Martin Pool

Stephen Conroy’s facile argument for the NBN

with 2 comments

According to The Australian, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy says:

The national broadband network could significantly reduce Australia’s carbon footprint and cut consumers’ power bills. Consumers connected to “smart grids” via the $43 billion network will pay less for electricity through a more efficient use of power, also reducing the need for more power generators, he said.

What a silly statement, and sadly quite consistent with his slippery handling of the internet filtering fiasco.

Smart grids, where power consuming devices gain information about conditions through the network, have a useful role to play in improving energy efficiency. A plugin hybrid could preferentially recharge itself when power is coming from a wind source, and avoid recharging from peak-load gas turbines. (It’s a shame about the multi-thousand-dollar tariffs on hybrid cars to protect foreign-owned Aussie V8 manufacturers, but never mind.)

However the connection to a new national broadband network is, as far as I can see, completely spurious. The end-user devices need to share only small amounts of data fairly infrequently, to basically tell them the current price of power. Prototype smart grids run as a sideband on the power line itself, and the data would be an unnoticeable addition to the common 1Mbps data connection. Upgrading to 20-100Mbps as proposed for the NBN is not going to help at all. Many things need to be done to deploy a smart grid but building a new broadband network is not one of them.

If Conroy’s concerned about the environment he ought to consider the hefty power consumption of filtering all Australian internet traffic. He hasn’t given a straight answer on just how much filtering he proposes to do, but the great-firewall-of-China style filtering he sometimes alludes to would mean hundreds or thousands of servers, therefore probably hundreds of kilowatts and tons of CO2.


Written by Martin Pool

May 1, 2009 at 7:37 am

2 Responses

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  1. The issue is more the “grid” side. The sideband signals need to be picked up at somepoint before they hit a transformer and then put onto a backhaul. At present, only zone substations warrant fibre backhaul for SCADA (and that’s incomplete at best). There’s still a real signalling gap between HV and LV distribution.


    May 1, 2009 at 10:26 am

  2. Tom Worthington thought the same thing.


    May 5, 2009 at 2:59 am

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