By Kathleen Davis, Senior Editor
Japanese pop culture fanatics know that the correct English pronunciation of Godzilla is Gojira (go-jeer-a), because it’s a play on a particular combination: the Japanese version of the English word for gorilla (gorira) and the actual Japanese term for whale (kujira).
So, how did it go from Gojira to Godzilla? An early mistranslation of the movie title hit the mainstream, and the name stuck.
Even without knowing Godzilla’s proper name or the little-known story on its meaning, the icon of Godzilla himself stands tall—without much need for translation.
So, what’s in a name? That same question could easily be put forth about the current industry buzz term smart grid. How well does that name define what the industry is shooting for with this technology? What does the name lend to the discussion? And, finally, what lies beneath that name?
Where Did the Term Smart Grid Come From?
As noted in part one of this article series, the term smart grid came from Andres Carvallo, Austin Energy’s chief information officer. It was a pragmatic decision, Carvallo said.
Austin Energy hired Carvallo for its smart grid push seven years ago—”to create a transformation around automation,” he said. A crossover from software and telecom industries, Carvallo brought with him the idea of a “seamless integration of the electric grid and a communication network” and how it could fit into Austin Energy’s structure.
He then began researching. He read EPRI white papers. He studied background information on IBM, but both of their fledgling smart grid concepts were trademarked.
“I didn’t want to write a check for seven figures just to use a trademarked name,” Carvallo said. “So, I began to think. We were working on the same idea, but we had to use different language.”
In April 2007, Carvallo began using the term smart grid, which he did not trademark, at a show in Chicago. A free term everyone could use was his goal. While trademarked terms often used the word intelligent or some variant, Carvallo found that word a little elitist, he said. He wanted his term to be a bit more blue collar, to sound like it required a little sleeve rolling and heavy lifting. So, smart replaced intelligent in his phrase.
“EPRI and some experts will tell you to this day that smart is not a good word and intelligent is more accurate. But, I think smart is the perfect word,” he said.
Carvallo continued to talk about this smart grid after that conference. He continued to define it and to blog about it. Then industry insiders picked up on the term. Next the Gridwise Alliance and, finally, the Bush administration adopted it.
“Smart grid was baptized by the federal government,” Carvallo said.
When the term made its way into Title XIII of the Energy Act and then Obama began to use the term in his campaign, its spot in the industry solidified.
“I guess the term smart grid is my contribution to society,” Carvallo said jokingly.
Is Smart Grid More Than a Fancy Name?
The colorful history of the smart grid term aside, many industry insiders see smart grid as more than a momentarily popular catch phrase, including Carvallo.
“The smart grid is imperative for every city, every state, every country,” Carvallo said.
“Smart grid is much more than just marketing hype,” said Jeff Taft, Accenture’s smart grid chief architect. “To be sure, there is a good deal of hype around smart grid at the moment, but when that dies down, as it inevitably will, the solid core of value in smart grid will remain.”
Hugo van Nispen, president and managing director of KEMA, agrees with Taft.
“The smart grid is not only a wave of the future, it is here now, and gaining momentum, van Nispen said. “And in an increasingly carbon-constrained economy, there is no electricity future without it.”
For Taft, that solid core of value helps in three areas:
- 1. Operational efficiency and quality of service.
- 2. Consumer choice.
- 3. Renewable integration.
All three of Taft’s responses echo the experts in the first part of this article series, as well as van Nispen and the insiders from KEMA and Carvallo with Austin Energy—especially with the idea of consumer choice. (See POWERGRID International‘s September 2009 issue).
“The smart grid redefines the relationship between buyer and seller,” Carvallo said. “It enables better generation, better distribution and better consumption, too. It enables that consumer.”
The notation on consumer choice is an especially popular response, although Taft was the first expert to label the smart-grid empowered consumer a “prosumer,” a new name that represents the consumer being added in as part of the power chain. (Carvallo later used the same phrasing in his smart grid discussion, but this time he didn’t coin it.)
KEMA’s experts stated that extending insider knowledge to the end of the power chain may result in empowered consumers. Empowered consumers likely will result in reduced carbon emissions through demand response programs, another positive to add to Taft’s smart grid value list alongside operational efficiency.
“Electric utilities by and large have exhausted the traditional means of improving operational efficiency and quality of service, and yet a significant gap remains,” Taft said. Current technology leaves utilities unable to appropriately deal with business issues such as increasing demand, aging infrastructure, the aging workforce, the need for higher quality and reliability to power the information age and even financial concerns, he added.
“Smart grid represents a new tool set that utilities can use to tackle these problems,” Taft said.
The experts at KEMA were particularly interested in the renewables aspect (No. 3 on Taft’s list). Noting that the future power portfolio looks to be heavily distributed and renewable-oriented, KEMA foretells a growing focus on two-way communications, energy storage and advanced data and automation applications.
All of those technologies “help the transmission and distribution system interconnect remote concentrated wind or solar generation resources, integrate distributed generation resources and move electric supply when and where needed throughout the energy system,” said Ralph Masiello, KEMA’s global innovation manager.
Mark Litos of Litos Strategic Communication—the company behind those DOE-issued smart grid primers—ties together both KEMA’s and Taft’s notions of the values smart grid can bring, especially in the areas of renewables and a lighter carbon footprint.
“We need to lower emissions and reduce carbon footprints,” Litos said. “Coal clearly won’t get us there, but the smart grid will enable renewable energy at scale. Renewable energy will allow us to achieve our environmental goals.”
With an empowered consumer and more renewables on the grid, the industry experts who spoke to POWERGRID International see the smart grid having a large footprint on the future of energy. Litos said that it’s not just a tech bubble waiting to burst. It’s not just a shiny name with no substance.
“[Those who believe the smart grid is a fad] are of the same mind as those who thought the automobile was a fad. Or that the interstate highway system would never happen. Or that man would never walk on the moon,” Litos said. “Look at other industries and technological transformations on the order of the telecommunications industry or the internet. Who would have thought these things possible? The energy industry has been ignored for too long. The technology is here today. Get on board or step aside. It’s coming.”
In the end, names mean little to this discussion. Godzilla was still a hero (after the fifth movie), whether he was called Godzilla or Gojira. And his archenemy, Ghidorah, was still the villain whether his name was Ghidrah, Ghidra, Ghidora, Giddra or Geedorah. It’s what’s underneath the moniker that counts. The same can be said for this industry’s smart grid. Both a “prosumer” and a consumer need energy. Whether or not the smart grid name truly represents the technology, the most important factor will be what it brings to the future of the power industry: safety, security, a type of protection—perhaps the industry’s own form of a large, popular, protective folk hero like Godzilla.
“Smart grid is being driven by real business requirements and pressures,” Taft said. “Not every concept that is presently touted, not every new or newly-rebranded product will survive when the hype disappears, but the essential core value of making the power grid digital will certainly prevail.”
The full text of interviews with Taft and Litos for this article can be read online at http://power-grid.com.
Andres Carvallo shares more of his views on the smart grid in the upcoming November issue of POWERGRID International.
Smart Grid Matters
By Rob Wilhite, Ron Willoughby, Ron Chebra and Larry Dickerman, KEMA
Firms offering new technologies and applications for building the smart grid are marketing their wares aggressively. A smart grid alone is not going to replace aging wooden poles, or address operational inefficiencies or aging workforce concerns. But a smarter grid is essential to our nation’s future prosperity and to the sustainability of our nation’s electric system. The power grid that was built in the last century is being pushed beyond its limits. We must move beyond the electric power model of large central fossil generation and one-way transmission and distribution. That model served us well in the past, but no longer is adequate today.
If we are serious about meeting ambitious sustainable green standards and becoming energy independent, it is critical that we have a smart grid that enables millions of supply and demand decisions in microsecond intervals, across a two-way distribution system, with absolute reliability and security. We can’t do that effectively with our existing power grid. Economic growth depends on having a modern electrical backbone capable of supporting today’s industrial and commercial competitive business needs.
Real-time digital communication has dramatically transformed every industry where it has been applied—significantly reducing costs and streamlining the delivery of products and services. By using sophisticated systems to interact virtually with manufacturers and suppliers, retail mass merchandisers such as Wal-Mart have driven costs down while improving service across the retail and wholesale value chain. For effective energy use decision-making, consumers need real-time information. The call for transformation is long overdue.
The electric industry today accommodates variable demand for power by the consumer by keeping utilization factors relatively low, between 30 and 40 percent. If we can make the consumer more aware of the choices they are making, and gain greater control over how non-essential choices impact the grid, we would be able to increase efficiencies dramatically. This is not hype—it has been proven repeatedly, but the technology to do this in the power world has not existed until now.