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N.J. solar panels on utility poles to use AT&T

Agreement will allow solar panels on utility poles to communicate with Public Service Electric and Gas' smart grid via AT&T's wireless phone network.

Over 200,000 Petra Solar solar panels on utility poles in N.J. will be "talking" to the grid over AT&T's wireless network. Petra Solar

AT&T announced Wednesday it's signed an agreement to allow Petra Solar solar panels in New Jersey to communicate with the utility Public Service Electric and Gas (PSE&G) over its wireless network.

In July 2009 the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities approved a $200 million contract between PSE&G and Petra Solar in which the solar company agreed to install over 200,000 photovoltaic panels on existing utility poles throughout New Jersey to tie in to the state's electrical grid.

The solar panels, which are currently being installed throughout six cities and over 300 towns in New Jersey, each individually generate electricity and send that electricity directly to the grid via the voltage lines attached to its respective pole.

The AT&T agreement will allow the solar panels, which have their own smart-grid communication tools built in, to communicate with PSE&G's smart grid via the AT&T wireless network. The solar panels will even have their own pricing plan as part of the company's machine to machine (M2M) service plan.

"This creates a highly efficient distributed solar generation system that also provides smart grid capabilities to our customers through real-time communications between the systems in the field and the utility control center. In addition, our systems enhance electric distribution grid reliability and help stabilize the grid during periods of increased load," Petra CEO Shihab Kuran said in a statement.

The news might inspire some jokes as AT&T has been notorious in the New Jersey/New York area for dropping customers' cell phone calls due to an overburdened network. In late June, however, AT&T did announce the company had completed a series of upgrades to its New York area 3G voice and data network in an effort to ease the problems it was causing customers. Post upgrade, CNET performed its own real-world tests of the upgraded network in which AT&T fared well when it came to data transfer rates and call retention.