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Energy and Fiber-Optic Networks – Emerging Partnerships

The Pittsburgh Regional Alliance has identified energy as one of the six key industries driving regional growth and innovation in Pittsburgh. Their reasons for highlighting the region’s energy industry include:

  • 1,000+ energy-related firms
  • More than 38,000 people are currently employed in the sector
  • 952 energy patents in the past ten years
  • $6.68 billion in capital investments in the energy sector.

U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm recently visited western Pennsylvania with other regional politicians to discuss the energy industry. Specifically, they discussed the clean energy sector and western Pennsylvania’s opportunity to be nationwide leaders. Local leaders also shared a desire for Pittsburgh to be selected as one of four national blue hydrogen hubs.

Fiber-optic network providers are interested in developing innovative partnerships with the energy sector, and several unique examples and applications are paving the way.

Telecommunications Companies Partner with Energy Providers to Bring Broadband to Rural Communities

Pew Charitable Trusts shared a report this year, encouraging energy and Internet service providers to work together to utilize their resources to bring broadband access to underserved rural areas.

“Investor-owned utilities, typically large, publicly traded electricity distributors, can play a critical role in bringing broadband services to rural and underserved areas by allowing providers to use their existing infrastructure to provide the middle mile network for making high-speed Internet connections. The middle mile is the part of a broadband network that connects the internet backbone to the last mile, which provides service to homes and businesses via, for example, cable lines,” according to the report.

Alabama Power is an example of a utility provider currently implementing this tactic through partnerships with telecommunication companies to provide broadband access through their surplus fiber capacity. When completed, their initial project will cover about 280 miles and have the potential to deliver broadband service to Alabama communities where few options exist today.

Finley Engineering also shared a persuasive whitepaper about the benefits of telecom and energy working together to further underserved markets.

Fiber Networks Can Enhance Smart Grids & Smart Cities

Many people are now discussing the benefits of power companies partnering with telecommunications companies to establish a more robust smart grid, also supporting the growth of smart cities.

According to, “the smart grid represents an unprecedented opportunity to move the energy industry into a new era of reliability, availability and efficiency that will contribute to our economic and environmental health. The digital technology that allows for two-way communication between the utility and its customers and the sensing along the transmission lines makes the grid smart. Like the Internet, the smart grid will consist of controls, computers, automation and new technologies and equipment working together, but in this case, these technologies will work with the electrical grid to respond digitally to our quickly changing electric demand.”

Fiber is vital for success when it comes to functional smart homes, businesses, and even cars. recently discussed the role of fiber optics in supporting the growth of smart cities; “All of these applications are made possible due to fiber network’s future-proof and reliable connectivity, which makes it crucial for driving these innovations. It offers an extremely reliable, low latency communication with guaranteed availability.”

Dublin, Ohio is currently piloting a highly innovative public/private partnership. “Elysian, TRAXyl, Integrated Smart Homes, AECOM, Nokia, and Fishel are collaborating with the city of Dublin to dramatically increase Internet connection speeds compared with technologies now used in most places. This new technology brings together the recent innovation of actually “painting” optical fiber directly on paved surfaces coupled with cutting-edge smart home technologies. Some of the benefits for families include better ability to stay connected and much better performance of Internet for high-level devices all over the house.”

The Need for High-Speed Fiber Networks in Supporting Energy Research and Development

Looking at the Pittsburgh Business Times recent 20 People to Know in Energy series provides insight into the breadth of energy-related activities occurring in the region. The people and companies represented are innovating the energy sector in invaluable ways.

  • Michael Docherty is leading a “potential public-private partnership around hydrogen and carbon capture/storage that could decarbonize the region’s heavy industry and energy sector while at the same time driving billions of dollars in investments.”
  • Caine Finnerty is president of Watt Fuel Cell Corp., a Mount Pleasant-based natural gas and hydrogen-powered fuel cell manufacturer.
  • Rita Baranwal, chief technology officer at Westinghouse Electric, shares that their “work provides nuclear energy technologies, products and services to utilities around the world.”

Each example focuses on different futures for energy. However, like most research and development-heavy fields, the energy sector benefits from the many resources fiber networks provide. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Speed – fiber-optic networks allow data to travel incredible fast, even nearing the speed of light, to deliver critical information in seconds.
  • Security – research-heavy companies require the kind of security that comes with options like dark fiber networks. These allow companies to utilize networks that are solely dedicated to them. Data is only traveling from point to point instead of being transmitted on a line used by many different companies and individuals. With fewer parties having access to your network, there are fewer opportunities for failure and security breaches.
  • Flexible connectivity options – provide opportunities for research teams to securely work together across multiple locations and support the ever-changing work-from-home environments is vital to successful business operations. Options provided by fiber-optic service providers can include SD-WAN and direct access to cloud computing enterprises.

The possibilities for partnerships between fiber-optic network providers and the fast growing, innovative energy sector is limitless. Contact us today!