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How GE and a leading utility are changing the smart-grid game

<p>The company worked with Florida Power and Light to complete a groundbreaking smart grid project sparked, in part, by an Obama stimulus grant.</p>

It's no small feat to fully revamp an electrical operating system as large as Florida Power and Light, whose presence stretches long across the Sunshine State.

But thanks to a partnership with General Electric (NYSE: GE) and a nice financial boost from the federal government, FPL can proudly show off its fully completed, modernized smart grid operation system, which includes the newly installed smart meters.

In 2009, FPL was the first of six utilities nationwide chosen for $200 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy as part of President Barack Obama’s $3.4 billion investment to spur the transition to a smarter energy grid.

Working in partnership with GE, FPL completed the installation of 4.5 million meters in its 35-county service area. The completion of FLP's grid modernization also includes the installation of 10,000 intelligent devices on the grid.

"This is a marquee project for the customers of Florida Power and Light, for GE and I believe for the other partners," said Mark Hura, general manager of sales for North America for GE digital energy.

"We're very proud of the success of the project and the execution that occurred to deliver this project nine months early from the original schedule, which is pretty amazing thing when you're talking about the amount of devices and the amount of work that went into it," he said.

FPL's smart grid oportunities have only just begun, Hura said.

"This is only the beginning, this is not the end," Hura said. "For FPL, this is an opportunity for them to continue to add more automation to their network, to bring more information to their diagnostic centers, to understand the health of a network and to really take this to the next level in terms of how they operate their overall network more efficiently."

Hura also said that important lessons were learned during the FPL smart grid project.

"Managing was critical in terms of the collaboration and the variation too; reducing the amount of variation," he said. "We learned a lot together. We wanted  to make sure that we had consistent processes to improve upon how (FPL) deliver those benefits to their consumers."

Hura said that in the project’s development, there were many variables that had to be sorted out.

"Connecting more than 10,000 devices in the field, having the ability to communicate back and connect was something the team had to work collaboratively on and make sure the information was coming in and it was accurate and timely so that they can make informed decisions," he said.

Thanks to that work, FPL now can streamline and respond quickly to any incident. In addition, the grid's smart meters give FPL and customers a better understanding of energy usage.

Now FPL employees are using iPads to gain better situational awareness of the grid, which can help increase operational reliability. It also delivers outage notifications that can help FPL restore power more quickly.

Hura said the project has garnered international attention.

"Whether we are in China, whether we are in Australia, whether we're in Europe, Latin America or in the Middle East, there are customers that are asking about this project because they're very aware of the critical nature of it, the scale of it and the holistic approach," he said.

These days, the potential for smart grids is unending.

"Early on in the developments of smart grid I think there were a lot of people that were implementing technologies when they weren't exactly sure of what outcomes they were attempting to drive," Hura said. "I think we've matured, we've learned a lot, and we've helped to understand where a lot of these benefits will lie where now we can sit down and consult more effectively with our clients around building the road map."

Technology horizon image provided by via  Dan Collier/Shutterstock

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