As my family and I shelter safely in place during COVID-19, I am mindful of the crucial necessity of all the electricity I need, on demand, and the next best thing, broadband Internet access. As smartgridman, I also think about the inevitable convergence of both. Using the Internet requires electricity and delivering electricity is going to require the Internet.

Thankfully, we have electricity and were already voluntary Internetizans since now nearly every part of our lives is constrained to what we can do safely for ourselves and our neighbors using electricity and Internet – groceries, supplies, medicine, work, education, bills, entertainment, and, vodka. Yay, InstaCart! (After all, EverClear is 94.5% alcohol, perfect for disinfectant (and mental health. No, really…).

My company helps rural electric cooperatives extend true gigabit Internet access to their members and communities via fiber optic networks. Rural Americans were the last to get electricity, but now some are the first to get giga/terabit Internet. These cooperatives are also poised for a quantum leap to being smart grids through fiber enabled grid monitoring, analysis, and control.

Most of the world is not so fortunate. Over 90% have access to electricity. Almost 50% do not have any access to the Internet. How do they live without it? especially during COVID-19? Ask my high school twin daughters and their college sister if they had to choose: electricity or Internet? guess what wins? They don’t really grasp why you can’t have Internet without electricity. After all, they are all on the Internet on their phones anytime our electricity is out during a thunderstorm.

We are fortunate to live in a highly developed country in a renowned high-tech town in an upscale neighborhood with reliable and increasingly sustainable electricity from Austin Energy, a progressive, public power system. We have Internet access but, if you will excuse my whining about a 1st world problem, with intermittent service and bandwidth three orders of magnitude less than if we lived in Chattanooga, Tennessee. There I would have fiber enabled smart grid electricity from the Electric Power Board and gigabit Internet access for less than I pay now to you know who (starts with A, ends with T). While some rural electric cooperatives are extending fiber to rural areas, my incumbent industry giant telco can’t to the suburbs of one of the most technically advanced communities ever.

So, as I think about electric utilities, the legacy physical grid and traditional utility business model face revolutionary change. What has always been the center, the bulk electric system, is now migrating to the Grid Edge with distributed energy resources. While the grid is growing more complex, homes and buildings are becoming smarter than their electric utility through the Internet of Things. It will not be possible for them to operate successfully without smart grid capabilities, real time monitoring, analysis and control all the way into customers’ premises.

I am reminded of something one of my industry idols, Robert Metcalfe, said in a conference keynote (view here): “Over the past 62 years, we met world needs for cheap and clean INFORMATION by building the INTERNET. Over the next 62 years, we will meet world needs for cheap and clean ENERGY by building the ENERNET.”