By Guido Bartels, GridWise Alliance
In emerging markets and established economies worldwide, insufficiencies in the electric transmission and delivery systems are increasingly being recognized as barriers to economic growth and development. Increased pressure from a range of sources-including increased energy demands, overtaxed assets, price volatility, energy legislation and deregulation, and an aging workforce-will require utility companies to innovate to ensure growth and maintain a reliable and cost-effective infrastructure.
Throughout the energy value chain, there is a growing recognition that we must manage this important infrastructure more intelligently-a recognition that grid modernization is of national importance.
Technology is available today to drive grid optimization and deliver many benefits. Understanding these benefits will provide the motivation to find ways to finance smart grid innovation and to overcome regulatory barriers. As an example, better real-time observability of the grid’s operation can help a utility understand how power flows on the system change over time, when certain lines or components are in danger of becoming overloaded, and how reconfiguration of the network may be able to alleviate these problems. When this is linked with the ability to remotely change the configuration, by opening or closing switches to isolate or connect different sub-grids, utilities get a much more nimble, responsive, reliable and cost-effective network.
Conceptual confusion about the smart grid is mostly driven by a lack of understanding of the whole grid system, the fact that our grid has been designed in pieces, cost of transformation, and lack of clearly defined and evaluated benefits. The GridWise Alliance (www.gridwise.org) is one of several organizations focused on educating and overcoming such hurdles.
In 2003, the Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability (OE) developed the GridWise vision of a modernized electric infrastructure framework where open but secure system architecture, communication techniques, and standards are used throughout the grid. Soon after, the GridWise Alliance was created to support and drive this vision. The alliance brings together vendors, technology companies and utility industry representatives to integrate the infrastructure, processes, devices, information and market structure with the ultimate goal of a more resilient, secure and reliable energy system. Working together with similar smart grid-interest organizations, the alliance is affecting change in policies at national and state levels that may shape the way power is delivered.
As part of its efforts to develop a smart grid in the U.S., the alliance is working closely with OE on a major, national conference, GridWeek 2007 (www.gridweek.com/2007). The conference, to be held April 23-26 at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center in Washington DC, will gather experts on grid modernization, energy industry executives, and government officials, and will focus on policy, technology, interoperability and financial aspects and benefits related to smart grid technology deployment.
The GridWeek 2007 agenda will feature many notables from industry and the political arena, including U.S. Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman; Congressman Rick Boucher, Senator Jeff Bingaman, and Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers. The four-day event will provide a forum for the diverse groups currently working on grid modernization, including Members of Congress, U.S. Department of Energy, FERC and state commissioners, governors, as well as utility and technology CEOs.
Most grid stakeholders recognize that changes in the current operational paradigm are needed to provide a balance of reliable and cost-effective energy. To apply these changes, and the technologies that will enable them, there must be a concerted and collaborative effort by industry, government, and consumers-no company or organization can do this alone.
A “smart,” connected grid that capitalizes on real-time and in-depth information represents the path forward. Energy companies are embracing this new approach and have started to build it. This will require implementation of innovative technologies, as well as business processes, new roles and responsibilities. The companies who do so will emerge as leaders with a unique competitive advantage. Acting today could mean far-reaching benefits for tomorrow.
Guido Bartels is general manager of IBM’s Global Energy and Utilities industry and chairman of the GridWise Alliance, a consortium of public and private stakeholders who are collaborating to provide technology solutions to support the US Department of Energy (DOE) vision to modernize the electric grid.