Southern Company has applied for $362 million in federal infrastructure funds to advance the company's Smart Grid initiatives across its four-state service territory.
Southern Co. submitted its applications to the U.S. Department of Energy, which has allocated $4.5 billion to award grants to advanced infrastructure projects nationwide as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
Specifically, Southern Co. has requested $197 million for its advanced metering or 'Smart Meter' initiative, and $165 million to increase automation of electric transmission and distribution infrastructure.
Smart meters enable two-way communication between the company and its customers. Southern Co. began deploying smart meters in its Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi operating subsidiaries in 2008 and have installed more than one million to date. Over the next three years, the company will install more than 4,000 meters per day and will have more than four million in place by 2012.
Smart meter benefits include reduced operating costs associated with monthly meter reading, off-cycle meter reading and the ability to use advanced technologies to improve the reporting and response to electric distribution system events, such as power outage detection and power restoration. Moreover, smart meters offer a technology platform that enables future services and options, such as customer access to data, rate and pricing options encouraging reductions of peak demand and consumption, and access to enabling technologies such as home area networks, among others.
"In addition to reducing operating costs that help keep our customers' rates lower than the national average, smart meters help reduce environmental impact," said Wes McDowell, Georgia Region Chief Information Officer and Smart Grid Program Coordinator, Southern Co.. "By moving from conventional to smart meters, we expect to reduce the vehicle fleet used for meter reading by at least 500, saving 12.5 million miles of driving annually and producing direct benefits in lower vehicle emissions."
Southern Company has also undertaken a series of initiatives to accelerate deployment of Smart Grid technologies in each of its operating affiliates. Funds awarded for these efforts will be used to bolster system reliability and grid efficiency, reduce peak demand, optimize asset utilization and improve the anticipation and response to system disturbances.
For example, line devices with two-way communication will be installed to enable system operators to isolate faulted lines remotely. Moreover, some of these devices will be placed in self-healing network schemes. These schemes will automatically isolate trouble areas and then restore power to unaffected portions of the circuit, all without operator intervention.
The company's 'Smart Substations' program will focus on updating targeted substations and equipment with improved smart monitoring, protection, and control devices. These technologies will produce a leap forward in implementing smart technologies with the intent of improving the monitoring and control capabilities of the system while enhancing its proven grid reliability.