The Value of Network Flexibility in Today’s Utilities

Posted by on July 8, 2014

On a recent visit to Singapore, I had the pleasure of seeing the results of Silver Spring MicroAP technology being deployed firsthand at Singapore Power. As you may recall, Silver Spring recently announced that Singapore Power has successfully begun delivering deregulated energy services to commercial and industrial (C&I) customers in Singapore.

Our MicroAPs are game-changers for utilities, cities, and other customers interested in deployment flexibility – no longer do customers like Singapore Power need to compromise on cost and performance to achieve the flexibility they need.

Deployment flexibility is important for Singapore Power because Singapore’s retail electricity market is being deregulated. Currently, high-energy customers can opt-in to the competitive retail market, requiring smart meter installation. This opt-in policy presents meter installation challenges for Singapore Power – it doesn’t know which customers will opt in or when they might opt in. Due to the nature of the market rules, meter installation and activation must be completed within a fixed time period of just a few days.

To respond successfully to these opt-in requests including meter installation and activation, Singapore Power is leveraging Silver Spring’s flexible mesh network that includes the deployment of both a network canopy backbone to provide broad general coverage, and MicroAPs to provide infill and rapid remediation in more challenging deployment areas. The network canopy allows for island coverage with network capacity and connectivity where the meters are sufficiently dense to form a mesh. MicroAPs are meters that mesh with neighboring meters and have cellular backhaul connections—enabling them to double as low cost takeout points for as many as 200 of their neighbors. In doing so, they further modularize the Silver Spring mesh, enhancing flexibility and connecting hard to reach or isolated premises. Because MicroAPs are integrated into meters, they are inexpensive and rapidly deployed, using Singapore Power’s existing meter installation teams and practices.

For early opt-in adopters, Singapore Power is installing mesh meters, which can be activated right away with limited investment in network infrastructure. Where the meters are isolated from the mesh, Singapore Power has the ability to field swap the mesh communications module with a MicroAP, resulting in a reliable, low effort, and timely connection. As neighboring customers opt-in, Singapore Power continues to install regular mesh meters, leveraging the network coverage and cellular backhaul provided by the MicroAPs. With this modular approach, Silver Spring’s flexible mesh network provides Singapore Power with a solution that’s cost effective and high performance in the short and long term. As the density of the deployment increases, additional MicroAPs are easily added to ensure redundancy and performance. The Silver Spring canopy may also be installed at a later date, in areas where there is initially not enough density to make the AP or relay installation cost-effective. When this happens, Silver Spring’s integrated mesh network will automatically adjust to route traffic away from the MicroAPs and towards the newly installed backbone devices, eliminating the need for the MicroAP cellular link. The MicroAPs are more easily (and remotely) converted to standard Silver Spring mesh meters.

This kind of network flexibility is important for lots of utilities, and not just to support opt-in programs. In general, deregulated retail markets demand flexibility. Changes in customer-retailer relationships can make deployments unpredictable and create “patchwork” territories. In some deregulated markets, policy may require meters to be replaced every time a customer switches retailers.

Network flexibility is also important for utilities with financial constraints like small capital budgets or assets that haven’t been fully depreciated. These constraints could motivate utilities to deploy slowly or only replace failed or fully depreciated meters to avoid stranding assets. Utilities may also want to initially focus their deployments on high-value customers. In all of these scenarios, Silver Spring’s flexible mesh network with MicroAPs unlocks lots of value.

However, MicroAPs are not the only innovation demonstrating our flexibility. Several Silver Spring customers are leveraging the multi-application platform for flexibility. For example, ComEd and CPFL Energia started their deployments with C&I or Distribution Automation device installations, thereby establishing network coverage throughout their territories and creating flexibility for subsequent residential meter installations. We are excited for some of our customers to leverage intelligent street lights and other smart city applications in a similar fashion.

For me, MicroAPs represent something even larger. It demonstrates that our newest products continue to fulfill our decade-old company strategy: develop strong partnerships with customers, listen to their needs and understand their challenges (like flexibility), then develop superior technology that elegantly addresses these needs.

Many thanks to Singapore Power for their continued partnership with Silver Spring. We are excited to see our technology performing for you and look forward to helping you complete Southeast Asia’s premier smart grid infrastructure.

Josh Roper is the Vice President of Advanced Metering Infrastructure for Silver Spring Networks.