EPB will be spending a lot of time trying to determine how the world will differ and what to do to position Chattanooga and EPB in the right spot, said CEO of EPB David Wade. He told the board that he views this as an opportunity more than as a challenge, and it will require the ability to think bigger and differently. Chairman of the Board Vicki Gregg said that EPB wants to think far enough ahead to be ready when opportunities become available.
At the September board meeting Mr. Wade talked about issues with this long-term focus and the new opportunities that are beginning to grow. The newest for EPB is the community quantum network that was announced last year. At that time it was in development. This year is different, he said. By now EPB and its community quantum network has built credibility and “it is real.” And EPB is starting to be recognized, he said. Quantum technology is now focused on commercialization, not just research. People are in the stage of figuring out how they can use the network that is available in Chattanooga, the first in the country.
There is also a transition of energy, for fuel and for distribution. With the forecast of tremendous growth in the area, Mr. Wade said there will be the need to add capacity and EPB will need to be positioned for the increased development in the future. Possibilities of power generation that are in early stages include solar and exploring community geo-thermal power that comes from heat deep inside the earth and is a renewable energy source. Community geo-thermal systems could support multiple households as opposed to the way it is used today, to power an individual home.
Solar energy generation has big swings each day and needs storage capability. Storing energy has multiple purposes and large batteries are a new way this is being done. The challenge is to strategically place battery storage in areas mostly at the edges of EPB’s service areas. Batteries positioned in those areas help with energy reliability. In town, service can be quickly switched to alternative undamaged lines and power outages are short. On the edge of EPB’s service area, there is often no alternative path to restore electricity quickly but power can now be switched to the batteries. In addition to providing the service area with power during an outage, the batteries can also be used to give EPB time to go where there is a loss of electricity and to make repairs where they are needed.
Storing the energy has another benefit. EPB pays more for energy bought from TVA during peak demand times. If the stored energy can be used at those times of increased demand instead buying it from TVA, there is a cost savings.
J. Ed Marston, VP of Strategic Communications, highlighted points in this year’s annual report that align with goals and challenges for EPB’s future. This year EPB announced the first community quantum network and Gig City goes Quantum, the initiative to prepare for using quantum technology. About 2,000 teachers participated and 8,000 students. The nation’s first 25 gigabits internet service was made available to all residential and business customers. Smart Net Plus, the world’s fastest community-wide internet and connectivity for whole home coverage and for all devices was introduced. This year TVA, the primary electricity provider for EPB, has allowed flexibility in generating solar power and storage of local energy. EdConnect, the program that provides high-speed internet for Hamilton County students in need, continued. In 2023 there were 25,000 students and family members who benefited from the program. And EPB continues to offer Broad Band Solutions, which is a business that provides marketing and development, call center support, and network monitoring and support to smaller power companies just getting into providing broadband services. This part of the business takes advantage of EPB’s 10- years of experience in broadband.