An update of smart grid links

Lynne Kiesling

I’m cleaning up my huge tracts of open browser tabs, several of which are interesting recent media comments on smart grid developments in the US:

This editorial in Nature argues that “[t]he US electricity grid needs to evolve and requires fresh standards of communication”. Increasingly smart grid media and policy are turning to “standards”, which is heartening for those of us who have been thinking about smart grid architectural principles for several years. But we’ve also already seen that different parties have stakes in how those standards are developed and defined, and how the $4.5 billion in federal debt-stimulus spending is allocated among different smart grid projects. This Nature editorial also does a good job of pointing out that the future of the electric power network is a decentralized future, and that we may not need to build much more transmission: “bigger is not necessarily smarter”.

This Washington Post graphic is a handy visualization of how smart grid technology can empower consumers to save money, increase energy efficiency, and reduce blackouts. Sadly, they express the same failure of imagination that we continue to see with respect to the retail products and services — the only way that they imagine that consumers will respond to price signals is through participating in “a utility’s incentive program”. C’mon, people, be a little more imaginative! Just because right now the utility (BG&E, Pepco, Dominion in their graphic) is the only retail provider to residential customers doesn’t mean it has to be that way. Think differently about the retail market and you will see the potential value of bundling electricity service with other products and services, like home security, which means the expansion of the retail market … if regulation will but let it happen.

This CNN article asks if smart grid can turn consumers on to energy efficiency. I think this is a pretty good article, and does get the transactive capability of intelligent end-use devices.

And finally, this week’s Economist has a short article about smart grid that points to the Galvin Electricity Initiative’s project with the Illinois Institute of Technology to prototype and test a microgrid with distributed intelligence throughout the IIT campus. The article rightly points out that some of the biggest challenges will be achieving the necessary enabling changes in the state-level regulatory institutions that have governed the organizational structure, investments, products, and profits in this industry for a century.