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The Knoxville Utilities Board (KUB), a Knoxville, Tennessee based utility, received a smart grid grant from the US Department of Energy worth $3.6 million and plans to use the money for a neighborhood smart grid project in the Knoxville area.

According to Mike Patterson, manager of system operations at KUB, the single neighborhood project could save the utility upwards of $125,000 every year.  Patterson made his remarks to the utility’s board of directors on December 17.

KUB will install advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) including smart meters and fiber optic cables capable of handling the huge amounts of data the meters will generate in the Fort Sanders neighborhood near the University of Tennessee.  The automated meters will communicate energy usage data between KUB and its customers.

Patterson said the utility would save $35,000 a year in payroll costs because human meter readers would no longer have to physically visit metering devices to record readings.  The smart meters will send the data in remotely.  KUB estimates that it loses $51,000 a year from old meters that aren’t working properly and expects the new smart meters to recover these costs as well.

The Fort Sanders neighborhood is largely populated by college students that frequently move into, and out of, the neighborhood when school is in or out of session.  The migrant population elevates field service costs for KUB and the utility expects to save another $40,000 annually once smart meters are in place and service can be remotely connected or disconnected.

The neighborhood is also ideal because of the diversity of the resident population.  Besides the large student population there is Dow Chemical, a large industrial customer, plus a large commercial customer, two hospitals, apartment complexes of various sizes, merchant shops, and numerous private residences.  KUB may also team up with engineering staff at the University of Tennessee (UT) to find ways to use smart grid technology for energy and water conservation projects.

Patterson spoke at a Nashville conference that brought together officials from the government, representatives from the electrical, gas, cable, and communications industries, and experts on smart grid technology.  Patterson outlines some the challenges KUB faces as it deploys smart grid technology including the need for smart meters to work for electric, gas, and water usage.  The utility must also find a way to provide smart services in areas where it doesn’t provide all three utilities when it expands the project outside the pilot area.

The eastern Tennessee topography also presents challenges with its hilly terrain full of ridges and valleys.  Much of this region is sparsely populated and will present a challenge when KUB expands its smart grid infrastructure to the outlying regions.

KUB plans to replace 3,150 electric, 1,100 water, and 700 natural gas meters with upgraded AMI infrastructure at a cost of $5.78 million.  An additional $245,000 had been budgeted for replacing copper wire at three substations with fiber optic cables.

Officials at KUB told the board that local residents have responded positively towards plans to install a new power substation in the UT neighborhood.  Local businesses and representatives of the community suggested a piece of land owned by Dow Chemical be used for the new facility.

KUB has entered negotiations with Dow to purchase the two-acre plot and should have a design for the new substation this winter.  If all goes well the equipment could be installed by the spring of 2011.

UT expects energy usage to increase by 60 percent by the year 2020 and requested the new substation be built in response to that future growth.  Currently, UT uses a single substation at the south side of the campus to distribute power to the more than 30,000 students enrolled at the school.

University of Tennessee
Knoxville Tennessee 37996

Dow Chemical
730 Dale Avenue
Knoxville, TN 37921

© No Reproduction without permission.

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