December 21, 2012 12:35:41 PM
The Starkville Electric Department has finished the first phase of installing a fiber optic cable network that will provide the department a platform to enhance data collection and eventually allow utilization of automatic meter reading.
The department hopes to begin the first stages of its Automatic Meter Infrastructure system in the spring, a process that would include the installation of 23,000 new meters with the two-way communication capabilities. The AMI system and meters eliminate the need for meter readers, and allow SED customers to access usage data in real time.
Starkville Electric General Manager Terry Kemp said the AMI system is just one example of the savings and efficiencies a fiber optic cable network can provide, and that ultimately, it will mean improved customer service.
The estimated $5.5-million project is far from complete, but Kemp said network-wide tests can begin, allowing Starkville Electric to get feedback on operational statuses at exact locations.
Over the next few months, Starkville Electric will be testing to ensure each substation and the cables that connect them are functioning at optimum levels.
"We can really start working out the kinks now," Kemp said. "We want to expand all of our capabilities to focus on the reliability of our system."
Planning for the fiber optic network began in the summer of 2011, with construction on the project really taking off in July of this year. Though the first half of the cable ring has been installed, the SED must still add a second line, which Kemp said will provide redundancy for its system.
"It really just gives us some back-up as we continue to grow," he said. "We anticipate the second ring to be complete at the end of 2014, maybe the beginning of 2015."
Even though its incomplete, the network, which allows quick transfer of massive amounts of data through pulses of light, opens up an untold number of possibilities not only for the electric department, but the city of Starkville as a whole.
One of the most attractive of these possibilities is close to becoming a reality: A public Wi-Fi network for the downtown area that should be up and running within a couple of months.
Kemp said the city's IT manager, Joel Clements, is hard at work on that project.
"He is in the process of attaching routers and other equipment that will take advantage of this infrastructure we have added," Kemp said. "That could be ready in the next few weeks, but probably closer to the beginning of the year."