Federal Communications Commission

Energy And Environment Category

Smart Grid Updates

October 12th, 2010 by Nick Sinai - Energy and Environment Director

 By Nick Sinai and Tom Brown


It’s exciting to see the National Broadband Plan being put in action. 

Last week the Department of Energy (DOE) released reports on Smart Grid communications and Smart Grid data access and privacy issues.  

These reports are the culmination of a lot of hard work over at DOE.  These are thoughtful and actionable reports that reflect a public stakeholder process – including public forums and detailed RFIs.

It’s clear that there is consensus – perhaps more than you might think – about what the federal government can do to help modernize the electric grid and enable smart home innovations.  There is also remarkable stakeholder consensus about some of the principles we outlined in the National Broadband Plan.  For example, just about every respondent noted that consumers deserve access to and control of their own energy consumption data.  Respondents also had strong consensus on the importance of privacy and security, as necessary conditions for energy management innovation in homes and buildings. 

The Smart Grid communications report also offers some practical recommendations about how to get DOE and the utility industry better involved in spectrum and reliability advisory committees.  It also suggests reviewing priority access and emergency restorations programs to see how utilities could use them better, as well as reviewing “opportunities for increased spectrum access for Smart Grid communications needs, including spectrum sharing and/or leasing.” 

We’re looking forward to working with DOE, NTIA, DHS, the utility industry, and other stakeholders on implementing these recommendations.

General Counsel Scott Harris and Assistant Secretary Patricia Hoffman and their teams should be commended for their important work.





Driving Innovation and Investment in the Clean Energy Economy

October 5th, 2010 by Phoebe Yang - Senior Advisor to the Chairman on Broadband

 Senior Advisor to the Chairman on Broadband Phoebe Yang delivered these remarks to the 1st Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) International Conference on Smart Grid Communications in Gathersburg, MD earlier today.

And as you all know far better than I, IEEE members are at the forefront of developing the interoperability standards that will drive the future of the Smart Grid, like GE’s John McDonald, an IEEE Fellow who chairs the Smart Grid interoperability panel. 
We at the FCC recognize that open standards are a powerful force driving innovation and investment in the broadband ecosystem. Open standards allow manufacturers to achieve greater economies of scale, driving down the cost of devices and leading to larger product markets. And by opening the technical review process to a much larger group of people, open standards can enable stronger security.
But we also know that open standards alone are not enough; They need to be paired with policy.  We need policies that accelerate the harmonization of standards, and policies that encourage these standards to be used. Just as a sculptor needs clay before she can produce a statue, technical innovators need the “raw materials” of broadband connectivity – like spectrum – before they can go to work creating the technologies of tomorrow. 

Super Wi-Fi is Super for Energy Too

September 24th, 2010 by Nick Sinai - Energy and Environment Director

By Nick Sinai and Tom Brown

We at the FCC are very excited about yesterday’s order to free up the unused "white spaces" spectrum between television channels, intended to spur a wave of innovation in new devices and applications. Most commenters have focused on the possible use of this spectrum in "Super Wi-Fi" networks with wider range and better structural penetration than is available today.

But Super Wi-Fi isn’t just for consumers; it’s super for improving how we transmit and distribute energy in America too. The National Broadband Plan made several recommendations designed to integrate broadband into the emerging Smart Grid and enable improved Smart Grid communications; white spaces spectrum is yet another option for utilities to use for their communications networks. As we have seen in a recent trial in Plumas-Sierra County, California, white spaces spectrum can be used effectively and securely for grid automation applications, as well as retail broadband services. Opening white spaces spectrum is also likely to have a particular impact on utility operations in rural areas, which often have challenging terrain and fewer options for broadband service than urban areas.

The FCC remains committed to doing its part to usher in a new era of utility communications, and we look forward to seeing the innovations in all sorts of "national purpose" areas – health care, education, and yes, energy – that will result from yesterday’s action.

(Cross-posted at the Department of Energy Blog and The Official FCC Blog)

Broadband Key to Smarter Grids and Smarter Homes

July 21st, 2010 by Nick Sinai - Energy and Environment Director

I was honored to give the keynote at yesterday's Broadband breakfast, and took the opportunity to talk about how broadband plays an important role in smarter electric grids and smarter homes.  The keynote speech was followed by a panel discussion where we discussed how IT and advanced communications has the potential to improve the grid for utilities and consumers alike.

Chapter 12 of the National Broadband Plan outlines our specific recommendations, which include two major themes on the Smart Grid:

  • Unleash energy innovation in homes by making energy data readily accessible to consumers.
  • Modernize the electric grid with broadband, making it more reliable and efficient.

Below is a video of the event:

Connecting America’s Stories: Going Green with Telework

June 2nd, 2010 by Page Schindler Buchanan

Our country is buzzing about energy.  Americans are taking a hard look at how we collect and use oil.  Hybrid technology is changing the auto industry.  Debates about foreign oil, nuclear power and wind farms are happening on local and national levels. We know we need to reduce our energy consumption. The big question is how.

When we asked you about broadband in your lives, energy was on your minds too.  And one simple, yet powerful answer to the big “how” question you shared is to have reliable, affordable broadband.

Adam in Newberry, South Carolina

As a microeconomic example of how broadband is 'green'--my wife would be able to work from home several days a week if higher-end access were available to us, thereby reducing the need for her 60 mile roundtrip commute every working day. While I agree that we must also diversify our energy sources and systems, what purpose will green energy systems serve if many of our citizens are forced to relocate to remain gainfully employed?

Americans live outside of urban areas for many reasons – family, economics, health, environment, community and just personal preference.  Yet many face a double edged sword for living off the beaten path: a long commute and lack of access to broadband internet.

Sherilyn in Gregory, Michigan

I live in southeast Michigan in an area where I cannot receive cable, DSL or broadband services. My current commute is 103 miles round trip daily to my job. I have the opportunity to work from home if I am able to obtain high speed internet service in my home. Having expanded service in my rural area would provide an opportunity for me to save energy by eliminating over 500 miles a week that I am commuting to my place of employment in addition to positive environmental impacts with less emissions. I work with others in the same situation and feel that the provision of high speed internet is a step in the right direction to lower our dependence on oil while technologically advancing our communities.

The National Broadband Plan makes several recommendations to expand access to rural America and promote telework.  The plan notes:

The average American spends more than 100 hours per year commuting; 3.5 million people spend more than 90 minutes commuting to work each way every workday. …

Every additional teleworker reduces annual CO2 emissions by an estimated 2.6-3.6 metric tons per year.67 Replacing 10% of business air travel with videoconferencing would reduce carbon emissions by an estimated 36.3 million tons annually.

The plan calls on Congress to eliminate tax barriers to telework (working across state lines can sometimes result in being taxed twice!), and encourages the federal government to make telework easier for its employees.

Just as importantly, its recommendations aim to make broadband available to every American who wants it.  The reasons people lack access are complicated, having to do with cost, business models, infrastructure and the patchwork of regulations and laws across counties and states.  It won’t be simple or easy, but the FCC is already taking steps to expand access to rural Americans.

John in Lincolnton, North Carolina

I live in a bedroom community of Charlotte and work for a major bank. I'm allowed to work from home, but because I have only access to wireless networks (and that only recently), I have to drive 40 miles one way frequently just to work. Think of the oil I could save and the contribution to clean air I could make if I only had options.

Like Adam, Sherilyn and John, many of you have shared your frustrations and hopes for your rural communities and the environment.  We know that conserving energy and preserving the environment are just two of many factors that make broadband an important element in your lives.  Please continue to share your stories, and stay tuned to this blog for more information on how the plan addresses issues affecting Americans.

Connecting America's Stories: Smart Grid Innovation

May 20th, 2010 by Page Schindler Buchanan

A lot of analogies have been made between electricity and broadband as resources that should be accessible by all Americans.  But one of the things that is so exciting about the National Broadband Plan, is that it shows how we can use broadband to modernize that very electrical network – creating a Smart Grid.  Add to that clean energy technology innovations – all connected by broadband and other advanced communications – and the plan will help Americans live greener, cheaper and more efficiently.

Nick Sinai led the team that put together the Energy and Environment section of the plan.

The Department of Energy released a very interesting study showing just how important the Smart Grid is.  In fact, it showed that we could reduce the carbon emissions from the electricity sector by up to 12 percent directly, and 17 percent indirectly, with greater use of Smart Grid communications technologies.

That would be like taking 65 million cars off the road.

Right now, due to a lack of communications technology, energy providers often don’t know a neighborhood has lost power until their customers call them.  Smart Grid technology would add greater intelligence to the infrastructure that is already in place to make our system more reliable, responsive and efficient.

In this video, Nick talks about the potential that broadband communications technology holds for America’s energy future.

If we automate the grid better, we can deliver energy more efficiently and reduce the amount of coal and natural gas that we have to burn that create carbon emissions.

And then the more that we get consumers involved in understanding their energy use, and seeing prices that reflect the cost of providing that power, the more they will shift their usage, or make smarter energy decisions.

Knowledge can truly mean more power.  Giving consumers information about how they are using energy is one of the most exciting innovations in the proposal.  Nick talks about how simple changes could change the way we look at our electric bill.

It’s pretty opaque to the customer.  They don’t know what’s the most efficient, and how much energy they’re really using for an appliance or a flat screen TV.  They just get a bill at the end of the month and it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to them.

New technologies, like thermostats that you can adjust from your smart phone, or refrigerators that only make ice at night, will take energy efficiency to another level.  A future powered by smarter grids, homes, and vehicles could change much of the way we live our lives, and could potentially help Americans save on their utility bills. 

Please share your stories of how broadband communications are helping your family conserve energy and save money.  Stay tuned for more in the Connecting America’s Stories blog series, where we will continue connect you with the people who wrote the National Broadband Plan and discuss how it will affect your life.


A View from the Clean Technology Showcase

May 19th, 2010 by Jenny Hou

Yesterday we hosted our first ever Clean Technology Showcase. More than twenty companies, from Microsoft to General Electric to Tendril, exhibited their clean energy solutions for the future. These applications will harness the smart grid, empowering consumers to save money and energy by using cutting edge tools and appliances. Speakers at the event included Chairman Genachowski, FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff, and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. If you were unable to join us at the showcase, watch our video below to see some highlights.


[Note: The display of any companies in the above video does not imply an FCC endorsement.]

Broadband and a Clean Energy Economy

May 19th, 2010 by Julius Genachowski - Chairman, Federal Communications Commission.

I was pleased to host the FCC’s first Clean Technology Summit at our headquarters yesterday, with the much-appreciated assistance of Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff.

I believe their visits were unprecedented – the first time that a FERC Chairman or Energy Secretary had ever stepped foot in the FCC building.  Our promising new collaborative efforts reflect the critical role that communications networks will play in the transition to a clean-energy economy – evidence that we collected and analyzed in our National Broadband Plan and submitted to Congress and the President last month.

Broadband will play a major role in realizing a sustainable environmental future.  Yesterday, we were able to witness first-hand the enormous potential that advanced communications unleash.  Secretary Chu, Chairman Wellinghoff and I observed broadband-based technologies that will help build a smarter grid, smarter homes and buildings, and help empower consumers to make smarter and greener decisions with their energy consumption. A recent DOE study found that that Smart Grid can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation by as much as 12% by 2030, the equivalent of removing 65 million cars off of roads today.  When consumers are empowered to interact with their own energy data, studies have found reductions in consumption as high as 15% - annual savings opportunities in hundreds of dollars for households across America. Though it often feels like the technology and possibility of tomorrow, yesterday’s summit showed that tomorrow is arriving right now.

The private sector will unleash green-tech innovation upon the country if we achieve more ubiquitous broadband deployment and empower consumers with their energy data. I applaud the Obama Administration and leaders in Congress for their commitment to the importance of the National Broadband Plan recommendations and know that together, we can build a 21st Century broadband economy.

Letter to the President: “Unleash the Forces of Innovation”

April 10th, 2010 by Nick Sinai - Energy and Environment Director

On Monday the National Broadband Plan received a strong vote of support from a coalition of almost 50 leading technology companies, clean technology start-ups, non-governmental organizations, and venture capitalists.

Signatories include GE, Google, Comcast, AT&T, Verzion, Intel, HP, Nokia, Best Buy, Whirlpool, the Environmental Defense Fund, Alliance to Save Energy, ACEEE, NRDC, Foundation Capital, Khosla Ventures, and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

In their open letter to President Obama, the coalition writes “every household and business [should have] access to timely, useful and actionable information on their energy use.” Specifically, the letter highlights the importance of allowing consumers to view their own energy consumption, pricing and pricing plans, and electricity generation sources.

It’s encouraging to see a diverse set of influential organizations endorse the principle that consumers should be able to get access to timely energy data as a way to “unleash the forces of innovation in homes and businesses” and prevent millions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

As highlighted in the letter, the National Broadband Plan delivered a similar vision a few weeks ago.  One of the six goals for the country in the plan is:

“To ensure that America leads in the clean energy economy, every American should be able to use broadband to track and manage their real-time energy consumption.”

The plan also included a series of recommendations to the states, the Administration, and Congress to encourage utilities to make energy information more available to consumers, in open, machine-readable formats.  Check them out in the National Broadband Plan.

Google and the Climate Group hosted a forum: “Power in Numbers: Unleashing Innovation in Home Energy Use” on Tuesday afternoon. I was on a panel, but the highlight of the day was the keynote: Carol Browner, Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change.

She mentioned that “we need people to really understand not only how much electricity they are using but where their electricity is coming from.” In addition, she said that “giving people this kind of real-time feedback will start to change not only their behavior, which is important, but equally important is start to drive the demand for more efficient appliances.”

We couldn’t agree more.

If you missed the event, check out these four videos:
Part 1 of 4
Part 2 of 4
Part 3 of 4
Part 4 of 4

Keeping Up With the Joneses

March 5th, 2010 by Nick Sinai - Energy and Environment Director

Our nation’s electricity grid is overstretched. Our greenhouse gas emissions continue to climb. What could possibly reverse this trend? Look no further than over your fence.

In a Senate hearing last week we heard from Adrian Tuck, CEO of fast-growing technology start-up Tendril that helps consumers understand and manage their energy use.  When consumers see their energy consumption information on their Tendril iPhone app or in-home energy display they make smarter decisions and waste less energy.

Tuck testified that, generally speaking, consumers are motivated to save energy in one of three ways: saving money, saving the planet, and beating their neighbors.

Which one was the most effective at driving consumers to cut their consumption? Yep. You guessed it.  It turns out many consumers are more motivated to beat their neighbor in energy savings, rather than save money or save the world.

It makes sense when you think about it.  We’re social beings, and often make decisions in social contexts. The science behind this is called behavioral economics.  There is a rich panoply of motivations (social, cognitive, emotional) that drive the economic decisions we make. Think Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink and Dick Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s Nudge.

OPOWER, another fast-growing start-up, is an example of a company that uses behavioral science to improve electric utility energy efficiency programs. How does it work?

Working closely with a utility, OPOWER mails a color, one-page report to customers.  Although it’s branded with the utility logo, the report deviates from the hard-to-understand bill we’re accustomed to receiving.

To start, less is more.  They provide simple graphs that make it easy to understand how much energy you used last month, and how that compares to the months prior. 

Next, it’s not really a bill. OPOWER doesn’t show a total bill amount or ask you to send money—it’s simply a supplemental information sheet about your energy usage.

But you’re not alone. Your energy consumption is also put in the context of an average of similarly-sized neighbors. Although the group data is anonymized to strictly protect privacy, you can see if you are an energy hog or and energy miser compared to your neighbors.

It’s a bit depressing to discover that you use 32% more energy than your most efficient neighbors, but it makes you want to start improving your score today.

And rather than getting a long list of efficiency ideas, you’d see only a few “relevant and immediately actionable” energy efficiency suggestions. For example, OPOWER might remind renters that they can save significantly by turning up the thermostat during summer months, or remind families before thanksgiving that it’s actually more efficient to use the dishwasher than do the dishes by hand.

And they’ve shown results. For nearly two years OPOWER has put this approach to work in partnership with Sacramento Municipal Utility District. They have averaged a 2.5% reduction in consumption across 35,000 homes, with stronger results in the second year than the first.  The company is now applying its approach with twenty-five utilities and sending reports to a million homes each month. According to OPOWER, their participation rates are also much higher (up to 80%) than traditional utility-run energy-efficiency programs (typically less than 5%).

It just goes to show that utilities and their regulators don’t necessarily have all the answers, and as policymakers, we should be wary of claiming that we know exactly how consumers will interact with energy data.  We shouldn’t be asking what is the “right message” or the “right amount of information” to present to customers to incent energy efficiency. 

Rather, we should be asking how we can put energy data in the hands of consumers and entrepreneurs in ways that are 100% grid secure and use the very best practices of digital privacy. 

The companies discussed above are very different. Tendril can show you real-time energy usage on all kinds of devices in the home, including your TV. OPOWER, on the other hand, mostly sends a paper report via the mail on your historical usage. 

But both companies present information to consumers in new ways, create high-paying jobs, and, of course, help you edge out the Joneses next door.

Capture The Phone Numbers Using Your Camera Phone

If you have a camera and a 2D matrix code reader on your mobile phone, you can capture the FCC Phone numbers right to your phone by following these three easy steps:
Step 1: Take a photograph of one of the codes below using the camera on your mobile phone.
Step 2: Use your phone's Datamatrix or QR Code reader to decode the information on the photograph. Please note, these code readers are device specific and are available to download on the internet.
Step 3: Store the decoded address information to your phone's address book and use it with your Maps or GPS application.

Datamatrix and QR FCC Phones