Govt to force NBN Co, smart grid alliance?

The NSW Government is mulling action to force reticent energy providers to lay smart metering networks when trenches are dug for the National Broadband Network (NBN).

The NSW Government is mulling action to force reticent energy providers to lay smart metering networks when trenches are dug for the National Broadband Network (NBN).

Industry pundits from the NBN Co and the energy sector, coming together in Sydney for the IQPC second national Smart Grids Forum, have acknowledged the obvious economic benefits of laying smart grid infrastructure and fibre-optic cabling together, but believe cooperation is little more than a veneer.

NSW Energy Minister Paul Lynch told ZDNet Australia that the State Government could force providers to strike a deal with the NBN Co.

"We are actively engaged in getting those negotiations under way," Lynch said. "I think it is fair to say we perceive NBN Co has been fairly gentle, and they are likely to get more aggressive, so there is good sense in government coordinating the response."

Lynch said the State Government could also charge NBN Co for the cost of leasing energy infrastructure assets to the Federal Government-run company.

NBN Co planning chief Peter Ferris said Victorian private energy companies are ignoring the long-term savings in rolling both networks concurrently.

"Victorian private companies [are] looking at dollars," Ferris said. "They could save a fortune, but everyone is looking short term."

With the clock ticking, Ferris said NBN had to move on. "We tried very, very hard to engage with them, and in the end we've said we are going ahead with the [NBN] roll-out — we have to get there."

Queensland providers Energex and Ergon Energy are interested in a joint deployment, but the "almost voluntary" Electricity Networks Association has little power to force the remaining dozen providers to participate, according to Ferris. He said achieving cooperation is "incredibly complex" given the mixture of private and state-owned energy companies.

Energy Australia engineering, technology and transmission general manager Geoff Lillis said the benefits of deploying both networks together are "obvious" but said that co-deployments may need to be skipped in some regional areas.

"There are synergies between the water and gas industries and potentially the NBN … particularly around the optical network terminals," Lillis told industry counterparts in Sydney. "But that is dependent on whether as distributors we can ever get our act together in the time frame [of] the NBN."

"Other than intent, there is a lot of work to be done," he said.

Smart standards

Panellists at the Smart Grid Forum said that smart meter standards are failing because they permit too much variation.

Patrick James, director of US-based TXU Energy, said that broad standards can stymie interoperability.

"One of our staff went to a customer and found the infrastructure they had was not interoperable, even though they were built to the same standard," James said.

"Free customer trials are one thing but in live deployments we are putting our name to this … we are not comfortable with that."

Cisco's smart grid chief technology officer Paul De Martini said industry associations such as Zigbee, which developed the loose standard, must eliminate the problem by testing how the standards are implemented.

"Even though the standards were around for a long time, there was enough latitude in [standard 12.19] that everyone could have their own version," De Martini said.