By James P. Crane, Commonwealth Edison
If someone teleported from the 1950s to today, the technological changes would astound them. This includes the revolutions in computers, medicine, electronics, aeronautics and telecommunications.
Our time traveler, though, would find one sector surprisingly familiar: our electrical system. Think of it. The BlackBerrys many of us carry in our pockets have about 1,000 times the computing power of the Apollo space capsule; however, today’s electrical system uses technology relatively unchanged in more than 50 years.
Like dozens of forward-thinking utilities around the globe, we at ComEd have seen the future and know the smart grid will benefit our industry and customers in ways unimaginable even 10 years ago. For example, it will establish:
- A communication- and information-rich system that empowers customers with real-time data to make smart energy-efficient and cost-effective choices.
- Automated restoration equipment employing wireless devices to reduce outage duration by communicating with the operations command center, isolating problems, and quickly re-routing power.
- The ability to proactively identify growing problems on individual circuits for correction before an outage occurs.
- A system that no longer requires customers to report individual outages to the utility and can message customer cell phones when their lights are back on.
While this great future is in reach, the complex policy, process and technology issues are not trivial and require careful deliberation at many levels. For ComEd, our efforts to establish a smart grid in Northern Illinois began at the national level several years ago by participating in the developing of standards that will help ensure the smart grids of individual utilities are interoperable, save money, and remain secure.
Our commitment to advancing a national vision and standards comes from our commitment to implementing “technologies that work” and provide added value to customers. While risk will always exist when changing how we do business, we must take care not to over promise and under deliver to our stakeholders and customers.
For this reason ComEd–along with our sister utility PECO in Philadelphia–participates in several national organizations that provide us seats at the table as the technologies and standards develop. This includes on the UCA International Users Group, on whose board my colleague Mark Simon serves. UCA is advancing standards for “plug-and-play” interoperable equipment such as relays, revenue meters, and home area networks.
Vic Chesna and Rich Gordus represent ComEd on the EPRI Intelligrid Program that provides members with recommended methodologies, tools, and standards, and unbiased assessments of available smart grid technologies. In addition, Thomas Callsen serves on the Department of Energy’s GridApp Consortium that provides a fast-track process for development and testing of new technology products and applications.
State & Local Involvement
Our deliberative approach is also a pragmatic recognition of the challenges of financing the smart grid’s build out. In Illinois, each step requires close collaboration with and buy-in from state regulators, interest groups and other stakeholders. In turn, our development plan balances risk and reward and is designed to demonstrate progressive value at each stage.
As part of ComEd’s most recent delivery service rate adjustment, the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) approved a two-pronged approach to developing and implementing a smart grid strategy.
The first part involves a workshop process that is underway to develop project goals, timelines and evaluation criteria for an advance metering infrastructure (AMI) pilot for approximately 200,000 meters. AMI employs next-generation customer meters that can report electricity usage via a two-way communication system.
With an expected five-month deployment starting in the fourth quarter of 2009, the AMI pilot would reach approximately five percent of ComEd customers. At the end of 2010, a detailed assessment of the pilot will quantify the costs and benefits for a full-scale AMI deployment of roughly 4 million advanced meters in ComEd’s service territory.
Second, and in parallel with the AMI pilot study, a statewide Illinois Smart Grid Collaborative will be established that includes the two largest utilities in Illinois (ComEd and Ameren), other stakeholders and regulatory staff. Through a 24-month process, the collaborative will develop a strategic plan to guide statewide deployment of other smart grid elements.
Following the pilot and this larger statewide study, a formal smart grid plan will be considered for adoption in a docketed proceeding. This smart grid plan would likely be submitted by late 2010 or early 2011, with a possible rollout perhaps in 2013.
21st Century Reliability
The revolution in electric utilities has been long in coming, but if our time traveler were to return in another 10 years, he very well will find an industry transformed, along with the relationship between utilities and their customers. In addition to delivering an essential service, utilities will be viewed as providers of valued information and solutions that lower costs, provide more customer control over their energy choices, and protect the environment.
Such is the promise of the smart grid–provided it is pursued with the same intelligence, comprehensive thinking and careful engineering for which our industry is known.
James P. Crane is a ComEd principal engineer in research and development. ComEd is a unit of Chicago-based Exelon Corporation (NYSE: EXC) and provides service to approximately 3.8 million customers across Northern Illinois.