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FCC Broadband Plan Goal: Use Broadband to Manage Energy Consumption

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Those that live their lives around broadband (consider the Earth2Tech crew to be among ’em) have been eagerly awaiting the unveiling of the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) National Broadband Plan, which it plans to officially release to Congress on Tuesday. The FCC, which is headed by Chairman Julius Genachowski and has been unusually bullish on promoting broadband and Internet innovation, on Monday gave a sneak peek of what it plans to release tomorrow, including specific recommendations and goals for consumer energy data and the smart grid. According to the executive summary of the National Broadband Plan, one of the FCC’s six long term goals for broadband 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.

In addition, the executive summary gives three recommendations on the intersection of energy and broadband: The U.S. should modernize the electrical grid “with broadband, making it more reliable and efficient,” use broadband to improve the energy efficiency and environmental impact of the information technology industry, and leverage broadband to unleash “energy innovation in homes and buildings by making energy data readily accessible by consumers.”

The FCC’s attention to making consumer energy data readily available and accessible will warm the hearts of the variety of startups and web firms looking to build businesses and innovation around home energy data. Just this morning wireless energy management startup People Power released its open source-based software developer’s kit. Internet giants Google (s GOOG) and Microsoft (s MSFT) have also released software kits for their web energy management tools to developers to try to build an ecosystem around home energy application innovation. Earlier this month Google even released an open API for its energy tool PowerMeter. (I’ll be moderating a discussion between Google’s Ed Lu and Microsoft’s Troy Batterberry at our Green:Net Conference on April 29 in San Francisco).

The notion for how to encourage (or force) utilities to provide energy data to consumers, and at what frequency, is being hotly debated by the California Public Utilities Commission, tech vendors and utilities. The California Public Utilities Commission said back in December that Pacific Gas & Electric (s PCG), Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric should give their customers — and approved third parties, which could include Google, Microsoft or other makers of energy data portals — access to smart meter data that the utilities have collected in their back office servers by the end of 2010.

By the end of 2011, the CPUC wants the big investor-owned utilities to provide customers and approved third parties with “near real time” data from smart meters. Given that smart meters typically send their data back to utility offices in 15-minute to hourly increments and send it back to web portals at least a day later, getting real-time data to customers could require turning on the so-called “home area network” connections that link smart meters to in-home devices via wireless networks.

At this point, it’s unclear exactly how the FCC plans to meet that long term goal of enabling consumers to gain access to real time energy data, but we’ll likely to hear more when the plan is announced tomorrow. In January the FCC new Energy and Environmental Director, Nick Sinai, said that the FCC’s National Broadband Plan could look at how to reward states and utilities with strong data access policies (like California and Pennsylvania) in its grants and loan programs, and it could look at stronger moves as well, such as “national energy data accessibility legislation.”

Sinai said that the FCC’s National Broadband Plan could also look at how to promote open standards and commercial networks, how to use policies to encourage utilities to provide their customers with real-time open access to energy data and potential ways to use federal spectrum bands for utilities’ smart grid deployments. More specific topics that could be covered in the recommendations could include, “how to remove impediments and disincentives to using commercial networks,” and “exploring ways to encourage private networks built by utilities to operate in the same band, in order to drive down costs, and to drive open, non-proprietary standards,” said Sinai. The FCC could also be looking at working with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to look at available federal spectrum bands for the smart grid.