Parks Associates Blog

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

TXU moving closer to BPL service

On October 23, 2006, TXU Electric Delivery announced an agreement with Landis+Gyr to purchase 400,000 meters with broadband-over-powerline (BPL) capabilities (TXU press release: "TXU Electric Delivery and Landis+Gyr Sign Agreement for 400,000 Automated BPL Meters"). In contrast to other utility-based BPL efforts, TXU is taking a decidedly conservative approach and is not deploying BPL service for high-speed Internet access. Instead, the utility is going to use the meters for diagnostic purposes, helping its customer support teams determine where power outages are occuring so they can coordinate repair crews. The meters will also provide automated meter reading (AMR) functionality, which can help the utility reduce manpower costs.

Having attended the recent HomePlug Powerline conference a few weeks ago, the interest in BPL is unquestionable among a number of players. What will be interesting to track in this space is exactly how the energy utilities choose to deploy such services. After all, one common sentiment I heard was that a tension exists within the utilities regarding the intitial use of BPL technologies. Some utilities, it was noted, are adament that BPL solutions should be all about revenue-generating services, such as the provision of high-speed Internet services, particularly to underserved areas. Others argue that the pragmatic approach for the utilities should be one geared to cost reductions and improved customer service, using BPL as a lower-cost telemetry solution. TXU's approach looks promising. Instead of the "either-or" approach, TXU notes that they will scale BPL so that it can function as a cost-savings/customer service enhancing solution first while at the same time validating its future for the provisioning of Internet services.

At any rate, it is noteworthy to see the utilities starting to get on board with enhanced telemetry applications, and with a specific eye toward improved customer service and measures to reduce power generation. TXU's announcement follows on the heels of a significant international announcement, where Endesa (Spain's largest energy utility), along with chipset supplier Yitran, and Renesas Technology will be developing an open specification for automated meter management (AMM). This solution will allow for remote meter reading and other power management features.

We've argued for some time now that the energy utilities will be serving as critical gatekeepers to the next-generation of home management solutions. As energy consumption continues to be a hot-button issue, we can expect to hear more announcements along the lines of the TXU and the Endesa news. It can certainly be a big boost to digital lifestyle markets.

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