If the market for utility communications technology is any indication, a major transformation is underway in the electric power sector. The transformation could be the result of two years of hellacious storms or the simple realization these new technologies can improve overall system reliability and efficiency. Whatever the reason, and those reasons certainly vary, utilities are embracing the smart grid as more than just a way to modify customer behavior.

First off, an increasing number of utilities are voting with their dollars and moving away from a multiplicity of communications networks to single end-to-end networks that break down communications silos to enhance efficiency and reliability. But there's more. Utilities also are finding these new Internet protocol (IP)-based networks can do more than just enable the smart grid.

Indeed, some utilities, particularly those owned by municipalities, are looking to expand these systems beyond an energy smart grid to include smart water, transportation and emergency services. In some cases, this new “everything grid” may even offer a new profit center. So, while the industry is seeing utilities converge and integrate networks internally, many utilities now see that expanding the reach of their smart grid communications systems also could increase the benefits of that investment.

Of course, some utilities have moved faster than others. The most successful generally have done two things:

  1. Invested in four critical technologies: advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), outage management systems (OMS), geographic information systems (GIS) and distribution management systems (DMS)

  2. Invested in the applications and communications systems necessary to integrate those technologies.