When it Comes to the Grid, it’s Time to Get Smart

By Steve Smith, Honeywell

What makes technology smart? My smart phone is a small, unobtrusive device, but it also helps me run my life more efficiently.

How essential have smart phones become? Try turning off your phone for two days and see what happens. If you can endure the withdrawal, you’ll likely have some interesting voicemails from co-workers who couldn’t reach you within five minutes. Smart technology has become engrained in our way of life.

The same principle applies to the smart grid. We can point to tangible progress in the evolution to a more reliable, secure, electric system. Unlike smart phones, however, we haven’t completely made the smart grid smart, and we won’t if we only focus on infrastructure. Although important, it doesn’t inherently inform customer behavior to increase efficiency or reduce capacity—two primary goals of the smart grid.

We must continue to innovate beyond the meter. Smart grid technology must shift to a customer-centric view and provide the value homeowners and businesses seek, including real-time energy insight. This will inform, motivate and better equip energy users to change their consumption patterns.

 

Engaging Automation

 Automation adds smarts to the smart grid by enabling customers to choose how and when they use electricity and act on those decisions with mechanical precision. This is the basis of peak energy reduction, and there are many benefits: stabilizing energy prices, reducing the need for additional power plants and avoiding disruptive brownouts and blackouts. Utilities have traditionally lacked the means to optimally limit peak demand on a mass scale, however, because of their inability to fully engage and interact with all customers.

I use my smart phone every day to automate numerous tasks, such as navigating to hotels on business trips, without understanding the complex technology driving the applications. Smart building controls are similar. They can talk to utilities and equipment throughout a home or facility and are easily programmable for managing energy use. They remove the burden of a manual response and ensure the completeness, consistency and persistence of energy management actions.

 

Humanizing Interaction

 Ongoing customer contact also is critical for the smart grid to work. While devices such as in-home displays and smart thermostats and controls help facilitate interaction, they also need support services behind them to ensure customer adoption.

The most popular smart phones are those that are easy to use and provide lasting value and good customer support. Similarly, for the smart grid, deployment requires more than able technology. Utilities must adopt a consultative approach and provide ongoing service and education to make change compelling. This entails helping customers define their energy management goals and understand how to leverage technology and automation as the means to those ends.

 

Opening Communications

 Open standards are the third—and in some respects most essential—element in extending the smart grid to homes and business. Imagine if smart phones could communicate only with other devices from the same manufacturer; it would stifle industry growth. Open standards have helped provide interoperability and encourage innovation, and the same will be true for the smart grid. But interconnection and compatibility currently remain a significant issue.

Without automation, customer interaction and standards, the full potential of the smart grid won’t be realized. These elements will help firm up communication paths for utilities to connect with customers and allow the two-way flow of information to drive interaction and engagement—and open the potential for a smart grid to become engrained in our way of life.

Steve Smith is director of sales and marketing at Honeywell Utility Solutions.

 

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