Cisco Ups Smart Grid Investments As Locals Claim Smart Meter Foul

Cisco Systems Inc. last week acquired Arch Rock Corp., a San Francisco, CA-based specialist in wireless network technology for smart grid applications, in a move that further signals the networking vendor's intention to partner with utility companies pursuing better controls to manage power supply and demand.

The Arch Rock acquisition--no terms of the deal were disclosed--was consummated one day after Cisco struck a strategic alliance with Itron Inc. to build solutions that enhance smart metering technology.

"This acquisition further positions Cisco as a strategic partner to utilities working to better manage power supply and demand, improve security and reliability of energy delivery and optimize operational costs," said Laura Ipsen, Cisco senior vice president and general manager, Smart Grid business unit.

Arch Rock's technology allows intelligent devices such as smart meters to connect across a scalable, secure, multi-way wireless mesh network.

For the un-indoctrinated, smart grids refer to the development of technology to monitor and manage the distribution of energy based on real-time needs emanating either from environmental conditions, business or consumer use.

The goal is to use advanced measurement and monitoring technology to read and respond to two-way communication with the production, distribution and consumption parts of the electrical grid to make the entire equation far more precise and, thus, efficient.

In other words, smart meters hold the promise to cut down on power use and relieve demand on the electrical grid.

The technology, however, is not without some controversy. This past summer, when utility company Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) began installing smart meters throughout the city of Santa Cruz, CA, a seacoast town of some 50,000 people near Monterey, a number of residents began complaining about huge spikes in their bills.

Don Miller, an editor at the Santa Cruz Sentinel, recently wrote that the uproar among locals prompted city government officials to call for a moratorium on the meters until more is learned about their accuracy, despite a newly-released independent study supporting the technology.

That report found that while the smart meters themselves are accurate, poor customer service from PG&E led to customer dissatisfaction.

Perhaps Cisco can bring not just better technology but also a little better customer friendly service to the party.


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