New Chattanooga Smart Grid Partnership Marries Research To Real World

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Chattanooga’s state-of-the-art Smart Grid is about to get even more state-of-the-artier, now that the city’s publicly owned EPB electric utility has partnered with the US Department of Energy and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The new partnership, announced just yesterday, will transform the Chattanooga Smart Grid into a national test bed for cutting edge R&D from Oak Ridge.

That’s a win for other cities, too. As its very first project, the new Chattanooga Smart Grid partnership will write up a blueprint for smart grid R&D using EPB as a model. The case study is expected to serve as a roadmap for new smart grid projects by other utilities.

Chattanooga Smart Grid
Chattanooga (cropped) by John Arcadian via, cc license.

The Chattanooga Smart Grid

Before we get to the meat of the smart grid, don’t forget to hug a taxpayer: Back in the early years of the Obama Administration, EPB nailed down $111.5 million in federal Recovery Act funding to help build the Chattanooga Smart Grid.

The heart of the Smart Grid upgrade is new fiber optic cable, which also made EPB the first company in the US to offer high speed Internet service to the tune of one gigabit-per-second throughout its entire service territory.

The name of the game is grid reliability, and it seems that the Smart Grid is already delivering on that promise. EPB credits it with saving $1.4 million in avoided severe-weather costs from one storm alone.

The advantages over EPB’s decades-old grid include instant feedback on power outages that would otherwise go undetected until reported by customers, in addition to an automatic pathway for rerouting power to help cut down on outages and limit their duration.


With data management software in place, the Smart Grid also enables EPB to alert customers to unusual spikes in their demand, and to offer incentives for off-peak and off-season use.

Gilding The Smart Grid Lily

The Chattanooga Smart Grid was cutting edge as originally conceived, but a lot has happened since work on the upgrade started back in 2010.

For one thing, distributed energy generation and microgrids have emerged onto the scene in a big way along with advanced energy storage, creating new challenges for both public and private utilities.

So, it’s no surprise that the new partnership will focus on the benefits of pairing all three of these aforementioned factors with advanced control systems. Traditional laboratory simulations and computer modeling will be part of the process, but the ability to conduct tests on the Chattanooga Smart Grid will provide developers with invaluable real-world insights.

That’s a nice bump up for the Oak Ridge smart grid R&D program. Currently, the lab has been testing out research from its Distributed Energy Communications and Controls  program on the distribution system within the Oak Ridge campus.

Oak Ridge has also been addressing the full range of grid issues. Other areas of focus include advanced grid materials and new infrastructure hardening materials such as superhydrophobic coatings for exposed power lines and other equipment.

Chattanooga Steams Into The Green Future

Meanwhile, Chattanooga’s high speed Internet service — on par with Hong Kong’s, which supposedly has the fastest in the world — is beginning to put the city on the radar for attracting new high tech businesses.

Also helping to burnish the city’s green brand is a bike sharing program that launched last year, and its role as the host city for Volkswagen’s “Think Blue” sustainability showcase.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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