Power 2.0 – Building Smarter Utilities

By Anthony Erickson, EDS, an HP company

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act outlines plans to invest heavily in smart grid development along with grid storage, monitoring and other related technology. The Department of Energy hopes to use this investment to help create new jobs and deliver to customers across the nation reliable power with less impact on the environment.

Made possible by a new generation of embedded computing, advanced metering and data management technologies, smart grids will allow utilities to anticipate and shape consumer demand for electrical power. To take advantage of this promising marketplace, however, utilities must understand smart grid requirements and how they will impact consumers, businesses and governments.

From 1980 to 2005, the number of kilowatt hours generated globally more than doubled, and yet the fundamental structure of the electrical grid remained virtually unchanged. Serious challenges, however, threaten power supplies all over the world, including price and availability of natural resources, aging infrastructure and political, regulatory and market forces.

In addition, the idea of investing in improved efficiency is gaining support as the public expresses increasing concern about climate change and the environment. At the corporate level, companies are under pressure to reduce e-waste and their overall carbon footprints and to manage the rapid growth in power consumption by servers, data centers and other technology systems. Conservation is starting to be seen as the undeniable fifth fuel, and the economics of reducing overall consumption are sound. For most utilities, the average cost of generating a new kilowatt hour of electricity is 10 cents, while the cost of saving a kilowatt hour is 1.7 cents.

Utilities must combine the obligation to serve with a new and equally compelling need to conserve. To meet this challenge, forward-looking suppliers are deploying more intelligent ways to develop, generate and deliver electricity.

The U.S. government started the process with the Obama administration’s plan to create 5 million new jobs through a $150 billion investment in several initiatives. These include clean energy systems, the domestic manufacture of 1 million plug-in hybrid cars by 2015, a cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050 and a goal of generating 25 percent of the nation’s electricity from renewable resources by 2025. Public utility commissions must realign their focus from consumption to conservation to meet these goals.

Consumers also will play a part in the emerging smart grid by using smart black boxes to set high-level personal energy goals. Eventually cars, homes and businesses will not just consume, but will store and generate energy by leveraging solar, wind and other power sources to contribute to grid-based power supplies.

At the enterprise level, companies of all kinds must respond to market, consumer and regulatory pressures to become more sustainable using liquid cooling, dehumidification, deep sleep and other power-saving modes to reduce energy usage and costs. Advanced technology solutions such as virtualized and optimized systems will measurably reduce data center power.

Meanwhile, to create and operate future smart grids, utilities must address several fundamental requirements including planning, selection of a workable architecture and implementation of a data management system that can support an intelligent utility’s infrastructure. Utilities are forming collaborative partnerships with companies capable of contributing the hardware, software, tools and automation necessary to function in the smart grid environment.

By forging these strategic partnerships and investing in innovative technologies and infrastructures, utilities will achieve the goals of reducing consumption while meeting customer demand for a safe, reliable and profitable utility service, therein creating a new sustainable business model.

Anthony Erickson is global utilities industry leader for EDS, an HP company.

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