Federal Communications Commission

Energy And Environment Category

Clean-tech Investor Summit

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

As we draw closer to the March 17th date for release of the plan, we’re getting more and more excited about our effort and how the plan is beginning to take shape.  I gave a glimpse of what we are thinking today with respect to energy and the environment at the Clean-Tech Investor Summit in Palm Springs  Below are my remarks; comments welcome!


Good Morning.  I’d like to give a little background about why I’m here.  Congress recognized that this country was long overdue for a national broadband strategy, and in the Recovery Act, Congress identified three national broadband objectives, and asked the FCC for a plan to achieve these objectives. First, they asked how broadband could be made available to all Americans.  Second, they asked how broadband could be made more affordable, and how adoption could be increased. About 93 million Americans are not connected to broadband today.  Third, Congress asked how broadband and advanced communications could be used to achieve other national priorities such as health care, education, energy efficiency and energy independence. There is also explicit mandate in the Recovery Act about a national broadband plan encouraging private sector innovation and investment.

Around 50 people joined the FCC to work on this plan, from industry, academia, government, the investor community—and hundreds more within the FCC have been active in preparing the plan. This is a plan that is designed for the unique attributes of the American broadband ecosystem. It is a data-driven plan, with input from across all America.  We’ve held 44 public workshops, and field hearings, issued 31 public notices, and received tens of thousands of pages of comments.

Having invested in IT, telecom, and clean-tech companies for a number of years, I jumped at the opportunity to be a part of this historic process, and have been honored to lead a small team looking at how broadband can help with our national energy independence and energy efficiency goals.  As part of the process, we’ve been speaking with telecom carriers, electric utilities, technology vendors, federal and state energy officials, entrepreneurs, and yes, even VCs too. 

The national broadband plan will be delivered to Congress and the American people by March 17th.  It will contain a series of specific recommendations to the FCC, to the Administration, to Congress, and to the States. I want to take this opportunity to discuss with you where we are in reaching some of our important findings and conclusions.

First and foremost, broadband and advanced communications will play an important role in achieving our national goals of energy independence and efficiency, serving as a foundation of smarter electric grids, buildings, homes, and vehicles that collectively can prevent up to a gigaton of carbon emissions by 2020.  Broadband alone cannot solve the country’s energy and environmental challenges.  But it will be an important part of the solution, as a platform for new applications and new business models.

I want to focus today on where broadband and advanced communications can make the greatest impact on energy and the environment: 1) modernizing the electric grid and 2) unlocking energy data to promote innovation in the smart home and smart building.

Modernizing the grid is critical for our economic prosperity, our national security, and our commitment to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.  The smart grid, as it’s often called, is the great enabler that will allow us to accommodate renewable power, energy storage, and distributed generation at mass scale.  A smarter grid will be necessary if we want to lead the shift towards light-duty vehicle electrification, an important step in reducing our dependency on foreign oil.  A smarter grid will speed recovery from national disasters and terrorist attacks, self-healing by re-routing power around faults, rather than allowing them to cascade and bring the grid down.

The record from the public proceedings is clear:  the smart grid needs reliable, secure, and pervasive communications, including wireless broadband.  Pervasive connectivity to sensors, substations, and switches are critical to transforming the grid into a two-way network of both electricity and information. 

The first section of our plan addresses this need, and will make specific recommendations for bringing mission critical broadband connectivity to make the grid smarter. Broadband networks that could accomplish this task include commercial networks, private utility networks, and shared networks with public safety agencies.  There is no single solution that will work for all regions, applications and types of utilities—our plan will recognize this and pursue multiple solutions.  First and foremost, we will look at how to remove impediments and disincentives to using commercial networks. We will also look at how the FCC can best work with wireless telecommunications providers to improve the ability of commercial networks to provide service during emergencies, not only to attract mission-critical smart grid traffic, but also consumers who rely on wireless networks.  Finally, we are 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.  There is a range of ways we can do this, but one path, for example, involves working with NTIA to look at federal spectrum bands.    

The second section of the plan will address how broadband, when combined with access to energy information, can unleash the energy innovation economy in homes and buildings.  Pervasive access to the Internet brings innovative competitors, technologies, and business models to the smart home and smart building, letting large cable companies and small web start-ups compete alongside the utilities for demand response, home automation, and energy management services.  Broadband is what lets a company like EnerNOC offer demand response services—essentially creating a virtual power plant from sophisticated software and reliable broadband.

Our review of the record suggests that to facilitate this innovation will require both interoperability standards and policies that provide customers robust access to their own digital energy information.

Smart Grid standards, as many of you know, is the focus of an effort at NIST.  Of particular interest for many of you, NIST is coordinating the development of data formats for how energy information can be communicated into a home, either via a smart meter or over the Internet.  These open standards are necessary to build a secure and interoperable Smart Grid, and they are critical to help ensure the smart home is plug’n’ play, increasing the ease of use and energy savings for all Americans.

But the record suggests interoperable standards are not sufficient, if we want to unlock the innovation potential of the smart home and smart building.  It appears that we also need policies that result in utilities providing their customers and their customers’ authorized third parties access to their own digital energy information, in open machine readable formats.  Some states have been out in front here – with the California Public Utility Commission recently announcing a decision to mandate its large investor owned utilities to provide digital energy information to consumers, including real-time energy information by 2011. Pennsylvania is another state that is aggressively pursuing these policies.  But other states are moving slowly.  We are reviewing how best to urge them to move fast with providing real-time information from smart meters, as well as past bill information over the Internet. For example, the federal government could help speed this effort by rewarding states and utilities with strong data access policies in its grants and loan programs. If such efforts don’t work, there are other options such as national energy data accessibility legislation.  Our energy and environment challenges are great and speed in providing such data is an urgent matter.

I think we can all agree real-time information and communication is the way people and systems work today.  You can check your frequent flyer miles, get real-time traffic alerts, or check your bank balances, all from your iPhone.  I don’t need to preach to this audience about the power of real-time information – if you listen carefully, you can hear the quiet peck of blackberries in the back row.   And maybe the front row as well. . Real-time feedback is what lets people make better energy decisions. Perhaps more importantly, real-time feedback in standard digital formats will allow companies to innovate new products and services that will help customers “set it and forget it,” saving energy and money on electric bills with a minimum of fuss.

The record tells us that most people get paper bills for energy, or at best, electronic PDFs.  We have 8 million smart meters today, going to 80 million by the end of the decade, according to FERC.  But most of the smart meters today, and even many of the ones planned for the coming years, will not provide real-time data to consumers, much less authorized third parties.  This raises the obvious question: It’s your energy use, and your dollars going to pay for the infrastructure – why can’t you have your own digital energy information?  And if you want to release your energy consumption information to someone who wants to sell you ads, or wants to analyze your energy usage and suggest energy efficiency investments, why should the utility hold you back?  What about generation mix information—maybe a company would like to measure its carbon footprint in real-time? Or consumers might want to charge their vehicles with green power? What about all the demand side applications we can’t think of right now?

It’s not the government’s role, any more than the utility company, to pick the winners and losers in thermostats, appliances, energy displays, and building technologies.  As we think about the plan, we believe we must aspire for policies that facilitate the ferocious competition that drives innovation.  Companies, technologies, and business models will compete for your investment capital and compete to deliver value for customers.  Many companies will fail, yes, even those in your top-quartile portfolios.  The ones that succeed will build new industries, create new jobs, and also help our country achieve its important national energy goals.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today, and I look forwarding to working with you.

MIT Field Hearing on Broadband’s Role in Green Energy and the Environment

December 4th, 2009 by Nick Sinai - Energy and Environment Director

This past Monday the FCC held a field hearing at MIT to discuss how broadband can facilitate the smart grid and the energy information economy. The house was packed, the discussion lively, and there was an impressive set of technology demonstrations afterwards. We were honored to have in attendance U.S. Congressman Ed Markey, Secretary Ian Bowles of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, FCC Chairman Genachowski, and FCC Commissioners Copps, Clyburn, and Baker.

The first panel provided context for understanding the role that the smart grid, and other smart technologies, can play in the U.S. achieving its energy goals. Dr Grochow of the MIT Energy Initiative shared how MIT has been able to achieve a significant reduction in its energy consumption through building energy audits and addressing the large energy requirements of IT through fairly simple measures like turning computers off rather than having their screen saver come on.

Thanks to all the members of the first panel: Peter Brandien of New England ISO, Commissioner Phil Guidice of Massachusetts Division of Energy Resources, Dr. Jerrold Grochow of the MIT Energy Initiative, and Bruce Walker of National Grid.

During the second panel the discussion shifted to provide some examples of how vendors are using energy information to increase the reliability and efficiency of our electricity grid. CEO Adrian Tuck of Tendril, which provides an energy management system for residential users, highlighted that a standard clothes dryer is preset to dry a load in 58 minutes. Simply by adding twenty minutes to the drying time, however, the dryer will consume 50% less energy. Informed customers could decide if they needed the convenience of faster cycle or might prefer to set a longer cycle in exchange for a lower energy bill.

The panel also discussed how innovative companies use broadband to 1) carry energy information at frequent, regular intervals from end user devices to their systems or devices, 2) present energy information on in-home displays or web portals, and 3) directly control loads to lower energy consumption and carbon emissions.

Following the panel, the commissioners and audience experienced first-hand some of the new products and services of the energy information economy. Control4, iControl, EnergyHub, Opto22, Tendril and Verisae showcased a suite of products aimed at helping residential and commercial customers better manage their energy use.

Thanks to all the members of the second panel: Rick Counihan of EnerNOC, Chuck McDermott of Rockport Capital, Adrian Tuck of Tendril, and Dan Johnson of Verisae. Thanks also to the vendors who participated in the showcase.

A number of common themes emerged across both panels, focusing on the key issues and barriers to an accelerated adoption of the smart grid.

First, a number of panelists stressed a need for universal broadband coverage to allow better access to energy information, especially for low-income families that lack access to the Internet.

Second, several panelists noted that a significant part of the value of the smart grid is derived from providing end users (whether building operators or individuals) more granular, real-time energy consumption data. We heard that many smart meters that have been deployed today have this customer-facing functionality built in, but are not “turned on” to provide data to customers.

Third, there was general agreement that cyber security was a critical issue for the smart grid. Dr. Grochow provided an analogy to the Internet. Security was not seriously considered during the Internet’s infancy, and we are still trying to patch the holes decades later. He argued that a secure smart grid needs to encrypt energy data at the source.

Fourth, Chuck McDermott, a general partner at Rockport Capital, highlighted the importance of developing open standards for the smart grid. Working closely with NIST and other standards bodies, the U.S. needs to achieve an interoperable, “plug-and-play” smart grid that avoids vendor lock-in.

Fifth, Bruce Walker of National Grid discussed the growing importance of the data traversing the Smart Grid network. A ubiquitous wireless data network that reliably provides low-latency data communications during emergencies will be required. To meet these need, and to encourage standardization of networking approaches, he requested that the FCC identify broadband spectrum suitable for critical infrastructure use.

Lastly, Dan Johnson of Verisae reminded us that in the end the adoption of smart grid technologies is heavily dependent upon their business case. End users will need to see a compelling ROI to take action.

I want to personally thank Congressman Markey, Secretary Bowles, the chairman, the commissioners, the panelists, and the technology vendors for providing such an engaging and informative discussion. A number of the issues raised lent further support to what we have seen through our public notice.

As we begin to formalize our recommendations for Congress, I encourage you to view the recorded webcast and add to our discussion by leaving your comments. I look forward to hearing from you.

Smart Turkey?

November 27th, 2009 by Nick Sinai - Energy and Environment Director

Nick SinaiThanksgiving weekend is a time for a turkey, family, and football. After you've gotten your fill of all three - is it really possible? - maybe there is time for a little reflection too.

In that spirit, we're reflecting on the responses to our public notice and from our ongoing conversations with the American public about the Smart Grid - the modernization of the electrical grid. We're also reflecting on the recent presentation to the Commission about critical gaps in the path to future universal broadband.

I'm often asked, why focus on the Smart Grid in the energy section of the broadband plan? The answer is simple-we have a climate crisis on our hands, and broadband and IT need to be part of the solution. In fact, smart electric grids, smart homes, and smart buildings-sometimes collectively called the smart grid-are the greatest opportunity for broadband and IT to reduce carbon emissions. One study recently concluded that smart grids, homes, and buildings could reduce over 800 million tons of annual carbon emissions by 2020. That's the equivalent of taking more than 100 million gasoline-fueled cars off the road.

The responses to the public notice on Smart Grid issues have also made it clear that there are two issues that we need to address in a comprehensive plan to Congress.

First, it's clear from the record that our electrical system-really a collection of systems-will require greater data connectivity across the entire grid, from generation to transmission to distribution to the meter, and within the home and building. As we have more distributed generation, plug-in electric vehicles, and retail prices that better reflect costs, we'll need to modernize the grid, with greater communications and IT throughout.

It's also clear from the record that each Smart Grid application has different networking requirements, from meters that must be read once per day, to advanced sensors called synchrophasors that must report power quality data in a continuous stream.

As a result, there are a variety of networks already being used to support the Smart Grid, including private and commercial, wired and wireless, narrowband and broadband. What is less clear is how these requirements will change as the Smart Grid continues to develop, and as greater intelligence and control is pushed deeper into the network.

Second, a lot of the expected benefits of the Smart Grid are really benefits we'll gain from smarter homes and smarter buildings. Consumers and building owners will be expected to interact with the grid in new ways, including the "Prius Effect", which refers to the way Toyota Prius drivers responded to the prominent display on the car's dashboard of real-time fuel economy by changing their driving behavior to get even better mileage. Similarly, exposure to better energy consumption information can help encourage energy savings behavior. But a lot of the benefits will be the automation of home or building systems to manage energy better - you won't have to lift a finger!

The wealth of consumption and pricing data that will be created by the smart grid can enable a variety of innovative products and services. But who will control access to this data? If third parties develop products and services, how should consumers connect them to this data? Can the Smart Grid do for energy what the Internet did for communications and media?

It's clear the Smart Grid holds enormous promise to help tackle our national goals in energy and the environment. In order to do so, it will be important to address the communications and energy information questions. We're intently focusing on these issues as we consider the final shape of the National Broadband Plan.

 In order to add to the record, and gather additional input, we're also holding a Commissioner-led field hearing on Energy and the Environment on Monday, Nov. 30th, at MIT in Cambridge, Mass., at 1 p.m. The entire event is open to the public and available online at Video of the hearing will also be archived on the field hearing site. [Ed. update: video from yesterday's field hearing is available here]

Enough reflecting for now. Back to the leftover turkey!

Seeking Public Comment on the Smart Grid

September 8th, 2009 by Nick Sinai - Energy and Environment Director

The word "Smart" is getting used a lot today. Smart Phones, Smart Homes, Smart Building, Smart Cars, and - especially - Smart Grid. Behind many of these "smart" innovations is the addition of advanced communications capabilities to devices, equipment and infrastructure that previously couldn't communicate. That's why the Energy and Environment team on the Omnibus Broadband Initiative is asking for public comment on the Smart Grid.


The Energy and Environment team is charged with developing a plan to advance national goals to promote energy independence, increase efficiency, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The Smart Grid has the potential to help achieve these goals and more.


Just as broadband Internet enabled new and unexpected ways to communicate, work, and use data, adding advanced communications infrastructure to the electricity grid can change the way America generates, delivers, and consumes electricity.


Communications is just one part of the movement towards a smarter grid, but it's a key enabler of many Smart Grid applications. We have already observed a wide variety of communications networks and technologies being employed for many different Smart Grid applications. In releasing a Public Notice seeking public comment on Smart Grid communications, we hope to learn more about the communications networks being used in the Smart Grid:

  • What networks are suitable for which types of applications?
  • How available are these networks?
  • What could be done to make networks more suitable or more available?
  • How can the data generated by the grid be secured? How can it be used to drive efficiency and innovation?

We're looking for data, analysis and perspectives from participants across the entire Smart Grid ecosystem. We want to know what works and what doesn't, and we want the data to back it up. The data we gather through this process will be an important part of the analysis our team is undertaking. The deadline for responses is October 2, but we're hopeful that many will begin submitting facts and findings to the record right away. We'll be presenting some preliminary findings at the Commission meeting on September 29.


This is an exciting time to be working on the Smart Grid. Our team is intently focused on identifying the best ways to support and accelerate these developments. These ideas will be an important part of the National Broadband Plan.


**Please read the Public Noticeand file comments using either ECFS Express or our standard submission page if you need to attach a file.  Please note that your comments are responding to Public Notice #2.

My Electric Bill

August 27th, 2009 by Nick Sinai - Energy and Environment Director

As a new member of the National Broadband Taskforce, I recently moved from Boston to Washington D.C.  I just received my first electric bill in the mail, and it was painfully high -- now I understand why folks try to flee Washington D.C. in August.


Three things struck me about the bill, beyond my own foolishness and irresponsibility.


First, the bill was challenging to understand, even for someone who knows a little bit about electricity.  Within the categories of generation and distribution, there were various services I was being billed for, all at different rates per kilowatt hour.  Then there were several monthly charges that were independent of usage.  I needed a spreadsheet to calculate my total electricity cost per kilowatt hour.


Second, the bill came too late.  It's not that the local electric utility was delinquent; I'm sure they got me my bill on time.  I mean it was too late for me to do anything about it, other than to be more efficient-can you say CFLs and better insulation?-going forward.  It's like I bought a tank of gas a month ago, and am only now getting the bill.


Third, my bill didn't give me any good ideas about how to change my consumption in the future. Sure, I know that laying off the AC will use less energy, but how much of a difference will a few degrees make? What about the other things in my house, like light bulbs or appliances?


At the same time, I was getting several emails from my bank and from Mint, a free consumer financial website I use.  Mint sends me alerts when I have a low balance, an unpaid bill looming, or if I am spending above my budget-which is unfortunately too often an occurrence. It also clearly shows me what I am spending money on, giving me the information I need to take control of my budget.


Imagine if we had the same level of information about our energy consumption, and if we had a better sense of what it costs us.  Real-time information about prices and usage is important-studies have shown that just providing information about energy consumption in real-time can change behavior enough to generate a 10% savings on your electricity bill. The Smart Grid holds the promise to make this a reality.


We had a great panel discussion yesterday on the Smart Grid, and it's clear to me that there are many different approaches to building the communications networks that are an essential part of the Smart Grid.  There are many different applications-Smart Meters being just one-that have different bandwidth and latency requirements, and there is no silver bullet.  Commercial wireless networks will play a role, but there are also private licensed and unlicensed approaches that have their place too.


But as I heard the debate about what types of networks and technologies we should use, it occurred to me that the nation will collectively miss the benefit of the Smart Grid if we can't get information to the consumers so they can act on it.


My former boss, Bob Metcalfe, who knows a little bit about networking, likes to remind folks that we need to learn the lessons of the Internet as we think about building out the Smart Grid.


Those lessons can be the success stories, like the power of standards.  Standard protocols, like IP, have been fundamental to the rise of the Internet, and have revolutionized telecommunications.  On yesterday's panel, we heard consensus on the importance of standards, and that the National Institute of Standards and Technologies (NIST) is leading the charge on Smart Grid standards.


But sometimes the best lessons come from failure.  The Internet architecture, mostly designed by academics to communicate with other academics, didn't really account for security or commercial uses.  As a result, viruses, spam and cybersecurity are major issues today affecting many aspects of our economy.  Given that we are just starting with the Smart Grid, security doesn't have to be an afterthought.


So how can we build a Smart Grid that is based on open standards, to ensure a faster and more efficient deployment to all Americans?  How can we ensure communication systems are built with sufficient security, resiliency, and privacy?  And how can the National Broadband Plan help?


As Commissoner Clyburn noted yesterday, building the Smart Grid is a challenging task that will require strong coordination between the private sector, federal agencies, and state regulators.


With the help of the American entrepreneurial spirit, I'm optimistic that we can get there. And I'm confident that one day I'll get an email or text message warning me of an impending hot day, reminding me to set the thermostat just a few degrees higher, or giving me an opportunity to save money through new pricing models. Or maybe my thermostat will be programmed, like my TiVo, to know my preferences, and will take care of it for me, saving money on my behalf.


Either way, I know how I'll solve the problem next August - I'll follow the lead of the politicians and take a vacation.

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