost around $2 billion to deploy.”

In China there are 2 main utilities, compared to the 3,300 main utilities in the US, reports Muncaster. Implementing this type of smart electric grid in the US would be a challenge.  He sites statements by Julie Kunstler, author of a report, The Merger of China’s Smart Grid and PON—A Potential Perfect Storm:

The main barriers in the U.S., however, are still cost-based rather than technological. Utility EPB is using fiber for its smart-grid network in Chattanooga, Tennessee, but nothing on the scale of a potential nationwide SGCC rollout. And utilities already have fiber cabling running alongside electrical power cables—but only in high- and medium-voltage areas, so there are major expenses associate with adding in fiber for residential and business subscribers, especially to underground power cabling, says Kunstler.

Some academics have also voiced skepticism that the approach could work in the United States. Michael Caramanis, a professor in Boston University’s College of Engineering, says the synergy between fiber and smart grids is debatable. “It is not clear that the PON communications tech is a direction that we should mandate and subsidize in the U.S.,” he says.

Clive Longbottom, founder of analyst firm Quocirca, goes further, arguing that America’s free market economy may not be the right climate to foster such a radical, large-scale plan.  “This is where [China’s] pseudo-capitalist, centrally controlled system has its strengths, against the entrenched capitalist system we have here where the concerned parties tend to see ownership as being power, rather than capability,” he argues.


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