A pilot program employing WiMax 4G communications and GE smart meters has worked to allow Consumers Energy’s Michigan customers to get the best out of their energy delivery infrastructure. This is the first-ever U.S. smart grid pilot program using this technology. The pilot seeks to demonstrate how real-time, wireless communications between meters in the home and the utility’s network management and control systems can improve efficiency and reliability for all.

“This infrastructure solution could be significant in its ability to provide far more real-time information and updates to distributed intelligent metering devices over utility equipment lifespans,” said Wayne Longcore, director of Enterprise Architecture and Standards for Consumers Energy.

The Michigan pilot is the latest step in GE Energy’s smart grid development program. GE has collaborated with a number of utilities around the world, including Consumers Energy and American Electric Power (AEP) in the United States, to fine-tune smart meter capabilities using this technology.

This pilot is especially timely, given the Federal Communications Commission’s March 17 National Broadband Plan announcement, which recognized a clear need for improving the communications infrastructure to modernize the electric grid. GE’s pilot falls directly in line with the plan’s call for a potent, clearly defined reliable and integrated infrastructure to strengthen America’s energy future and enable the promise of the smart grid to become reality.

“This pilot helps Consumers Energy evaluate the immediate benefits of smart metering, while providing the company with a powerful platform to adopt additional smart grid technologies to further increase energy efficiency, improve reliability, empower consumers with information and more-easily integrate cleaner energy sources,” said Bob Gilligan, vice president—digital energy for GE Energy Services. “Deploying better ways to move information is key to finding smarter, more efficient and more reliable ways to move electricity.”

Data from GE’s advanced metering infrastructure smart meters, when coupled with back-office distribution management systems, can give network managers and utility information systems an accurate picture of grid operating status at all times. That information helps identify problems before they occur and enables a quicker response when problems do occur. For example, meter information can help determine the scope and location of an outage, enable distribution automation systems to reroute power around the outage to minimize the number of customers affected and dispatch repair crews more precisely to restore power more quickly.

The technology also will exceed industry standards to deliver “government-grade” security benefits (based on standards set forth by the U.S. Department of Defense), offering advanced protection and tampering prevention protocols.

GE’s use of this technology also gives Consumers Energy the ability to provide variable pricing for electricity throughout the day, enabling consumers to save money by choosing to move energy-intensive activities to lower-cost, off-peak periods.