The headline of a recent IEEE press release references “surprising smart grid early adopters.” But rural readers won’t be surprised to learn that those early adopters are small electric power cooperatives in sparsely populated rural areas.
“One might think a smaller customer base and much smaller budgets would hold public power back,” writes Peter Fox-Penner in the August IEEE Smart Grid Newsletter. “Instead cooperatives are taking advantage of their smaller scale to deploy smart meters in a more personal and customer-focused manner emphasizing consumer education.”
The situation is analogous to what we saw with fiber-to-the-home. Many small telcos deployed the technology a year or more before Verizon began grabbing all of the attention with its FiOS offering. Big telcos often tend to move more slowly than their smaller more nimble competitors out of concerns about regulators and shareholders. Meanwhile, small rural telcos tend to be closely intertwined with the communities they serve, positioning them to be able to quickly gauge interest level and commitment level on the part of their customers in potential new technologies.
A similar dynamic seems to be at play in the electric power industry with regard to the smart grid.
Electric power cooperatives now have deployed smart meters to 25% of customer homes—three times the national average, notes Fox-Penner. Working in their favor is the fact that with an average of only six customers per mile, power cooperatives are finding it easier to make a business case for advanced metering as a means of avoiding truck rolls.
Considering how much they have in common, it seems like it would be a natural fit for rural telcos to work more closely with rural power companies—but so far that seems to be a relative rarity.